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Search rankings suddenly dropped?

Understanding Google algorithm changes helps address surprises

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  • Written by  Michael Bertini, iQuanti
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  • Comments:   DISQUS_COMMENTS
Search rankings suddenly dropped?

Recently, I was rattled by the sudden drop in search ranking for one of our clients. A large national financial services company faced a 28% drop in organic search visits in one month without any apparent reason why.

The culprit?

A little-known change to Google’s algorithm that favors newer content posted on sites over older content. And by older content, I mean content dated one and a half years or more old.

Marketer challenges

The ability to maintain a high ranking on search results is critical to a bank’s success and a challenging task to undertake. But frequently a sudden change in Google’s algorithm can cause hard-earned rankings to drop without any warning (most of the time) or readily identifiable explanation as to why.

This is especially true of two updates that are impacting marketers now: Google’s Freshness update and Google’s Speed update.

Google updates are necessary to keep up with the changing technology and the ever-increasing volume of data available. However, left unaddressed they can have seriously negative impacts on your digital marketing efforts.

Google’s Freshness update provides preference in search results to sites with newer content. For those marketers unaware and with older, less “fresh” content on their site, this update can cause a drop in rankings.

The Google Speed update, which is slated to be deployed in July, is another algorithm that marketers need to be aware of. In this update, Google is focusing on mobile page load speed over desktop. According to Google, this change will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users and should only impact a small percentage of queries. Google says it will apply the same standard to all pages, regardless of the technology used to build the page. But these speed changes can also cause declines in desktop rankings.

The importance of speed cannot be understated for user experience. Search engine users expect a site to load in three seconds or less. Faster-loading sites will typically be more efficient for a crawler to crawl and Google’s servers will have less useless data to store if a site is faster.

Marketer solutions—speed

Because Google algorithm updates are constant, savvy marketers must continuously monitor loading times and be vigilant for any changes in their site’s monthly ranking and traffic. You can check site speed and errors by using the Google PageSpeed Insights tool while undertaking proactive steps to improve load times.

iQuanti recommends the following 12 steps, depending on the site:

1. Eliminate render-blocking JavaScript and CSS in above-the-fold content. (Render-blocking JavaScript is code that keeps a web page from loading quickly. CSS stands for “cascading style sheet,” where material is drawn from multiple sources.) (Low Impact)

2. Leverage browser caching (High Impact)

3. Reduce redirects (Medium Impact)

4. Enable compression (Medium Impact)

5. Minify CSS (Minifying means to eliminate unnecessary characters from web code without affecting functionality) (Low Impact)

6. Prioritize above-the-fold content (Low-Medium Impact)

7. Minify HTML (Low Impact)

8. Minify JavaScript (Low Impact)

9. Minimize HTTP Requests (High Impact)

10. Reduce image sizes (Low Impact)

11. Reduce server response time (Low Impact)

12. Move to a faster hosting provider (Low Impact)

Marketer solutions—freshness

Google’s Freshness algorithmic changes can be addressed by simply taking older content and updating the data in it or tweaking the content and republishing it. We realized that the exact same content republished with a more recent date not only ranked better, it also ranked better for more keyword terms.

There are several ways to refresh your content. You can change headers or update content and reposition it to improve search rankings, for example. Ultimately, we found that the maximum amount of traffic an article produces peaks in the first two months and then stabilizes.

But updating old content is time consuming. Generally speaking, we recommend refreshing content that is more than two years old.

My advice for marketers is to embrace change, since it will happen anyway.

And be optimistic. The good news is this update is showing us that Google is continuing to make mobile a priority. What this means is that your content strategy and user experience should match Google’s intent for the algorithm in 2018. Based on what we seen with other algorithm rollouts, we feel that the real impact of this change can be felt in Q3, 2018 and that marketers have five to six months to make these changes.

About the author

Michael Bertini is senior manager, search strategy, at iQuanti.

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