A lot of website owners were caught with their heads in the sand when it came to Penguin and Panda. Even more recently, Google’s push to embrace mobile responsive sites has businesses scrambling to ensure their sites load quickly and flawlessly on mobile devices. So what’s next? And how can you prepare yourself rather than being blindsided by the change?

The fact is, no one but Google knows when the next algorithm update will happen. Small tweaks and large overhauls happen all the time in a continuing effort to make the search engine results more relevant to the user’s search. In this article, we’re not talking about small shifts, but rather the big, all-encompassing changes like the shift to mobile focus, or the “Starbucks/Mystery” update that caused sudden traffic fluctuations in February of this year.

As a web marketing professional, you’re likely already used to weathering the small speed bumps caused by algorithm tweaks, but being able to foresee big changes that will happen and plan ahead for them will make your site feel that much less of the brunt when the next big update happens. So how do you do it?

 

Before the Update: Knowledge is Power

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Google often makes its expectations abundantly clear when it’s about to release a major overhaul of its algorithms, even creating video FAQs to help answer questions. This is where it makes sense to plan ahead and craft a checklist of sorts to ensure that changes are well documented, tracked and able to be implemented in a reasonable time frame. For instance:

  • Is the update going to involve changes to the front-end design or the back-end technical aspects of the site, or both?
  • If both, are the designers and developers as well as IT staff ready with infrastructure updates, necessary code and other elements to make the updates as smooth as possible?
  • What can you learn from similar past experiences? Is there a trend toward a specific kind of result? How can your site be adjusted to best take advantage of the change?

It may seem like a lot of preparation and planning for what could ultimately turn out to be a change that fizzles in the minds of SEO professionals, but forewarned is forearmed, and those companies that take into account the ebb and flow of traffic during an algorithm update are best poised to come out on top when the storm dies down.

During the Update: Don’t Panic

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This is the stage where it’s good to look at past reports as an indication of where your site was (both in terms of ranking and traffic) before the update. That means looking at things like:

  • Traffic by referrer
  • Traffic by device
  • Time on site/Pageviews/Number of pages per session
  • Where your site ranks with regard to specific keywords
  • Conversion goals completed
  • Revenue
  • Bounce Rate

You may think that things like time on site, bounce rate, and pages per session would have nothing to do with an algorithm update, but consider the option that your site suddenly starts ranking for a product you no longer carry, but have a page for. This can in turn greatly distort your numbers and cause a panic if you’re unprepared (at least, until the update dust settles!)

It may also be worth taking into account your competition and where they’re ranking before and during the algorithm update. Having this information will give you a baseline to compare to when the actual update is completed.

During this time, pay attention to relevant search engine news and update channels for insights on any major problems encountered by website owners, and what’s being done to fix them. Pay close attention to any particular before and after case studies, reports or other news showing sites after the update has completed. Traffic may be a whirlwind at this point, especially as marketers try to grasp the impact the shift has on their site. But after a few weeks, the changes will be in place and traffic patterns will adjust normally.

After the Update: Making Adjustments and Looking Back

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Once things have settled relatively smoothly into place, you’ll likely be making small adjustment as you view your real-time, daily and weekly traffic reports to determine how the algorithm change affected your customers and how they find and interact with your site.

As tempting as it might be to sit back and relax at this point, this is where you need to be putting all of that preparation and research into practice. Some changes, like the Google mobile preference update, will take much longer to implement as a responsive site needs to be prototyped, built, tested and so forth, before launch. It can take weeks, if not a month or more to see through to completion.

You’ll likely need to prioritize at this point, so look at your best converting/highest traffic pages and sort those that you feel will likely have the biggest impact accordingly. Get realistic estimates from your staff on when the proposed changes can go live. Once that happens, it’s time to watch and analyze.

Take a look at those aforementioned points that were affected during the algorithm update. How are they faring afterwards? What do the numbers look like and if there were any drops in traffic, can you pinpoint what happened to cause them?

It’s also important to note whether or not the update affected Google’s core functionality. Some updates are designed merely to skim the surface. Others are major “always on” factors that consistently affect how sites rank (Penguin and Panda were examples of this).

The Bottom Line on Preparing for the Next Big Thing

If you’re focused on quality content, natural ad placement, properly optimized pages and regular, gradual back linking and social signals – you’re doing everything right. But that doesn’t mean you should sit back and let major algorithm changes pass you by. It pays (literally) to be invested in understanding the direction of the search engine, and the role your site plays in its results. Taking steps to be aware of the situation, and working with your team to put concepts into action will take you farther, faster than wringing your hands about the issues when everything is said and done!

Have you experienced any major shifts from a search engine algorithm update? How has it affected your business? Tell us about it in the comments below!

About the Author: Sherice Jacob helps business owners improve website design and increase conversion rates through compelling copywriting, user-friendly design and smart analytics analysis. Learn more at iElectrify.com and download your free web copy tune-up and conversion checklist today!

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