As if 2020 wasn’t bad enough already, Google has let us know about an upcoming algorithm update that will most definitely send SEO gurus into a frenzy. Whenever Google rolls out an update, everyone panics. It’s no wonder, when a drop of just one position in your search rankings means you can lose 80% of your organic traffic.
This time it’s different. Usually, we have no idea when Google is planning to update its algorithm. The SEO tools are pretty good at picking up inferences that suggest an update. But in most cases, we have no time to prepare and no idea as to what the update has changed.
This time we know. It’s a strange position for webmasters to be in. We know what we need to do to get our website ready for the next big algorithm update. This time, Google has shifted the focus to user experience. Is your website ready?
Natalka Antoniuk is an SEO copywriter. In this article she shares everything she knows to help you get ready for Google’s user experience (UX) update.
What do we know about Google’s algorithm?
Google’s algorithm is secret. We know nothing. We have made educated guesses, some of which work and some of which don’t. That’s what the founding fathers of SEO spent all of their time doing, guessing which factors Google uses to rank a website.
And we’re not very close. Apparently search engines look at over 200 factors when they crawl, index, and rank a site. We know at least 20 for sure and can probably make a good guess at another 50 to 70.
Currently, any website designer looking to optimize their site for search engines would look at factors such as:
- Social Shares
- Meta Data
- Domain Age
- Keyword Density
- Page Speed
- Content Length
- Image Optimization
- Header Tags (H1, H2, H3…)
- Reading Level
- SSL Certificate
- Dwell Time
- And more…
White Hat Vs. Black Hat SEO
Because we know so little about Google’s algorithm, much of what we do is guesswork. Occasionally, somebody discovers something that has a tremendous impact on rankings but isn’t necessarily “good behavior” in Google’s opinion.
Search engines approve white hat SEO tactics. Generally, these strategies aim to improve the website design, making it easier for the user and the search engine bots to understand.
Black hat SEO might land you in trouble. Tactics such as keyword stuffing, cloaking, and using private link networks might get your site ranking higher in the search results, but more often than not your site will be penalized and removed from the index altogether.
Previous updates have made it very easy for Google to spot black hat tactics. By 2016, the Penguin and Panda updates were part of Google’s core algorithm. This was one of the biggest changes to search engine results in Google’s history.
Penguin and Panda Penalties
The Penguin update targeted manipulative link building tactics. The Panda update targeted poor quality content. Using tactics like content farms, private blog networks, and spammy links will land you a penalty.
A Penguin penalty could affect a single page of your site or your entire domain. Furthermore, it could affect the sites that you link to. This means if a site linking to yours gets a Penguin penalty, you could suffer the consequences.
A Panda penalty is easier to avoid and easier to remove. Ensure that all of the content on your site provides value for your users and doesn’t resemble spammy guest posts or forums filled with spam. This update came about after thousands of users complained about the poor experience they were having due to low quality content appearing in the search engines.
What is User Experience (UX)?
User experience (UX) has been on Google’s mind for some time, at least since the Panda update. It makes sense, given 92.71% of searches are done on Google. They have to keep their customers happy.
To deliver a good UX, Google crawls every URL they find to add them to the index. This is a huge database containing everything available on the Internet, organized into categories. When somebody executes a search, Google goes to its index and uses the different factors and categories to rank URLs in the search engine results pages.
Google aims to deliver the searcher a web page that answers their query and matches search intent. But, now they have promised an updated algorithm with even more focus on UX.
Before we get into five ways to get your website ready for the update, make sure you’re currently optimizing your content according to the factors mentioned above. If you aren’t answering the query and search intent, then you aren’t going to rank whether you make these changes or not.
Once you’re sure that all of your content is highly relevant, useful, and targeted towards your audience, you can get started preparing for the next algorithm update.
How to Improve the User Experience on Your Website
If you’re certain your content is good to go, it’s time to prepare for Google’s user experience update. Here are five things you should do to your website before any algorithm changes take place.
1. Make it Mobile-Friendly
Almost two-thirds of searches come from a mobile device. Some businesses think they don’t need to bother optimizing for this platform as it makes up such a small percentage of their traffic.
The new algorithm update will check that your site is mobile-friendly, whether users experience your brand that way or not. Google wants to make sure that the search engine results page is full of URLs that deliver a great user experience. If you don’t optimize your website for mobile, you aren’t delivering a great UX to almost two-thirds of an audience. This will cost you rank positions.
2. Update and Improve Content
Google likes to see fresh content to ensure that it is relevant and answers search queries with up-to-date information. This is great news for content marketers.
Writing evergreen content takes time. The beginning of the process requires keyword research, referencing, and fact-checking. You can only start writing after a solid few hours of reading up on your subject.
External references have to be fact-checked, and the domain’s authority and relevance to your site are scrutinized before you can include any external links. The writing itself takes time, even if you are an expert in the field.
Updating old content is much faster. Including up-to-date facts and statistics shows Google that your content is relevant and useful. It suggests that your webpage is in the best position to answer the searcher’s query. And it shows that you are more likely to deliver a great UX.
3. Speed Up Your Site
We know speed has always been an imperative factor when it comes to your rankings, but it’s about to become much more important. Already we see a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction with just a one-second delay in page load times.
This one-second delay can also cause an 11% drop in organic traffic, proving that Google cares about your site speed. One thing you can do is download and install the WP Rocket plugin if your site runs on WordPress. This allows you to minimize and combine files to reduce the number of requests your site makes to load. Don’t worry–it sounds more complicated than it is!
Another thing you can do is enable browser caching. This means that your site won’t have to reload every element every time a returning user clicks through, as it is already stored in their cache.
4. Reduce Bounce Rate
Let’s not get into the SEO argument about the bounce rate. Anyone that doesn’t believe Google takes this data into account when deciding the ranking order for the search engine results pages must have been hiding under a rock for the last five years.
Bounce rate is the number one indicator of user experience. Whenever somebody “Googles” something, they do so with intent. Maybe they intend to find information. Maybe it’s to make a purchase. If your page doesn’t match their intent, they aren’t going to stay on your website. They bounce away, giving you a high bounce rate.
A high bounce rate indicates a poor user experience. To improve yours, look at the keywords that you are currently ranking for and match them to the pages that appear in the search engine results.
Make sure that your content aligns itself with search intent. If you deliver what the user wants to see, you will deliver a great UX. Searchers won’t need to bounce away from your site and your bounce rate will improve.
5. No more pop-ups
Last but not least, get rid of the pop-ups. So many sites still feature pop-ups. Why?
You hate them. I know you hate them because everybody hates them. Why do so many sites still bother? Pop-ups block the content that people have come to your website to see. If someone is trying to exit your site, a pop-up won’t stop them from leaving; better content will.
Not only do they ruin the user experience, but they decrease your site speed as well. Just because everybody else does it doesn’t mean that it’s right or that you should. Just get rid of pop-ups.
If you want to promote a discount or incentivize people to sign up to your mailing list, you can do so in a bar on the bottom of the screen. Pop-ups are unnecessary and will hurt your site when Google rolls out the next algorithm update.
Getting Ready for Google’s Next Algorithm Update: The UX Shift
Google has given us a once in a lifetime opportunity to get ahead of the next algorithm update. We know they are focusing on delivering a better user experience. This guide has helped you improve the UX on your website.
First, you need to make sure all of your content is useful, engaging, and up-to-date. Remember, this is great news for content marketers because it is so much quicker to update old content than it is to create new stuff.
Once you’re happy with your content, get to work on improving the speed of your site. Try reducing and combining files so that search engines don’t have to render them individually. Make sure you have caching enabled. Even a one-second delay could cost you 11% of traffic.
Is your site mobile-friendly yet? We are expecting this to be one of the most important factors in the new update, whether you target mobile searchers or not. With two-thirds of searches taking place on a mobile, you can’t ignore this segment anymore. So get to work!
And finally, get rid of those pop-ups. If you’ve read this entire article to try to prepare your website for the update but have decided to ignore this step because you think you know better, all I can say is … you’ve just wasted 15 minutes of your day.
Natalka Antoniuk is a Content Writer at Quadrant2Design. She has spent years creating SEO friendly content for the web and it has taught her a trick or two about Google’s elusive algorithm. She has been published in G2, SitePro News, and Cascade Business News.