Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Algorithm Refreshes and the True Challenge of SEO

Last week, in a Google Webmaster Hangout, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, said that Google will likely refresh Penguin algorithm soon, hopefully before the new year.

"I'm pretty confident we'll have something in the reasonable future," Mueller said, "but not today, so we'll definitely let you know when things are happening."

Mueller was then asked to clarify if the update would occur in 2014.

"My guess is yes," he answered, "but as always, there are always things that can happen in between. I’m pretty confident that we’ll have something in the reasonable future but not today, so we’ll definitely let you know when things are happening."

Despite Mueller's ambivalence, this news may come as a relief to webmasters and SEO specialists, whose websites were adversely affected by the last Penguin update a year ago.

With each algorithm update, Google changes the rules of the game, so to speak. Sometimes websites that had once performed well find themselves plummeting in the rankings. In response, webmasters and SEO specialists make changes to comply with the algorithm's new demands. Unfortunately, these changes might not prove fruitful until Google "refreshes" the algorithm.

As WebProNews wrote last week:

"Google’s Penguin update is notorious for taking an extremely long time to get refreshed, leaving sites negatively impacted by it out of luck until Google finally pushes a refresh through. You can make all the changes you want in an effort to recover, but if Google doesn’t refresh it, it’s not going to make much difference."

This quote is telling for what it says about Google's efforts to perfect the algorithm; yet, it is also telling for what is says about the work of search engine optimization.

First, Mueller himself admits that Google could work better to release algorithm updates. As he said in an earlier Google Webmaster Hangout:

"We'll see what we can do there. That's something where we're trying to kind of speed things up because we see that this is a bit of a problem when webmasters want to fix their problems, they actually go and fix these issues but our algorithms don't reflect that in a reasonable time, so that's something where it makes sense to try to improve the speed of our algorithms overall."

Mueller's comment is a reminder that the work of an SEO specialist is unremitting. The success of organic website optimization depends on these complex search engine algorithms, and Google (and Yahoo and Bing, for that matter), change their algorithms about 500-700 times a year.

The work of understanding and responding to these ever-changing algorithms is time-consuming and tedious. A high-quality SEO company understands how to do this work without wasting time. Yet, of course, SEO is not only about responding to the algorithm changes.

This simple fact seems to be elude many intelligent SEO specialists--even the writers of WebProNews, who assume that a website is "out of luck" if it's negatively affected by algorithm changes. The algorithm changes can heavily influence search ranking. Yet "optimization" also implies a quality website that can reasonably withstand the algorithm changes.

To this point, we'd like to offer a lengthy quote from John Mueller:

"In theory: If a site is affected by any specific algorithm or its data, and it fixes the issue that led to that situation, then the algorithm and/or its data must be refreshed in order to see those changes. Sometimes those changes aren't immediately visible even after a refresh, that's normal too.

In practice, a site is never in a void alone with just a single algorithm. We use over 200 factors in crawling, indexing, and ranking. While there are some cases where a site is strongly affected by a single algorithm, that doesn't mean that it won't see any changes until that algorithm or its data is refreshed. For example, if a site is strongly affected by a web-spam algorithm, and you resolve all of those web-spam issues and work to make your site fantastic, you're likely to see changes in search even before that algorithm or its data is refreshed. Some of those effects might be directly related to the changes you made (other algorithms finding that your site is really much better), some of them might be more indirect (users loving your updated site and recommending it to others).

So yes, in a theoretical void of just your site and a single algorithm (and of course such a void doesn't really exist!), you'd need to wait for the algorithm and/or its data to refresh to see any changes based on the new situation. In practice, however, things are much more involved, and improvements that you make (especially significant ones) are likely to have visible effects even outside of that single algorithm. One part that helps to keep in mind here is that you shouldn't be focusing on individual factors of individual algorithms, it makes much more sense to focus on your site overall -- cleaning up individual issues, but not assuming that these are the only aspects worth working on."

In our opinion, too many SEO specialists focus on the technical side of website optimization to the detriment of the human side. This might be a right brain/left brain problem. As we've written before:

"After your hire a professional website designer to create a visually-appealing website, you will need to hire a developer to make the website work for both users and search engines like Google. Unfortunately, since these tasks are so different, and require different parts of the brain, you will rarely find a professional who can perform both with the talent and energy you require."

The same is true, in theory, with many SEO specialists, who are decidedly left brain (more logical). Yet to create a beautiful website design with great content, you also need a right brain (more creative and intuitive) individual. 

Need Algorithm Help? Call Stepmans PC!

To navigate the complicated challenge of SEO, you might need to hire an SEO specialist like Stepmans PC. Do not let the changing algorithms compromise your sales. You need the astute wisdom of a professional search engine optimization professional who works with both the right and left side of the brain. Contact Stepmans PC today to learn how you can improve your website's performance: 215-900-9398.

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