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Core Updates in Google’s Search Algorithms

Google is constantly updating its search algorithms to give searchers the best user experience with the most relevant results for their search. In turn, SEOs are trying to ‘work the system’ to get the best rankings for their website/s, and hope that Google’s system will continue to benefit their visibility. At times, Google introduces a ‘core update’ – as they did in January – which is a more significant update based on many signals used for each web page.

Every time a core update is introduced there could be notable movements in a website’s search rankings, which can either be positive or negative, and may reflect certain signals that impact these positions. Google will never provide a clear picture of the ranking factors they use, but they do provide ‘webmaster guidelines’ to promote best practice in more general terms, and every website should check their pages against these guidelines.

In August last year, Google published a lengthy blog post by Danny Sullivan – a leading search engine expert who once wrote regularly about search engines and SEO, and now works for Google as ‘Public Liaison for Search’. He covered some of the key issues that Google’s system will be looking for and the importance of E-A-T, or Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. These are 3 key signals that Google’s system will try to identify and measure to determine the best rankings and the most relevant and useful results for users.

In the article, Sullivan points out that “search engines like Google do not understand content the way human beings do. Instead, we look for signals we can gather about content and understand how those correlate with how humans assess relevance. How pages link to each other is one well-known signal that we use. But we use many more, which we don’t disclose to help protect the integrity of our results.”

Some of the key content signals that Google may be looking for were listed in the blog and include such things as:

  • Does the content provide original information, reporting, research or analysis?
  • Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • If the content draws on other sources, does it avoid simply copying or rewriting those sources and instead provide substantial additional value and originality?
  • Does the headline and/or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content
  • Does the content present information in a way that makes you want to trust it, such as clear sourcing, evidence of the expertise involved, background about the author or the site that publishes it, such as through links to an author page or a site’s About page?
  • If you researched the site producing the content, would you come away with an impression that it is well-trusted or widely-recognized as an authority on its topic?
  • Is the content free from spelling or stylistic issues?
  • Was the content produced well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  • Does content display well for mobile devices when viewed on them?
  • Does the content provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • Does the content seem to be serving the genuine interests of visitors to the site or does it seem to exist solely by someone attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?

The above issues are the type of questions asked of Google’s content raters, who comprise a large number of individuals who are given searches to conduct and provide feedback on the type of results that rank well, and what signals may be good or bad from a user’s perspective. These are also the type of questions an SEO practitioner should be asking about pages that are hoping to rank well, and these may need several versions of a page to test changes in ranking.

If ranking positions should also drop back after one of the core updates by Google, this could be another opportunity to review how the page content compares to others in the results, and particularly pages that have improved their ranking.

If you’d like to know more about core updates and improving the optimisation of your website, please contact us for details.