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The Crux Episode 20: Future-Proofing Your Website for Search Algorithm Updates

David Oltean | September 21, 2021 | SEO, The Crux Podcast

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In episode 20 of The Crux, David and Taylor discuss ways to future-proof your website and mitigate the risk of losing organic traffic and search engine visibility due to algorithm updates.

This Discussion Helps to Explain:

  • Recent trends with search algorithm updates
  • Search ranking factors that have been consistent
  • Methods to diversify your keyword and content strategy
  • Tactics to avoid that can put you at risk for search visibility losses
  • Ways to combat search visibility losses after algorithm updates

Related Resources:

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Episode Transcript

We’re Climb Marketing and you’re listening to the Crux podcast.

Hi, Hello, Welcome back to The Crux, the monthly podcast where we navigate through digital marketing strategies, trends and success stories. I’m your host David Oltean and joining us for today’s episode is Taylor Caldron, a resident technical SEO wizard at Climb. Hey, David, thanks for having me back. Yeah, thanks for joining us. So as of this recording in September 2021, we are coming off summer and one of the most intense periods of Google search algorithm updates in some time, during the long awaited Google core web vitals update, multiple spam related updates and multiple broad core algorithm updates. It has been a crazy summer for SEO algorithm updates. But that said, we thought we could unpack the specifics of some of these updates. But we thought it might be more helpful to discuss what are some of the ways on a long term basis to kind of future proof your website against these algorithm updates. There are a handful of evergreen tactics that can help to mitigate the impact of search term updates. So you don’t have to brace for turbulence every time Google Search Liaison has a new post on Twitter about an algorithm update. Right? So Taylor, first and foremost, when you think about algorithm updates, what are some of the ways where you can kind of mitigate the effects right, or adapt to the changes that we’ve seen in the past few years from from Google in particular?

Yeah, absolutely. So I, I really like this approach of figuring out ways to not kind of live in fear of Google algorithm updates, because I think when people are, you know, checking, checking the industry news every morning, you know, anxiously, that’s kind of the wrong way to to approach being an SEO, it’s overwhelming. It is it is. So I think, you know, first of all, focus on the things that haven’t ever changed. So one of those things, so obviously, you know, people have been saying content is king forever, okay, about that a little bit of a deeper level. So you know, it’s it’s high quality content that’s actually useful for the viewer, not content that’s useful for you or your business, you know, when you’re when you’re kind of thinking about not just the content architecture, but literally the text that’s going to be on all those pages and everything like that, you need to think about what’s going to be useful, because if your content is legitimately useful, you know, that is more than half the battle right there. Right? The second most foundational thing is crawlability, and indexability. Thankfully, if Google rolls out another algorithm update, they’re not going to do a worse job with crawlability and indexability, they’re not gonna have a harder time finding your content. So if you’re in a good position with that, right now, you can feel good about it in the future. But you should just make sure that all of your content can be crawled and can be indexed. Right.

And I think what like good internal linking structure feeds a lot into that crawlability component, right? Where you really want to make sure that crawlers are able to easily find and identify the various sections of your website. I think a lot of times, like, especially the algorithm updates, some of the more orphan content or bearing content is what tends to just fall out of sight, right on search engines. Oh, yeah, I think that crawlability piece is a little bit trickier than indexability, which is generally just the flip of a switch, right?

I mean, in theory, it’s a flip of a switch, as long as your content is housed in a format that Google will index. Google won’t index every single file that exists on the internet. Right? Yeah. So moving on from that, you know, this idea of being an actual authority, and having actual brand awareness. So you know, especially in the last couple of years, we’ve started thinking more and more about how our websites can appear authoritative, and how they can sort of communicate expertise and trust. And that’s important, because even if you are trustworthy, you need to know how to communicate that. But stop for a minute and think about, you know, do you actually have a lot of expertise? Are you actually speaking from a position of authority? You know, is your company actually, you know, operating in a trustworthy manner? And if so, that makes things a little bit easier, because, you know, even if the way that Google and you know, Google’s AI sort of perceives trustworthiness and expertise, and authoritativeness, over time changes, if you’re coming at it already kind of having those as legitimate qualities about your business, you’ll be in a good kind of starting position.

So think about that. And then finally, and this might be the biggest thing is just don’t get too fixated on small, but currently kind of hyped up details or strategies. You know, when you’re viewing industry, newsletters or blogs or something like that, obviously, they want to make the latest thing seem very, very important. In my experience of doing SEO for a well over a decade now, it very rarely makes more than a marginal difference. You know, you really need to focus on kind of the bread and butter. And while it’s good to pay attention to things that are kind of happening in the news cycle, I would not make those kind of the focus of your SEO strategy because most often they either won’t make a huge difference, or they might get rolled back. So yeah, just don’t don’t chase after the latest and greatest, you know, stick with stick with the core concepts first.

Right? Yeah. And I think all those points that you’ve mentioned, right, they’ve been relatively consistent for over a decade right now, or at least a decade. Right. So I think, you know, by focusing on those things that you know, are going to be static, that, you know, Google has valued since you know, their foundation since the beginning. Right, I think I think you’re in a safe place doing so. But for me, the one thing I think that that really helps when these algorithm updates hit, and you know, search rankings can be really volatile. It’s really to me about like diversifying your strategy, right? A little bit like stock, like playing the stock market, right? You want to have a diverse number of pages that are ranking on Google well, right, and contributing quite a bit of organic traffic, and really a diverse keyword strategy, right? Where you have multiple keywords or queries that you’re really depending on for organic traffic, because what can really happen when you have just a single, you know, one major priority keyword or something like that. And there’s a major algorithm update, and it takes you off of your top spot, right to your top three spots, it could be devastating, right to your organic lead activity to your organic traffic. And by not having like that diversification and having really the breadth of keywords and a breadth of pages that are performing really well on search engines, it can kind of result in disaster, right? And that’s where folks I think are really left scratching their heads of how do we get back at this keyword? Do we have to totally modify this one page that we’ve depended on for so long to get us back in that place. And to me, it’s really, it’s all about like compounding organic traffic, right. And you do that by continuing to stand up great pages continuing to stand up great content, and making a keyword oriented to an extent, but to your point, it’s really about satisfying users, right, and really answering valuable questions for users or answering valuable service demands for users. So to me, like diversifying your keyword and content strategy is at the top of one of the ways to kind of mitigate the effects of search algorithm updates, because again, like putting all your chips in one basket, like good luck, if you get knocked off on an algorithm update, you’re going to be playing from behind, you’re going to be trying to supplement it with paid search, it’s going to be really messy, I think, trying to trying to recapture that organic traffic, if you don’t have that kind of diverse safety net to fall back, hopefully.

And one thing I would add to that is, you know, diversify your content, but also diversify the types of content on your website, you know, don’t be super reliant on for instance, just videos, or just PDF downloads, or just interactive tools, you know, you kind of want to diversify between these, you know, text based content generally is always going to perform well, you know, maybe sometimes long form will perform better than short or vice versa. That can kind of be your bread and butter. But if we’re talking about content, in a more broad sense, definitely don’t stick with just one format or medium, because you’ll see a lot of fluctuation, right.

And I think that diversification even applies to like page templates, too, right? Especially with like the recent core web vitals update, you just have a single page template, and it is totally failing to meet the technical standards that Google is now setting, right? Like the entirety of your content is going to be dinged. Whereas if you have, you know, a few different maybe some more text rich types of pages versus like some more image and multimedia heavy types of pages, I think you get that flexibility where at least some of your your pages are hopefully more compliant with these new PageSpeed requirements and some of the UX requirements. So I think even having kind of like a diverse array of how you’re format and content on your website, as well can help with with kind of, you know, avoiding any major devastating updates.

But I mean, beyond that, I think, while we’re on the topic of page templates, and content and text, I think one of the things that can really help, especially in the more recent years to help kind of adapt to these these recent algorithm updates, is to really write in web friendly formats, right, and really do your best to meet search intent. And by that, I mean, I mean, you know, using subheadings gratuitously, writing in ways on the web, right? People, I forget them, always the quotes they say about people’s attention spans on the web, but it’s something like they give you five seconds, and they bolt right, typically. And I think by by having, you know, more, you know, browser friendly formats of text, right, not giving someone a massive paragraph or a massive wall of text to sift through, but instead giving them subheadings and bullets and, you know, some of these more playful text features, where, where people can kind of sift and browse, you know, guess a little more casually. That tends, I think, to promote kind of user behavior tends to add value to your content and draw more eyes to your content. And I think Google also with like passage indexing and featured snippets, and how popular those who are becoming on search results. You know, using subheadings gratuitously allows you to get more placements and feature snippets or allows you to take advantage of passage indexing better. So I really would recommend folks try to, you know, write a user friendly format, you’re not writing a dissertation. You’re not writing a research paper, you’re trying to capture someone’s attention, who is very scatterbrain. So I think writing in that web friendly format can really help as well. But beyond that, I mean, where else does your head go? Taylor.

You know, thinking about some of the updates that we’ve seen in the last year or so, you know, a lot of them have to do with spam. And there’s, there’s kind of multiple kinds of spam that happened, you know, one of the algorithm updates had to do with link spam. So people were kind of participating in shady practices, like buying links, selling links, trading links, you know, all that kind of stuff. You know, that’s always I shouldn’t say always been a No, no, but I mean, for the last 10 years or more, you know, that you’re not supposed to be doing it. And Google is going to continue to kind of fight that. Similarly, there were two other spam related updates that were going after websites that were kind of tricking users into giving away personally identifiable information or, you know, kind of promoting and spreading malware. So, you know, it seems obvious to say that, you know, you need to make sure that you’re not participating in any of this. But sometimes that’s actually easier said than done. You know, if you’re managing an enormous website, where there’s, you know, multiple individuals or multiple teams kind of building out their own pages of, you know, their whole own sections of the website, you might not have a good sense of everything that everyone is doing. And if just one person builds one page out of millions, that’s, you know, Mishandling information or spreading malware, even accidentally, you know, maybe they had the best of intentions, that one shady page can bring you down. So if you are, you know, kind of in an administrative role, so to speak, you know, over an enormous website, there’s a lot of work to do just to make sure you’re on top of not being shady, or spammy, you know, it seems easy just to say like, of course, we would never do that. But are you sure someone else in your organization wouldn’t by accident? So you need to stay on top of that, because I’ve seen very reputable websites taken down because of something like that, you know, someone had a virus on their computer, and they were they uploaded something to the website, Google saw it. And yeah, that that can be enough to do some real harm. And it takes a while to recover from that sometimes. So just be careful with that.

Right. And that’s it. In this on this note, you know, you still hear folks that claim, and you see anecdotal evidence that like PBN, private blog networks, right. And some of these link schemes, like still work. And I don’t doubt that there probably is short term benefit. But for us, when we talk about like long term future proofing your website against these algorithm updates, right, you are putting yourself in so much danger by engaging like spammy networks of links, right, or spammy PBNs, that it just doesn’t really justify the short term benefit one day, you could be like discredited from Google altogether. Right. So for us, I think, you know, I still hear these success stories or these these instances where folks are still taking advantage of kind of like these gray hat link building tactics, and maybe some of the spam your link building packets, but but ultimately, like, you are putting your website at risk. And for us, like, I don’t know how I would convey to the client, if I went that route, like, Hey, you know, your website has disappeared entirely. Like, thanks for your business. Goodbye, like, I don’t even know where you go from there. What do you stand up a new domain for them? It’s just not a valid long term strategy. So I think folks still are kind of clinging to this, like this link building schemes of the past. But in reality, I think it’s a more dangerous time than ever, because Google’s calling them out and has been for years now that they’re coming after, like these types of websites with anti spam measures and anti spam updates. I mean, ultimately, you’re not smarter than Google, if you do it eventually get caught. Google employs, like some of the smartest people in the world, and dedicates how many millions of dollars to solving these problems? Like you’re not going to just outwit them on this one? Right? Right. Yeah, I don’t, we said it many times, but stop buying links. Or if you’re buying links, make sure they’re legitimate, right? And that they’re relevant. Chamber of Commerce, like, go for it, you know, right, weird blog network, and not so much.

Maybe avoid that. But beyond that, I think, when you think about more like the technical foundation of your website, I think it’s really important for these algorithm updates to focus on the user experience of your website, right? Google, especially with core web vitals in that announcement, like they’re taking more notice about your website’s PageSpeed, the ease of use on your website, kind of the stickiness and time on page and the benefit of all that. And they’re doing that obviously through through their metrics, like largest contentful, paint, through cumulative layout shift. And these these metrics that are a little bit more focused on these you act on like the user experience, right, and stability and security and kind of browsing satisfaction and those types of things. But I think, you know, regardless of the specific metrics, Google setting, you should really kind of have this like intrinsic motivation to just make your website easier to use for users, right, or, or more engaging for users. And I think having kind of that continuous focus on on UX really helps with that wouldn’t you agree, Taylor.

Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that, you know, we used to view these as separate disciplines, like user experience, or even just web accessibility was was something entirely separate from SEO, but over time, we’re going to see a merger just like we saw you know, thinking people used to think that content strategy was something different from SEO. And now I mean, they’re they go hand in hand. And so I think we’re basically seeing the same thing happen with various user experience metrics. And accessibility metrics, too. Right? Yes. I think folks have to be mindful, right? If they’re bloating your website with plugins or tracking tags, like maybe reconsider, adding that pop up overlay on your content, right, like I think, I think Google’s challenging people, especially with like cumulative layout shift, to be more mindful of like the kind of supplementary pop ups or content on the page, right, and making sure that you’re not overshadowing really the the meat of your text right or the meat of what’s valuable to search engines with, like, dynamic ads, right, or with pop ups or, or chatbot notices and that type of thing.

Excessive animations will also add to that. This isn’t this isn’t the 90s anymore, you can’t have a flash website. Even even if it’s not actually running on flash. There’s a lot of a lot of websites that are trying to I think relive that era right now. Yeah, shout out and shout out to Geocities.

I mean, what else would you say in addition to UX, Taylor?

Yeah, so the, my, my biggest pet peeve, I guess, it’s maybe more than a pet peeve, sometimes it’s a straight up roadblock, are websites that are running on a extremely dated or proprietary content management system? So you know, you might think yourself, okay, well, our website runs on WordPress, you know, 40%, of kind of the mainstream internet runs on WordPress, we’re going to be fine. And Okay, fair point. But if if your WordPress instance is from 2003, that’s probably not gonna work out very well, when there’s a major Google update. And you quickly need to pivot, you know, the, the advantage to using a mainstream content management system is that they are under extreme amounts of pressure to not only anticipate, but to quickly respond to Google’s algorithm updates. You know, if you’re WordPress, you don’t want to lose your user base. And so when there’s a big algorithm update, and your platform isn’t really in alignment with it, you’re going to dedicate a lot of resources to getting in alignment with it. Now, if you’re using a proprietary CMS, or maybe something that was developed at your company, 15 years ago, does that pressure exist? No, the person who made it probably doesn’t even work for you anymore. And so you might just kind of be stuck. And so I would say, you know, one of the best ways to kind of future proof your website against algorithm updates, is use kind of an industry standard platform, you know, don’t use something kind of homebrew because you know, when something goes wrong, you might be stuck, you might not have the internal resources to fix the problem. So like, I mean, to make this all more tangible, you know, we’ve had clients that were unable to edit basic metadata fields, on individual pages, and the person who kind of designed their platform that way was long gone. And so what do they do? They they’re just kind of stuck until they eventually get a brand new website.

So, you know, I would just start Yeah, thinking long term in this way, rather than just kind of relying on legacy systems, because eventually it’s gonna hurt your bottom line.

Right? And it’s not just the CMS, right? It’s any third party plugins or modules you might have attached, right, where we work so frequently in WordPress. And, you know, a lot of times folks have plugins that are so dated, that they’re unable to update those without, you know, the appearance breaking on the front end, or, you know, something breaking as a result. And similarly, like when you’re updating WordPress, but your plugins are ancient, right, you’re, they’re probably not going to play nice together, once one of those platforms is updated, right, whether it’s the plugin or the CMS itself. So I think having those issues, right, like, to your point, like you need agility when these algorithm updates head, right, you need to be able to make updates if necessary to respond. And when you don’t have the, like the flexibility in your CMS to do that to to easily edit content, right in any field that you might have on your website. And that’s a lot of times when folks run into trouble. But it’s really drastic, if like, to your point, like, you can edit metadata, you can edit like h1 titles, or something like that, like, that’s when it’s really disasterous, I think, is when folks are so handcuffed by their CMS. But I think like, on a, on a more distant note, I think another thing people really need to consider when these algorithm updates hit hit, as well as you need the ability to kind of supplement your search presence with probably some paid search ads, right? A lot of times these algorithm updates just don’t go your way. Right. We we have no control over what Google does. Sometimes, you know, they they make what seemingly questionable decisions where valuable websites or valuable information are pushed down. And even if that’s the case, you know, I think you have to have the ability to respond right. And you do that by having kind of paid search paid search campaigns at the ready, right for your really high priority keywords. And that means having both kind of paid search campaigns already already set up, you know, paid search landing pages and squeeze pages ready to go. And having that I think gives you kind of the agility to you know, if you lose that really high value keyword, you can, you can really stand up a replacement, at least paid replacement, you know, with relative ease. And a lot of times when folks are really scrambling after these updates, where they don’t have this contingency plan in place to nurture these high value value keywords, that’s I think, where they lose some some lead time they lose, like, leads over an extended period of time until they can really respond to it from an organic standpoint. But I think really having that symbiotic relationship between SEO and SEM, understanding your organic strengths, and what might needs to be supplemented with paid, you know, that can really help in anticipation of these these updates.

Oh, yeah, like, I mean, imagine, you run an e commerce store. And it’s will say, I don’t know, it’s sometime in November. So like, the holiday shopping thing is in full swing, all of a sudden, there’s an algorithm update, and you lose half your visibility, you know, you better have a backup plan ready. So you know, knowing that you have paid search campaigns that you can flip on or put more budget towards knowing that you have landing pages built out for that, or at least planned, you know, that’ll at least get you through kind of a tough era. If you do get kind of you know, dinged by an algorithm update. So, yeah, have a backup plan.

Yeah, absolutely. But I think, ultimately, when we think about these algorithm updates, especially Google’s somewhat, you know, turbulent algorithm updates as of late, like, you kind of just have to roll with it and let chaos reign a little bit. Like, these updates are inevitable, right? We don’t always know what’s coming sometimes, like core web titles, they do kind of give us some information to anticipate ahead of time. But, you know, for the most part, like, we just kind of have to roll with these as a result. And I think keep at a lot of things we talked about, right, like publishing new content and diversifying your content, like focusing on the things that always have mattered, right, like high quality content, and promoting credibility and index ability and those types of things. But I think what’s frustrating sometimes in this industry is that you see folks that are so frustrated about these, these routine algorithm updates. And some of them, you know, some digital marketers suggest like, oh, let’s give up on SEO entirely. Because it’s hard to keep up with, but that’s not the answer, especially in the b2b, you know, fields, we operate in where organic searches, generally more than half of traffic. But it’s it’s really these folks that I think that continue to publish great content, that answer their question their customers, you know, queries or concerns or questions, right, those folks that are really focused on providing that good user experience and that good information for their customers. Those are the folks that I think just sometimes, by happenstance, like, do really well with organic search, despite maybe not having that really technical knowledge, or that that really depth of content, strategy, knowledge, it’s just the folks that I think try to provide valuable information and continue to do so over a period of time, that that benefit, you know, on a long term basis from organic search, like, once you once you agree, Taylor?

Totally, totally. And I’d also say, and this might come off as SEO therapy more than anything else, if you do get hit by an algorithm update, you might not have done anything wrong, you know, if an algorithm update rolls out, and you lose, I mean, obviously, if you lose all your traffic, you did something wrong, but if you lose, I don’t know, 10, or 20%, of your visibility or traffic, you know, take a moment to reflect on, you know, look at the websites that actually are doing better now, after this algorithm update, what are they doing right? What are they doing maybe a little bit better than we are? And, you know, kind of take it in stride. You know, if you lose a bit of visibility, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you kind of, you know, broke the law of Google or anything like that, you know, especially when it comes to these kind of obscure core algorithm updates, where Google doesn’t say exactly what was changed. Just learn to take it in stride, you know, expect, you know, moderate fluctuations with all of them, and just keep on working on making, you know, your website and your content, you know, incrementally better over time. Right. So yeah, I think that’s, I think that’s it.

Yeah, it’s big G’s world and we’re just living in it. But I hope that was helpful for folks that have had a crazy summer with some of these these search algorithm updates. That is going to be it for today’s episode. If you wouldn’t mind subscribing to the crux podcast on your favorite platform. We really appreciate it. We’re also on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. If you want to check us check out Climb Marketing and give us a like, we’re always posting our latest podcasts, blog articles, Taylor’s always building some some crazy SEO tools for you to check out so so we’d love if you could check us out on social media. But thanks so much for listening to the Crux. Until next time.

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