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What’s the Best Way to Deal with a Search Engine Algorithm Update - 2010 Edition
Monday, November 08, 2010
This year, we have seen our share of search engine algorithm updates and changes.  The most discussed update was undoubtedly what the industry referred to as the Google MayDay update.  Ah major algorithm updates.  If you want to see webmasters, SEO's or site owners cringe, just ask them about search engine algorithm updates.  Seven years ago this month, site owners were left scratching their heads with Google's Florida Update.  The fact is that is you deal with search engine optimization or organic search, you are at the mercy of the almighty search algorithms.  Should you fear algorithm updates?  Well only if you do not know what you are doing with your site in terms of architecture, the optimization of your content and with regards to links (both internal and external linking).

The search engines, including Google, are always making updates to their algorithms but many site owners feel it when the engines perform a major search algorithm update.  Usually when Google performs a major algo update, there are a number of theories that people come up with to try and decipher how they can improve their rankings in Google’s index or more importantly preserve their existing rankings from dropping in the results.

(Image courtesy of http://summer.twingly.com/2008/06/23/weeeha-graph-drawing-algorithm-check/)


Remember Google’s Florida Update?  It happened in November 2003 and caused Webmaster and site owners panic across the online universe.  The Florida Update caused millions of pages and sites to be dropped from Google’s results.  Danny Sullivan had a good review of the Florida Update only weeks after it occurred.  Looking back it was an obvious effort to improve relevancy for the sites that were being listed.  Or was it?  A number of commercial sites suffered.  These are sites that you would expect to see when doing generic "head-type" keyword searches.  In the end however, the Florida Update was necessary for the progress of the Google Search Engine.  Just like the "Big Daddy" update was in early 2006, Google, and all search engines for that matter, need to continue to have major (and minor) algorithm updates to improve their search products.  Improving the relevancy of the results is not something that will just happen.  It takes continuous tweaking and improvement to serve up the results that are of relevance to the searcher.  Factor in the fact that what’s relevant to me may not be relevant for you, and you see how the algorithms need to be adjusted accordingly.  The search engine algorithms cannot remain status quo.  Change is required.  Just because you have ranked in the number one position in Google for <insert keyword here> for five years does not mean that you are entitled to that ranking for eternity.  Nothing lasts forever… including search engine rankings.  Unless that is that your web page or site remains the most relevant for that given term or topic.

Dealing With a Search Engine Algorithm Update

As we move into 2011, you know that there are going to be major algorithm updates coming.  In fact we are more often seeing regular smaller algorithm updates more frequently.  So how does one prepare for a major search engine algorithm update?  Well in truth, depending on the search engine and depending on the update, you may be unable to do anything.  However here are some tips that you should follow when dealing for or preparing for a major search engine algorithm update.
  1. Don’t Panic – many site owners and Webmasters feel that they can control the situation.  The fact is you cannot.  You’re better served to ride out the storm and deal with the pieces that are left once the storm passes.  More often than not, as time passes you, the sites that are relevant and useful re-surface in the index and in the rankings where they are supposed to be.  (That is unless they have been penalized by the search engines due to some blackhat techniques, such as artificially inflated link inventories etc.)
     
  2. Keep Your Site Well Optimized - take care of SEO and SEO will take care of you. Ensuring that your site has well optimized titles, meta data, on page copy, and sufficient external link inventory can go a long way in weathering the storm of a major search engine algorithm update.
     
  3. Pay Attention to the Search Engines - Quite often the search engines will communicate (in a roundabout way) if your site has indexing issues.  Using tools like Google Webmaster Tools can help you ensure that your site is in good standing with Google.  If you’re in good with Google, chances are you’ll be in good with the other search engines such as Yahoo and Live Search.
     
  4. Continue to Refresh Your Keyword Basket(s) - just because you may be ranking for a core group of keywords today, doesn’t mean that you will be ranking for them forever.  You should always be refining your keywords to ensure that you are focusing on phrases that are relevant and that you can rank for in the search engines and more importantly that your audience are using when they complete a search query.
     
  5. Be Patient - Similar to point number one, you really need to be patient when a major search algorithm update has a negative impact on your site.  Prepare for updates, you know they are coming, so sticking to the basics and ensuring that you have well optimized, fresh content on your site, that you are continuing to build your link inventory and have a technically sound site will help you when dealing with algorithm updates.  Be aware of your major competitors.  If they were not affected by the algorithm update, determine why?  After an algorithm update, it can take days or weeks for the dust to settle.  Do not worry about being reactive immediately.  If changes are required, wait until all of the algorithm changes have been deployed.  There is nothing worse than overreacting to an algorithm change, making site-wide changes and then have the algorithm change to be temporary or revert back to previous indexing standards.  You can do more damage by overreacting to an algorithm change than by simply doing nothing at all.
Search Engine Algorithm updates are not always fun to deal with from a Webmaster’s point of view.  Ensuring that your site consists of a search engine friendly design with proper site architecture, is technically sound and is well optimized can be a great way to prepare for search algorithm updates.  The fact of the matter is,  that when it comes to an algorithm update, as site owners we’re at the "mercy" of the search engines.  I suggest that we name the next major algorithm update from Google the "California Update" in celebration of the Florida update that took place seven years ago.  Regardless, coming soon to the search results near you, the next search engine algorithm update.

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posted by Jody @ Monday, November 08, 2010  
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