'SEO experts are put on this Earth to make astrologers look good.'
That's a little saying I like to cheer myself up with from time to time. It's flippant and dismissive, I know, and unfair to the genuinely knowledgable professionals. But it makes me smile and takes the edge off the occasional irritation I have with some practitioners.
It almost goes without saying that at the heart of understanding SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) there must be an understanding of search engines and how their technology is applied. For better or worse, that means understanding Google. And understanding Google's algorithm.
And therein lies my tongue-in-cheek amusement with the astrology analogy – the company fiercely protects its technology, and why wouldn't it? While they have latterly been helpful in providing some structured guidance, so much 'expert' SEO input previously seemed to involve applying what could be deduced, looking for patterns in what works and what doesn't, and predicting a strategy and methodology from that.
But the Google search algorithm is not a static technology. It is constantly learning, constantly evolving - getting smarter. In fact, Google updates its algorithm about twice every day. And, a handful of times a year, it makes what it calls a 'broad core algorithm update'. The latest and most significant of these took place in March this year - and it's a game-changer.
Well, if not exactly a game-changer, then a significant development in the game. And interestingly and unusually, this time Google has announced its purpose:
This update is all about understanding both user intent and related site content.
It sometimes goes against what a client feels (or is told) they should be doing, but it has always been wise and sensible to create the best content you can for the audience – the people – you want to engage. And even more so in recent years as search engines are aspiring to be more human and less mechanical in how they return search results.
That's not news, although some of the 'cold-calling' SEO companies that repeatedly hassle our clients with promises of dramatic results in return for a sizeable monthly retainer, will neatly sidestep this actualité whilst ramping up the worry tactics.
That's why, in announcing the update, Google has acknowledged that some websites will have seen the rankings they have worked so hard to engineer decline almost overnight, some of them significantly. On the other hand, it cheerfully points out that other sites will have seen their rankings improve.
This isn't about Google penalising 'poorly optimised websites' as the SEO industry has consistently speculated with previous core updates. In Google's own words,
"There's nothing wrong with pages that may now perform less well. Instead, it's that changes to our systems are benefiting pages that were previously under-rewarded. There's no 'fix' for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content. Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages."
And thou shalt be rewarded.