Google is continually updating its many search algorithms at the rate of about 2-3 per day. Most are minor, but occasionally there is a major update. The major updates can have significant impacts on SEO, and they’re the ones that get search marketers in a tizzy.

Back when Matt Cutts was in charge of web spam he would confirm the update, and then he or someone in the industry would give it a name. The latest one is named 'Fred', but jokingly so by Gary Illyes, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst.

Fred is the name that stuck and it’s a catch-all that covers every update SEOs have noticed that Google doesn’t officially confirm and/or name. For reference, here is a thorough history of algorithm updates.

We know that Google is making updates daily, but the announcements about these updates have been on a steady decline and are becoming more and more infrequent. 5 years ago Matt Cutts would tweet something like this, “We pushed the 1st Penguin algo data refresh an hour ago”.

Today Gary Illyes says something like this:

A World of Uncertainty

Even if Google is being less forthcoming with their algorithm updates, we still have really good intel about some of the more important factors that are going to have an impact on SEO.

Google isn’t likely to be more transparent about how they operate their search business, but we can learn a great deal when it comes to what they have been transparent about. Most major updates to the algorithm are associated with these areas of your website:

  • Links
  • Technical SEO
  • Content
  • UX

If you’ve been around SEO for any period of time you will know that links back to your website are one of the most valued SEO assets. That being said links are also one of the most troubling of tactics to employ.

How you acquire them, and from where is a very strategic process. You can’t just buy links and expect any kind of ROI, in-fact you could do more harm to your SEO with this approach.

Links that you (or the person before you) may have ‘acquired’ could have helped SEO at one time, but they could be hurting SEO now.

Learn more from one of SEO’s top thought leaders, Rand Fishkin, about how Penguin 4.0 impacts SEO.

Technical SEO
This is the stuff that’s related to how your website performs when people are trying to use it. How long it takes to load, and if it mobile-friendly are some obvious examples.

Google has been clear about what they are looking for when they visit a website. Google Webmaster Guidelines is your “rules of the road” guide to follow to avoid getting on the wrong side of the road.

If you’ve been around search marketing for any amount of time you’ve probably heard that your content has to be “unique, useful, and relevant”, or some combination of that. Put yourself in a user’s shoes and of course that is pretty obvious. We’re all looking for unique, useful and relevant content.

Google has a Quality Raters Guide that outlines how to evaluate the quality of content. You can learn a lot of helpful SEO content insights about what is and what isn’t good content.

UX/User Experience
How UX impacts SEO might be new to some, but Google does factors user behaviour into SEO. As we learn more about how Google uses this data to rank a website, we can start to see the relationship between technical SEO, user experience and content.

For example, here are two scenarios that could harm your SEO:

  • Someone searches on a term/keyword, and they find your website on the first page of Google. They click on the result, but your website takes too long to load, or it doesn’t work on a mobile device, so they try another website. This ‘looks bad’ for your website.
  • Someone searches on a term/keyword, but the content on your website doesn’t resonate with them, or fulfill what they are looking for, so they hit the back button and try another website in the search results. This ‘looks bad’ for your website.

The Enemy of Good

Google search is a major source of traffic for almost all websites, and search engines aren’t going away. The Google algorithms are changing, and have evolved partly in response to how SEOs, and webmasters gamed the results.

When it comes to SEO, Google will never tell us the ingredients of their secret sauce, but they’ve shared some insights into what they think makes a good website for their index.

SEO is about being as close to perfect as your can be, and better than your competition. The first step towards perfection, in terms of SEO, is to familiarize yourself with the Google Webmaster Guideline, and their Quality Raters Guide.

When you have a handle on that here are some great SEO thought leaders to stay in touch with: