There is a big misconception out there that any Google core update is a time to panic.
The people working at SEO consulting companies do not declare Red Alert and scurry about the office to arm their battle stations. A core update will get our attention, to be sure. But if you have been doing the right things for the last few years, there is no need to panic. And if you’ve been doing the right things really well, you’re kind of excited for an update.
Updates are not to be feared. They’re to be expected.
The first thing you need to understand is that Google will literally update their search algorithm several thousand times a year. Most of these updates happen in the background without us even knowing about it. Or they may make a more substantial core update, which they typically confirm after the fact.
Or, if they have something much bigger coming down the pipeline, they may give webmasters a year or more of notice to prepare. This was the case with Google’s two biggest updates of 2021:
- The Page Experience Update
- Mobile-First Indexing
To make sure you’re feeling relatively confident about the state of your SEO, we’re going to walk you through everything you need to know about the above updates. We are also going to walk you through how to prepare for all Google updates in the foreseeable future.
What to Know About 2021’s Updates
The Google Page Experience update may seem a bit intimidating. At first glance, it may look like 8 updates rolled into one. But it’s not really.
The Page Experience Update will focus on the following search signals:
- Safe browsing
- The Core Web Vitals
And within the Core Web Vitals, Google will be looking at a page’s:
- Loading time
- Visual stability
The first 5 things focus on your site’s user experience, while the last 3 things focus on how your site’s speed impacts the user experience.
Anything that Google does is almost always in the name of creating a better experience for the user. So, as you can see, all of the elements listed above will target things that users hate, such as:
- Awkward mobile sites
- Non-safe websites
- Bothersome interstitial ads
- And slow websites
To be clear, none of these things were ever good for your SEO. But the exact definitions for a good user experience or a fast website were a bit ambiguous. We’re SEOs. We don’t like ambiguity. We like numbers and finite guidelines. And for years, we had to somewhat hypothesize our own. That’s no longer the case.
To prepare for this update, we now have specifics to work with.
Be More Mobile-Friendly
It’s official: Your mobile site needs to be as good, or better, than your desktop site in 2021 and beyond for two reasons:
- Mobile-friendliness is a major part of The Page Experience Update
- Google confirmed that mobile-first indexing is now standard for all sites
It doesn’t matter if you don’t think your customers access your mobile site, or if you have a predominantly desktop user base. Google will now index your mobile site before it even looks at your desktop site.
This means that all of your content needs to be on your mobile site. If you have any pages or sections that only appear on your desktop site, they simply won’t be indexed. Google has said in no uncertain terms that, “If it’s your intention that the mobile page should have less content than the desktop page, you can expect some traffic loss when your site is enabled mobile-first indexing.”
You also need to make sure your mobile experience is free of any of the classic barriers, such as:
- Buttons or links situated too close together
- Mobile viewpoint not set
- Content wider than the screen
- Text too small
- Incompatible/ non-functional plugins
Your best bet is always to run your site through the Google mobile-friendliness test. If you don’t pass, don’t feel too bad. It has been estimated that nearly a quarter of the world’s most visited websites fail some part of that test.
But still. Fix any mobile issues you’re having or your SEO will almost certainly suffer.
Make Sure You’re a Safe Place
This one is fairly straightforward, you need to make sure that:
- Your site is free of malware
- Make sure you’re using HTTPS instead of HTTP
If you’re struggling with either of these issues, you were probably already struggling with both rankings and traffic. Google Chrome has been flagging HTTP sites as non-secure since 2018.
If you haven’t transitioned to HTTPS yet, do it now. Do it right now.
Be as Fast as Possible. Then Try to Be Even Faster
Site load speeds have never been more crucial to your SEO. The Core Web Vitals are all about speed and giving us a new definition of fast. Your top priority needs to be page speed optimization right now.
The various new Core Web Vitals tests out there can help you find (and fix) any speed issues with 3 new metrics.
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): Your page’s largest asset should be done loading within 2.5 seconds of when the page first started loading
- First Input Delay (FID): When a user clicks on a button or link, the page should respond in 100 milliseconds or less
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): This measures when the page’s assets stop shifting around during the loading process. You will want a CLS score of 0.1 or less
We cannot stress this one enough! Speed has never been more important than it is right now. That’s why everyone on our team has been obsessed with website page speed and core web vitals testing for the last year or so.
Get Rid of Cumbersome Interstitial Ads
We all like leveraging interstitial ads on our web pages. They’re a great way to promote a free trial or collect email addresses for your mailing list. But you need to be very careful with how you leverage them.
Simply put, your user needs an obvious out. They need to be able to quickly click the little X to close the ad, or there needs to be an obvious No Thanks button. Your No Thanks button cannot be in small red print on a slightly different red background.
And of course, this needs to be just as easy and obvious on a mobile screen. Follow these guidelines to make sure everything checks out.
That’s a high-level overview of what to expect in this update. To make sure you’re prepared, you should start by running a Page Experience Report on your site, or get an SEO company to do it for you. The advantage of having a pro do it for you is that they can show you how to fix any issues that your site may have.
Set Yourself Up For Future Updates
This is a great time to work in SEO, in our humble opinion. To us, Google’s search algorithm has never made more sense than it does today. And nearly all core updates are Google’s way of trying to make a better experience for searchers, and a better overall web for everyone.
On a simple level, what is SEO at its most basic core? It’s convincing Google’s ranking signals that your content belongs on the front page. And you accomplish that with:
- High-quality content on your site
- High-quality sites linking to that content
- A good user experience
Most core updates are designed to reward the sites that are doing those 3 things. Google doesn’t really throw curveballs. I don’t think they’re ever going to say we need to purge all end-dashes and replace them with semi-colons or we won’t rank. All of their updates are logical.
Know That You’re Never Being ‘Punished’
It’s also important to avoid the mentality of being punished by Google. Just because you saw a few keywords drop off, that doesn’t mean you’re being punished.
As Google’s Danny Sullivan describes it, “There’s nothing wrong with pages that may perform less well in a core update. They haven’t violated our webmaster guidelines nor been subjected to a manual or algorithmic action, as can happen to pages that do violate those guidelines.”
Don’t assume that you’ve done something wrong. Assume anything that passed you in the rankings is doing something right. Of course, that something could be any number of things such as their content:
- Loading faster
- Earning more clicks
- Earning more links
- Being more in-depth or comprehensive
If something of yours has fallen off of the front page, that doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. It can regain its standing. Your best bet is to take a close look at what’s outranking you and try to figure out what it’s doing differently/better. Or, you should get an SEO firm to figure it out for you.
Remember That You are What You E-A-T
We mentioned that Google wants good content. But isn’t the term good subjective? Yes and no.
Sure, it’s true that people have different tastes. Some people like short and punchy sentences. Others like to take a deep dive into long and more detailed paragraphs. One is not better than the other, and that’s not how we’re measuring good.
When rating quality, Google likes to use the E-A-T acronym, which stands for:
So how does Google decide whether or not you’re an expert or an authority? You might not be seen as an expert if you’re blogging about a particular issue for the first time. Or you may be seen as less authoritative if you publish a lawn care article on a fitness site. Or you may be perceived as less trustworthy if your site has security issues.
Ask Some Hard Questions
Google recommends that you always ask yourself two big questions about your content:
- Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
- Would you expect to see this content in or referenced by a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
Those questions are a great way to get in the right headspace when creating content or doing a website audit to see how you can do things better. Here are a few other questions we recommend asking.
1. Is This Content Bringing Something New To The Table?
Why should Google deem this content better than everything else written on the subject? What unique value are you offering?
Maybe your piece offers the simplest explanation of a complex issue. Maybe you have unique stats or quotes, and maybe you’re presenting them in an eye-pleasing infographic.
You can’t just recycle or re-label what’s already out there and expect to outrank it.
2. How is My First Impression?
As a great poet once said, You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to rank. Ok, that’s not what he said, but the concept is pretty much there. You have one chance to earn your reader’s attention and it’s the first impression made by your headline and image combo. You earn the click based on the strength of those things.
Is your headline just a longtail keyword with nothing added? Is your image something you found on Page 1 of your stock photo site? Putting in the minimum effort will earn you the minimum clicks and views.
You don’t need shocking photos or sensational BuzzFeed You Won’t Believe What Happened Next headlines. But you can’t be boring.
You need to make an emotional connection with the reader. So, put a lot of thought into your first impression. Take some chances. Be funny. Be interesting. Be a little weird.
It’s better than being forgettable.
3. Am I Delivering on My Headline’s Promise?
Nothing is more frustrating than a blog or page that does not provide what you were promised. Readers will scan for what they’re looking for. If they don’t see any evidence of it, they will click away in less than a full second. And Google will notice!
Don’t bury the lede and hide the article’s true value at the bottom of the article. Never assume that the reader will scroll or hunt for the information. Readers hate clicking on a recipe and having to sift through 1000 words of family history before they get to the GD recipe. Don’t do that.
Give the people what they want and do it quickly.
Use This Update as an Excuse to Revisit Your Keyword Research
There is nothing in this update that specifically changes anything about keywords or how they’re handled. But it’s important to remember that your keywords are the very backbone of your SEO success. It all starts there. And it’s even more important to know that keyword research has an expiration date.
Any major Google search algo update is a great opportunity to do a full SEO site audit and re-run your keyword research to find new opportunities and unlock more organic traffic. It’s very possible that the keywords people are using to look for your business online have changed in some way.
Are you still using the keyword research that you generated in 2018? If so, you’re not alone. A lot of (too many) companies only re-run their keyword research when they redo their whole website. So, that could be every 3-5 years.
Failing to stay on top of your industry’s hot keywords is missing the opportunity to be the first to jump on top of new trends. Whoever is first will win all of the traffic, leads, and sales that come from ranking for a new keyword.
For example, if you sell cell phones, keyword research from 2018 isn’t going to help you. Nobody is searching for the iPhone SE or iPhone 9 anymore. That’s sort of an extreme example, and you may say, We work in a more static industry and not much changes from year to year. That may very well be the case. But you don’t want to assume that. You need to know that.
Re-running your keyword research is quick and inexpensive. If you run it and discover that not much has changed over the last few years, great! You can carry on confidently knowing that you’re on the right path. However, you could also discover a few new opportunities.
Or you could have an experienced SEO firm do it for you. Real SEO nerds can comb through this type of data all day, and they relish the opportunity to discover new keyword opportunities. They can find the hidden gems. They can find low-competition and purchase driving keywords that your competitors don’t know about yet.
Start Building Links the Right Way
Do you have a competitor that is inexplicably killing you in the rankings?
You look at their site and you can’t understand it. You look at their blog and see that they’re publishing as often as you. The quality of the writing seems to be comparable. You scan their service pages and see that you’re both optimizing the same way. But they are still beating you month after month.
In a lot of these cases, it’s because they’re earning more/better links than you.
Optimizing your website is literally only half of the battle. If you’re not taking your off-page SEO (link building) as seriously as your on-page SEO, you’re literally cutting your chances of success in half.
In 2012, Moz estimated that your domain’s backlinks made up about 30% of your overall SEO value. But nearly 10 years later, Moz has estimated that those links are now worth over 50%.
The Evolution of Link Building: Digital PR
There are some people that would tell you that link building and guest posting don’t work. In 2014, Google’s Matt Cutts declared, “Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice.”
Well, he was right about one thing: Guest blogging really sucked in 2014.
It was bad back then. Thankfully, Google changed its algo and re-evaluated how it assessed links. The Panda and Penguin updates cracked down on irrelevant links on low-quality sites. But that didn’t kill link building or guest blogging. It forced them to evolve into something better.
A lot of people have been talking about Digital PR lately. This has existed in one form or another for the last few years, but I think the name Digital PR is perfect. SEO people in 2021 are basically borrowing tactics PR people used in 1921.
Digital PR is all about reaching out to websites to build relationships and pitch them a story, the same way PR people would have reached out to a newspaper or radio station. It’s all about personalized outreach and offering real value. But that’s not how it was in 2014.
Back then, if you owned a website, you would get absolutely blasted with emails from people who wanted to guest post on your site. Most of these emails were littered with typos, which was very indicative of the level of quality you would get if you said yes.
There was no consideration for relevance or quality. But today, you very much need both of those things. You need to approach quality websites with well-written content that their readers will legitimately click on.
Is it more work? Certainly. But is the payoff there? Absolutely!
Where Do I Find Sites That Would Be Interested in My Guest Blogs?
Use a tool like ahrefs to do a competitive analysis to see which domains are currently linking to your competition. This list should reveal a number of websites that have already run guest posts from your competitors. This could include things like trade publications, industry blogs, or local media.
If they published something for The Other Guys, they would probably be open to something from you. But don’t simply approach them and say, “Hey we noticed you published a blog from (blank). Will you publish one from us?” You need to approach them with an original idea and it certainly wouldn’t hurt for that idea to be better than the one your competition came up with.
Of course, this is very time-consuming and takes a tremendous amount of tact. You don’t want to come on too strong, yet you want to be persistent.
That’s why most people hire a professional SEO services company to handle this for them. A good agency will already have a contact list full of bloggers and influencers with whom they already have existing relationships.
We Can Help You Update-Proof and Future-Proof Your SEO
Staying on top of Google’s updates can be a full-time job, and you already have a full-time job. Let us take care of it for you!
You can call me at 647-448-4449 or click the big green Connect With Paul button at the top of the screen.