Google seems like it’s on a warpath, releasing updates and data refreshes on a near-monthly basis, and throwing the world of search marketing for a loop with game-changing features every few months. Search engine optimization (SEO) is always on the move, never resting in one place for too long, and search marketers are desperate to stay ahead of the curve.
There’s a lingering fear among many search marketers that their efforts are one day going to be useless—after all, practices like keyword stuffing and backlink spamming were once the breadwinners of the SEO world, and now they’re long obsolete. However, despite the fact that Google will inevitably continue rolling out game-changing updates, it’s unlikely that you have a real reason to worry—as long as you’re implementing your strategy correctly.
Google’s been making steady updates since it first came onto the scene in 1999. The first few years were a matter of getting its footing, but for the next several years after that, things remained relatively stable. Search marketers engaged in straightforward, mathematical processes to increase their domain authority and rise through the keyword ranks. Then, in 2011, the Panda update was released and search marketers were forced to reevaluate their entire onsite strategy. Panda started weeding out shady content practices, such as content duplication, keyword stuffing, and spamming content for the sake of increasing content volume at the sacrifice of content quality. On the other hand, the Panda update rewarded sites with a focus on improving user experience, rather than just advancing rank.
Then a year later, Google released the Penguin update, an offsite counterpart to the Panda update. Where Panda eliminated black hat onsite practices, Penguin eliminated black hat offsite practices, penalizing sites with an inordinate number of repetitive links, or links based on irrelevant external sources, or low quality sources. Much like Panda, Penguin shook up the world of SEO and forced search marketers to completely reevaluate a portion of their strategy.
Google’s next major update, Hummingbird, in 2013 struck a serious blow against the relevance of keyword-based optimization by introducing semantic search—an algorithm feature that analyzes user intent rather than focusing on keyword phrases to populate results. It didn’t affect the sheer number of queries that Panda and Penguin did, but it did radically alter the way Google populated results.
The Pigeon update in 2014 affected local search results by incorporating offsite user reviews into result relevance. All the while, new updates for Panda and Penguin have been rolling out gradually, refining each of them and keeping search marketers on their toes.
Search marketers are consistently afraid that yet another shakeup in the search world is going to force them to change their entire strategy—or worse, make their jobs obsolete. Google has been rolling these updates out to fight against practices designed solely to influence rank, so it isn’t unthinkable to imagine the company trying to eliminate SEO practices altogether. However, the fundamental motivation behind Google’s updates isn’t based on getting revenge on search optimizers. It’s actually much simpler than that.
Google wants one thing: to remain the world’s foremost, dominant search engine (and overall web presence, but that’s another story). To do that, they have to keep their users happy, and they can keep users happy by giving them the best possible experience.
That’s it. There’s no ulterior motive. Google just wants to give online users the best possible online experience, and that means giving them the best results. That means every update they make, from Panda back in 2011 to some unknown update in 2025, is going to be based around the idea of improving results, and therefore, user experience. You don’t need to worry about the updates that are to come down the pipeline because you already know what they’re going to be focused on, and you know you can prepare for them by proactively giving Google what it wants to see.
Google’s updates are arbitrary, to some degree. If you’re only worried about finding and exploiting the rare holes in Google’s algorithm in order to increase your rank, you should probably be concerned about the next updates in line. However, if you keep your focus in line with Google’s focus by consistently refining and improving user experience, you’ll never need to worry about getting blindsided. All of Google’s updates are designed to make users happy, and if you’re making users happy with your strategy, you’ll make Google happy in turn.
There are several ways you can do this.
First and foremost, you need to ensure that all your onsite content is high quality and relevant to your field. That includes all your headlines, body copy, blog posts, and page-based meta information. Instead of keyword stuffing, focus on topics that your users will want to read about. Instead of focusing on the volume and quantity of your material, focus on the quality. Be consistent and as detailed as possible in your individual posts, and stay up-to-date with the latest information in your industry to stay relevant.
Respectful Offsite Practices
If you want to get the most out of your SEO campaign, you’ll need to get involved on external sites. That means building helpful, relevant links and submitting guest posts and press releases to outside authorities. However, the best offsite optimization practice (and the only one that’s update-proof) is one that is natural. That means only posting content and links on sites that are directly related to your industry, or those with relevant content to your business.
Creating a Memorable User Experience
Don’t underestimate the power of giving your users a memorable onsite experience. Sleek designs, responsive experiences that function on every browser and every device, fast site load times, and enhanced security are some of the features that lead you to a current ranking boost. However, if you want to stay ahead of future updates, you need to pull out all the stops for your users. Don’t make upgrades because Google tells you to; instead, make updates because they’ll ultimately benefit your users.
Building Your Brand’s Reputation
Finally, you’ll need to build and consistently refine your brand’s reputation using social media channels and local influence. Claim as many social profiles and local directory profiles as you can, and tend to them regularly. Post comments and content whenever you can, and engage with your users when they ask questions or make comments. Similarly, whenever someone posts a review on a local directory, do what you can to learn from it—try to resolve any problems that lead to negative reviews, and focus on the elements of good reviews that you can continue to emphasize and improve. Getting social and involved in the community is a surefire way to increase your brand’s reputation and improve your domain authority simultaneously.
As you start planning your SEO strategy for 2015 and beyond, remember that your users come first. Search engine optimization isn’t ever going to die, but it has already transformed. It’s no longer a strategy designed to build rank through a predictable, mathematical series of steps. Instead, it’s about crafting your site, your content, and your branding strategy in a way that cultivates the greatest possible user experience. Put that at the core of every strategy you implement, and you’ll never have to worry about facing a penalty when the next new Google update is released.