Ah, the mystery behind Google’s algorithm. Forever changing and always kept secret, SEO experts have seen Google’s updates and improvements increase exponentially in the last ten years. At the moment, it’s estimated Google makes more than 3000 improvements every year, showing no sign of stopping as we head into a new decade. These changes, separated into broad core algorithm updates and core updates, are part of a complex system that are sometimes difficult to pinpoint, but critical to understand as a business and website owner.
When you look at Google’s SERP (Search Engine Result Page), there’s a reason why certain pages are the first or second sites visible to you, and that’s because of Google’s algorithm. Google conducts research from its own search index and uses this data to create a system that recommends pages with the most favorable results for your query. That is the point of Google’s algorithm, to figure out the current needs of its users and supply them with the respective information. Because of its relation to current trends, the algorithm needs to constantly change to meet the needs of the users, hence updates.
As mentioned, Google has a plethora of updates every year because, like any business, it needs to stay up to date to profit and be successful. A majority of these updates are minuscule enough where they go unnoticed, but sometimes Google launches updates that have a lasting effect on SERP’s, and by extension, your site.
There are two types of updates, core updates and broad core algorithm updates. Broad core algorithm updates are perhaps the most known of the two, with digestible names like Pigeon and Penguin receiving highly talked about coverage. These updates generally target specific issues like link spam and local SEO spam and are designed to have a noticeable singular effect. Even though they only happen a few times a year, staying up to date with these are important as they might fix previous issues you’ve had with your website.
Core updates, on the other hand, are a bit trickier. While it’s generally easier to see what algorithm updates have changed, core updates affect everything. Even though they’re small enough to happen daily, they create an effect that drops or increases search rankings for many sites.
With core updates, Google is constantly looking at their list of ranking signals and factors and restructuring them in order of importance and value. This, in essence, changes the value of certain factors by emphasizing some and taking away from others. What determines these changes is the exact thing that Google always prioritizes; relevancy. If Google finds that certain content or factors has become more relevant since a previous update, it will be bumped up in search rankings, and vice versa. While a singular update might not have as much effect on your ranking, a combination of a few of them might, so it’s important to consistently check where your site ranks.
Considering Google likes to keep the reason for its updates secret, you as a site owner should consistently look into what you believe Google finds most valuable. A good way to do this is to be aware of the structures of other sites in your query, as they may be an answer as to why your ranking changed. By doing that, you’ll better understand what ranking factors Google has decided to highlight and which SEO strategies are working for you and what isn’t, allowing you to restructure your site for optimal rankings.
But, just to be safe, Google recommends to just always make your content as original and relevant as possible. That much will never change.