Google Core Updates – How Your Website Can Be Affected

Google Core Updates – How Your Website Can Be Affected

SEO working knowledge for dentists

It is widely acknowledged that the ‘holy grail’ of dental marketing is to gain and then maintain very prominent website search results in Google. After word-of-mouth, this is the most sustainable and lowest cost method for gaining new patient enquiries and is a top priority for any dentist who is “web savvy” and aware of the business benefits available from online website prominence.

However, Google is a volatile place and it needs a carefully managed SEO campaign to achieve and then maintain good search results. There are a number of factors which contribute to this, the majority within the website owner’s control but a few extremely important ones which aren’t. One of those uncontrollable elements is Google itself and comes in the form of the regular updates they roll out to the ranking algorithms which dictate where websites sit within the search results.

There are two main categories of Google search engine updates – the first is when ad-hoc changes are made to tackle specific issues they feel need to be addressed to improve the quality of search results. Previous examples included the “Penguin” and “Panda” updates which were introduced to tackle particular types of web spam e.g. bad links and keyword stuffing etc. These were significant updates which have subsequently been refined and re-used by Google.

The other main category of update is the ‘core’ update and if anything these are even more mysterious in that Google says very little about them other than when we should expect to see the effects.

Core updates occur several times a year and typically only a couple of them get formally announced. This tends to be when Google expects the updates to cause significant changes within the search index i.e. some websites gaining ground whilst others are demoted. Those of us in the SEO community tend to sit nervously whilst these updates roll out as they can be quite unpredictable and sometimes yield questionable results. For example, you can see an excellent website fall several places in the search results where only ethical SEO methodologies have been applied. Whilst this is rare, it can happen and it’s often very difficult to understand why – and of course Google won’t tell you!

Conversely you can also see old websites with no SEO and questionable content rise to unexpected heights in the ranking results and this is equally difficult to explain. It’s just these types of anomalies which often cause frustration amongst website owners and their digital marketing partners, but fortunately the occurrences are reasonably rare.

As I mentioned earlier, Google is understandably highly secretive about their methodologies and so there is no simple way of contacting them to find out what went wrong if you feel that a website has been unfairly disadvantaged by a core update or otherwise.

What can a website owner do to minimise any adverse impact from a Google update?

Firstly it makes sense to take a look at what Google itself says about their updates – as you’ll see, it can be a little bit confusing although the guidance is improving:

As you’ll note, there is a huge emphasis on content and in paragraph 2 a clear indication that web pages that do less well following the changes haven’t necessarily broken any of Google’s rules. However they then go on to say that the algorithm has chosen alternative website pages to rank more prominently as they as considered to provide better and/or more up-to-date information for searchers.

The analogy they use is one whereby they compare a movie website that was very valid in 2015 with similar websites with more recent information about the latest films. A core update would very probably identify that those newer websites are more useful for users and hence promote them. The website with older information hasn’t been penalised as such, just displaced by websites with fresher content. This is very telling.

Indeed Google then goes on to explain in more depth exactly the type of content you need to rank well, for example:

  • Is it trustworthy
  • Is it well-researched
  • Is it written by “experts” and/or an authoritative source
  • Would a user feel comfortable with the validity of the information
  • Does the content have factual errors

They also go on to discuss more technical issues such as how the content is formatted, does it display correctly on mobile devices etc.

Comparative quality of website content

This is an essential concept and explains well why some website fare better than others in search engines. Essentially it is saying that if your site content is better than your competitors, then you can reasonably expect to rank better. There is more to it than this, but the quality of your content does play a huge part.

I strongly recommend reading the full article from Google as it provides some clear insights into how they work and what dental website managers need to do.

Making sure your website content works for users – and for Google!

We’ve had a deeper dive into how Google evaluates websites and ranks them based on the quality of their content relative to other websites.

There are some useful guidelines suggesting that content needs to be of high quality, trustworthy and relevant – including updating where necessary. This doesn’t mean that you have to keep changing your content; if it’s good, still relevant and satisfying the needs of users, then that should suffice. However, you may be able to improve it even further by adding new sections, detail about new treatment techniques and so forth.

The key to all of this is to appear authoritative and answer user’s questions better than your competitor’s websites. Achieve that and you are in great shape to rank ahead of them!

What to do if a core update relegated your dental website?

Unfortunately this can happen and there’s no need to panic. We’ve seen how occasionally Google slips in an update that inexplicably appears to disadvantage a good website but there’s often a reason why it happened. If your SEO partner is diligent they will almost certainly have been aware of impending updates and be monitoring accordingly. They should also know what needs to be done to assess the impact and give advice on next steps for recovery.

If you would like to discuss any of these issues in more detail or maybe you think your own practice website has fallen in the search results, then please contact the SEO team at Dental Media on 01332 672548 for more advice.