Google’s history of algorithm updates has been both a blessing and a curse for the marketing world. With every iteration of their increasingly sophisticated algorithm, users are able to find better information faster and more conveniently—but search marketing professionals are usually thrown for a loop when their precious rankings get shaken up by the change. As a result, most search marketers have dedicated themselves to constantly preparing for the next inevitable update or making up for the consequences of the last one.
Beyond the give-and-take dynamics of search marketers and Google algorithm changes, there are some key lessons any marketer can learn from the history of Google updates we currently know:
It seems obvious, but it’s a reality you’ll have to prepare for. The second you start getting used to one technology, another will likely come along to replace it, and the impact that new technology has will likely spark changes in a host of other existing technologies. It has been more than a decade since Google started rolling out updates, and each new update takes the algorithm to new heights of sophistication. Now, the system is able to dynamically incorporate data from other, equally sophisticated systems like social media platforms and third-party apps, and there are virtually no limits to the system’s eventual capacity. This fast pace can be intimidating for marketers, but it also presents a key opportunity; the faster you adopt a new technology, the further ahead of the competition you’ll be.
Even though Google is always changing up the processes and priorities of its algorithm, there are certain fundamentals that haven’t changed since Google’s inception. The system still exists to help people find what they’re looking for on the web, and it values user experience above all other factors. Keep this in mind as you develop your own marketing strategies; though the channels you leverage and the strategies you use will change with the landscape of technology, your fundamental goals should remain consistent. Namely, your goals should be communicating to more customers efficiently and effectively, and keeping them happy when they encounter your presence online.
When Google Penguin rolled out, it issued a ton of major penalties to sites with low-quality or questionable backlinking practices. Basically, if you had more than one or two unnatural links pointing to your site, you likely got hit with a significant ranking drop. For many search marketers and webmasters who experienced that drop, it felt like the end of the world, yet Google still offered options for those businesses to climb back out of the hole. Through link removals and ongoing commitment to best practices, it was actually quite easy to restore your domain’s position—it just took some time. Remember, no matter how much a change shakes up your marketing strategy, you’ll always have time to recover with new tactics and a new approach.
Paying attention to fundamental best practices and working hard to hedge your bets is always a good idea. Rather than pouring all your effort into one or two tactics that seem to be working in the moment, try distributing your efforts and your focus across several strategies that have a high likelihood of working well in the long term. Try to anticipate changes before they come, and prepare for those changes with soft adjustments to your strategy. The saying goes “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and in the digital marketing world, that couldn’t be truer. The companies that spend time preparing for the future will always win out over their competitors.
Many updates seem like they pack an immediate punch, but the truth is that major changes tend to happen gradually. For example, the Panda update was first released back in 2011, and its initial rollout lasted over the course of several days. It’s now four years later and Google is still sending out new data refreshes and iterative updates to the initial new algorithm. In a sense, Panda is still rolling out. Don’t fear sudden changes; they don’t actually exist. When there’s an apparent sudden shift in direction, you just have to start making changes to keep up with the micro-changes to come.
While the Panda and Penguin update took many webmasters by surprise, to those paying close attention to the world of search news, they weren’t that shocking. Google tries to keep most of the specifics on its updates under wraps, but for the most part, they aren’t shy about letting people know what their expectations are. They’re vocal about what they like and don’t like, and they tend to give ample warning when they do have a major change in tow—such as their warnings about the April 21st mobile update and how it would potentially change the web. With this knowledge, pay close attention to the news as it develops, and realize that you have the power to anticipate these changes.
This is a fundamental concept that underlies all of Google’s updates, and it should underlie your marketing strategies as well. Objectively, all of your marketing strategies are about acquiring and retaining customers, and the best way to do that is by giving your users the best possible experience. Because Google wants the best possible experience for its users as well, it will reward you when your users are happy with what you’ve done. Keep your attention focused squarely on the needs and wants of your users, and you cannot fail.
These lessons apply to more than just the SEO world; they can apply to the digital marketing world in general. Take inspiration from these truths and consider them when planning for the future. The more in tune you are to the ever-changing landscape of technology and communication around you, the better you’ll fare in any campaign.