Last year alone, Google made over 3200 changes to its search results. With so many updates, it can understandably difficult to keep track of how each one may or may not affect your online presence. After a major algorithm update, how can you tell if your website made it through unharmed, or better yet, won big? Follow our checklist to determine if your organic traffic has been impacted by a recent Google search algorithm update.
1) Confirm an Algorithm Update Recently Happened & Gather the Details
Most of the time, Google algorithm updates are industry-specific and only affect certain business verticals. These smaller tweaks to the search results are rolled out daily and done so to help improve the organic search results that Google lists.
The other kind of update is a Broad Core Algorithm Update. These are done several times a year (in fact, one was announced last month). These updates are much more noticeable and can impact websites across a variety of industries. (To determine whether or not an algorithm update that could impact your organic traffic has taken place, we recommend checking the MOZ List of Algorithm Updates.)
2) Give the Algorithm a Few Days to Settle
When launching anything new, whether it’s a new website or a massive edit in processes by a large conglomerate, it can take a little while before things settle. It also takes Google Analytics and Google Search Console a few days to fully propagate, so if you react to things too soon you could be working with inaccurate data.
Google updates sometimes take a week to ten days to bounce around. So it’s best to wait before forming conclusions about what happened.
3) Check Your Analytics
Understanding that Google Analytics can often take a day or two to show full traffic numbers, this is the best place to start. You will want to confirm that your Google Search Console account is synced with your Google Analytics account so everything is in one place. You can find these reports by going to Acquisition > Search Console within the Google Analytics navigation.
At NMD Media, we recommend first looking at a larger date range and identifying dips or increases that way. Comparing date ranges can be tricky if there are any outside circumstances that may impact your data (an email campaign or big event, holidays, etc.). We also recommend annotating anything that might cause a rise or drop in your website’s traffic. This makes it easier to pinpoint (or exclude) any traffic fluctuations due to Google’s changes.
Above is an example of a Google Analytics account with annotations regarding important events that may have impacted traffic. This example is showing annotations added manually as well as those that can be pulled in using the Chrome Extension, Enhanced Google Analytics Notations.
If the answer to either question is yes, it’s time to really dig into some data that may point you in the right direction. A few good places to start when viewing your Google Analytics data include Organic Landing Pages & Organic Traffic by Device.
Acquisition > Search Console > Landing Pages
Are the drops you’re seeing site-wide or can they be drilled down to a specific page or two? (To determine this, compare a date range.)
Acquisition > Search Console > Devices > Click on Mobile
Has your mobile traffic dropped significantly more than your desktop?
When looking at the same report, but viewing sessions from Desktop devices only, has that traffic decreased? Or does it look similar to your mobile traffic trends?
Generally, if your website is affected by an update, you will see traffic decrease dramatically, a few pages at a time. If you do see a sitewide drop, this could mean a recent search algorithm update penalized your entire website, which will affect your overall rank within the search landscape.
4) Check Google
If you’re seeing indications of your website being negatively impacted by an algorithm update, don’t fret! This doesn’t always mean your website is being penalized, but that previously under-recognized websites are now being noticed. To determine if this is happening, do some searches and review the search landscape yourself:
- Has it changed?
- Who is ranking where you used to be showing up and what are they doing differently than you?
- Are you still showing, but the results are now more focused on no-click search results, snippets or an increased amount of paid search ads? (To know what to look for, stay tuned for our blog post on identifying different attributes within Google’s search landscape.)
If you are seeing mixed results that do not adjust over time, the next step is evaluating the pages that may have been impacted. Compare your page to those that are now ranking well. What keywords are you targeting versus them? Are they using keyword variations or content strategies? Are they utilizing landing page strategies you haven’t considered that may be helping them to appear better in search results?
5) Remember to Check Your Backlink Profile
It’s also a good idea to check your backlink profile in Google Search Console for spammy backlinks. Google has often stated the importance of a strong and healthy backlink profile when it comes to performing well in the search engines.
6) Keep Google’s Ultimate Intentions In-Mind
As the search landscape continues to evolve, it’s important to take note of Google’s focus with each new update they make. Google’s goal is to release updates that are geared towards providing a good search experience for their users, as well as connecting people to businesses that have a good reputation – whether they do so through great user experience, relevant content, or excellent website usability.
This is an important trend that we believe will continue to be at the forefront of Google’s strategies for increasing and maintaining its market share moving forward.