How to Spot the Deadly Signs of an Algorithm Update

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By Adrian Cruce

When Google rolls out a major algorithm update, every website owner in the world holds their breath and crosses their fingers hoping that it doesn’t affect their site’s search rankings and traffic. Every year, Google implements roughly 500 to 600 algorithm changes, but only one or two of those will be major updates that cause noticeable changes right away.

Unfortunately, once an update has been introduced, it’s often too late to avoid the negative consequences, which is why it’s so important to pay attention to the early signs of Google algorithm adjustments. With that said, here are five tips you can use to spot the potentially deadly signs of an algorithm update before it causes problems for your online presence:

1. Official Google Announcements

The most reliable way to learn about upcoming updates is to pay attention to Google’s official announcements. You can do this by running occasional news searches or by subscribing to Google’s blog. However, some of the biggest updates are often unannounced, so this first tip will have limited usefulness in the case of most major algorithm changes.

Still, keeping track of any officially released content that Google is putting out is a good way to discover clues that could point to the possibility of a significant update in the near future. Plus, by studying their blog, you can get an idea of what the best practices are for update-resistant SEO.

2. Warnings from Other Webmasters

Usually, the effects of an update are felt gradually across the web, with some sites experiencing issues before others. By joining social media groups related to SEO and following popular blogs, you can find posts and comments from other webmasters that indicate a change is happening. Since Google likes to operate in secret to keep everyone on their toes and avoid giving anyone an unfair advantage, many times, testimonies from other site owners will be the only initial warning.

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Following the comments on popular blog posts related to algorithm updates can give you a solid indication of how many people are being affected in real-time. It may also give you clues about what the update is looking for, how it might affect your site, and things you can do to potentially mitigate the risk of having your rankings suffer.

3. Sudden or Frequent Changes to Search Rankings

Checking up on your search rankings for specific keywords is one of the best ways to independently determine whether Google is implementing algorithm changes. If you notice that you’ve suddenly lost a few positions in the SERPs and you didn’t make any major changes to your site or marketing campaign, then there are really only two possibilities – either your competitors have leveraged new content or marketing efforts to outrank you, or your site is being down-ranked due to an algorithm update.

Another commonly reported issue is that the ranking for certain pages will decline and then increase again within a short time frame. If you notice odd or inexplicable fluctuations like this, it probably has something to do with Google changing their indexing rules. Sadly, if you’ve already noticed these fluctuations then the effects of the update have already started to kick in and you’ll probably have a mess to clean up in order to get your top rankings back.

4. Notable Daily Traffic Changes

Keeping an eye on your web analytics is another way to spot sudden traffic changes that could be an early indicator of a new update rollout. Generally, any time your daily visitor count or organic search traffic dips significantly, it could be caused by a sudden change in your site’s rankings. If you’re not paying attention to these critical SEO metrics, you could easily overlook an update and by the time you notice it later, you’ll have a lot of recovering to do.

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Checking your key traffic stats on a daily basis and looking for substantial peaks or drops in visitors or search referrals will help you discover the earliest warning signs of a potentially damaging update. Plus, by seeing which pages are being affected and looking for similarities between them, there’s a small chance that you may be able to determine what’s causing the downturn and fix it before the damage affects your entire site.

5. Odd Site Loading Issues

This one can be hit-or-miss, as loading issues can often just be caused by intermittent problems with your hosting provider. However, if you notice your site behaving differently, that could very well be a sign that an update is being rolled out and Google’s crawlers are intensively re-indexing the web. Along the same lines, some webmasters have noted that having a slow-loading site can negatively affect your search rankings due to Google’s most recent update on July 2019, which seems to favor fast-loading pages.

One way to test whether your site loading issues are being caused by indexing-related server interruptions is to temporarily block search engine crawlers in your sites robots.txt file and see if the problem persists. You could also try visiting your site from another internet connection to see if your own connectivity is the issue.

How to Protect Your Site From the Potentially Negative Effects of an Algorithm Update

Ultimately, there is no way to reliably predict when or how Google will introduce new algorithm updates, so all you can do is try to make your site as update-proof as possible. You can do this by avoiding spammy SEO tactics and tricks, ensuring that your site isn’t connected to any less-than-reputable sites via incoming or outbound links, and basing all of your efforts around genuinely helpful or entertaining content.

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Ultimately, Google just wants to provide the most relevant and accurate search results for its users, so if your pages are able to provide that then you should have no problem keeping your rankings even through the toughest updates. Try to build a web presence that is centered primarily around quality content instead of looking for shortcuts related to linking, keyword-stuffing, or any other gimmicky techniques.