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How Google’s Search Engine Algorithm Makes or Breaks Industries

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No, they’re not the names of heroes or villains in the latest action movie franchise.

They’re the titles on one very important playlist: Google’s.

If you’ve spent time online as a marketing professional, you’ll be familiar with the Google Shuffle.

Just when you think you’ve found your algorithmic groove, Google changes the tune.

Which can not only throw you off balance – it can wipe you right off the coveted Google dance card.

So if you intend to stay on that card, always be prepared to come up with some new moves.

The Pied Piper

An algorithm, simply put, is a formula for processing information or performing a task.

It’s not just Google that’s built their operation around algorithms. Every moment, machines are determining both individual and corporate futures. Software makes decisions about everything from which credit card applicants get approved to how hospital resources are allocated.

Companies like Facebook and Google have spent billions of dollars creating the algorithms they employ to sift through mountains of data – and they’re zealous about safeguarding their software secrets. As artificial intelligence makes these formulas ever more complex, it becomes increasingly difficult to understand how decisions are being made.

AI-generated algorithms were supposed to help us deal more efficiently and objectively with the exponential growth in available digital data.

The problem is, algorithms can’t be predictable and unbiased: they’re created by humans!  Program developers can inadvertently introduce their own biases. Or, algorithms can “learn” biases from training data before being launched.  Or they can pick up on user bias - which can result in unpredictable shape-shifting over time.

Staying in Step

Since over 50 percent of website traffic results from organic search, and over 90 percent of B2B buyers do online research before purchasing, you want to ensure you show up on Google’s SERP.

Easier said than done, since Google updates can confound even the best-laid content presentation plans.

Google’s most significant algorithm updates are endowed with special names and announced publicly. The intent – according to Google – is to indicate to the market how content and user experience can be improved.

These updates can result in major shake ups in a business’s trajectory – possibly in a downward direction. When Google updates, if your content doesn’t meet its specifications, your site may not show up in SERPs at all - and your organic traffic will take a nosedive.

Name that Tune

Google is constantly trying to stay up-to-date with new trends and technologies.

Put another way: change is inevitable. The challenge for any online business is to find ways to keep up with Google’s algorithm updates and how they affect SEO practices.

Google’s original algorithm – PageRank – measured page relevance based primarily on backlinks and keywords. Twenty-five years later, it uses over 200 search signals. So it can be hard to keep up.

There have been several game-changing updates that left a lot of online businesses, as well as local businesses, scrambling to adapt their SEO strategies.

And these updates have had a powerful impact on the way content is created, marketed, and consumed today.

Quality is King

The old SEO tricks are so 90’s – and Google is on to them. Its search engine will sniff  out and penalize hidden backlinks and keyword stuffing before you can say “whaaa?”  So drop those from your repertoire.

But Google updates are about more than what not to do. Over time, consumers have signaled they crave content of greater depth and richness, and that’s reflected in algorithm updates.

The quick and convenient 500-word piece of the past no longer gets a Google gold star. Ten years ago, the “Panda” update specifically targeted thin, irrelevant content. It made long-form quality content imperative. That has given rise to a burgeoning content marketing industry, which features formats like blogs to provide readers with personalized, engaging, relevant information that is of actual value to them.

Over the years, we’ve seen numerous updates that have targeted ranking signals -  like time spent on site, engagement, page load time, etc. But consumers are keenly attuned to visuals, which means imagery plays an important part in each of these metrics. Creating high-quality images for enhanced user experience has given birth to a number of startups like Crello that help users create top-quality visuals with very little effort.

Ahead of the Curve

Other changes underscore the current widespread concerns over cybersecurity. HTTPS is now a ranking signal which Google has made mandatory. With the increase in digitization, there’s a growing potential for a rogue plugin or extension to deploy malware or adware on websites.

Hackers have shown they’re able to access sensitive information via carefully crafted Google queries. If your site falls victim to bad actors, it will be blacklisted – which puts you out of commission. So smart businesses are being proactive about malware protection to ensure their sites are safe for visitors.

With every algorithm update, sites can see a huge rise or drop in traffic. Many sites that relied completely on SEO for survival have had to shut down over time.  Similar unpredictability on other channels like social media (such as Facebook’s reduction in organic social exposure to websites) has meant more businesses are looking for other ways to distribute content. They’ve begun to appreciate the value of alternate communication channels like webinar marketing – a rapidly growing industry that was barely on the map fifteen years ago.

Stay on the Dance Floor

No question – Google algorithms are and will likely remain a significant factor when it comes to online searches

Their algorithm updates can shake up SEO strategies – often in positive ways. They can spur businesses to review their content output, enhance its quality, and develop or invest in creative new ways to distribute it.

So don’t waste time and energy trying to outsmart the competition with SEO tactics.

Keep it simple.

Focus on your end-user. Aim to consistently offer quality content that is user-friendly, visually stimulating, and engages readers.

Monitor your site traffic consistently to make sure your audience is picking up on what you’re delivering.

And stay on the dance floor.