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Friday, January 22, 2021

Why Search Rankings Seem So Volatile

If you’ve ever spent time optimizing an internet site for se’s via seo (SEO), you’ve likely felt the pain of seeing your rankings plummet after surprise update. Even if you’ve never been aware of SEO, you’ve likely conducted an identical search query on multiple occasions and gotten strangely different results.

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The goal of Google search (and other search engines) would be to provide you with the greatest results on the internet for certain query. So is it reasonable to think that the “best possible” website for the query changes on a regular basis?

Maybe—but let’s take a deeper look at what makes search engine ranking positions so volatile.

The Basics: How Search Rankings Are Calculated

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To understand just why search rankings are volatile, you first need to understand how search engine rankings are calculated. Google works much like other search engines, and it’s the dominant competitor in the search engine market, so we’ll use it as our main example.

Google starts by assembling an index of web sites and pages throughout the web. If the web is every book ever written, the index is really a kind of precisely organized library, where the correct book and correct page can be found relatively easily.

When a user inputs a query, Google attempts to bring that user perfect results in its search engine pages (SERPs). To accomplish that, it needs to supply results which can be both contextually relevant and trustworthy.

Contextually relevant content is chosen based on the type of content it is and its relationship to the first query. For example, in the event that you search for something such as “tech startups,” you’ll want to find actual tech startups or articles about them, instead of content about hot dog stands or water balloons. This seems obvious, but coding a machine to ascertain relevance is more complex than it first appears.

To be trustworthy, an internet site needs to prove that it’s a reliable resource for the others. The easiest method to do this would be to earn many high-quality links from other trusted publishers; the number and quality of links you have will directly boost your authority, assisting you to rank higher. This is excatly why so many brands depend on an outside link building service for SEO to increase their authority and climb the ranks.

With this understanding, just why is it that search engine rankings change so frequently?

There are many explanations.

Search Engine Algorithm Updates

First, you have to think of search engine algorithm updates. Google’s ranking algorithm isn’t a stagnant swath of code; it’s a thing that evolves regularly.

Throughout Google’s first decade of existence, the algorithm had some massive changes. Webmasters and content creators were quick in an attempt to game the machine, manipulating their content and spamming links as black hat tactics to improve their rankings. To combat this, Google refined its parameters for what it regarded as being “quality” content. In early 2010s, some major updates named after animals (Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird, to be exact) helped establish better standards for content evaluation, link evaluation, and query interpretation, respectively.

Since then, Google has introduced a top number of smaller, yet impactful updates. In fact, there have been thousands of micro-updates in 2018 alone. Google is notoriously tight-lipped about these updates and how they function; in fact, sometimes it denies having issued an update at all. However, through data analysis, search optimizers can determine the gist of the brand new update.

New updates can do lots of things. They can refine how Google evaluates content; if your best content suddenly doesn’t look so impressive, you may fall in rankings. They can refine how Google evaluates links; if many inbound links are believed to have higher or lower authority, it may impact your site’s over all authority. They can also change how they analyze user queries, inside your likelihood of being deemed “relevant” to your customers. They can even add new features, changing what an SERP looks like, or introducing new content entries that contend with yours.

Almost any change, a minor one, can affect the global landscape of search engine rankings. And because updates are so frequent, it’s only natural that search rankings get shaken through to a regular basis. Fortunately, most updates are small, and several of them only impact certain industries or types of web sites, so it’s not a total free-for-all.

Content Updates

Search rankings also change because the content on the web is changing. Remember, if you’re constantly updating your site with technical changes, new content, and new inbound links, you will find likely thousands, if not huge numbers of people like you doing the same things.

The internet is really a complex tapestry that’s constantly changing. Every time somebody enters a fresh search query, Google is forced to think about a completely new set of circumstances. Did a web link from a new, high-authority source finally push your competitor past you in terms of authority? Did you come out with a new article that’s more interesting or even more relevant compared to content that came before it?

When combined with sheer frequency of updates to Google’s search algorithm, it’s plain to understand why there are so many disruptions in search rankings.

Other Factors to Consider

Updates and new content aren’t the only things to consider when it comes to internet search engine volatility, obviously. There’s also:

  •         Personalization. Google has increasingly dedicated focus on personalizing its search results, using factors like demographic information, location information, and previous searches to tailor its search results. Accordingly, if you conduct two identical searches at different times of day, or in different places, you might end up getting surprisingly different results.
  •         Machine learning. Some of Google’s latest updates, including RankBrain, have machine learning elements that help them “learn” and automatically update by themselves. RankBrain, for example, is constantly learning how people search, so that it can better understand the context for long user queries. Google isn’t by hand pushing updates here, so it’s only natural that it’s in charge of sudden and frequent changes—especially for long-tail keyword queries.
  •         New features. Google’s updates sometimes introduce new features that change the layout of SERPs. For example, you may have noticed that Google often answers your queries directly with “rich answers,” assisting you to forgo the necessity to click a web link to find the answer yourself.
  •         Index updates. The index Google uses to rank queries can be frequently refreshing. New content isn’t straight away added to the index; it typically takes time and energy to become available.

How to Reduce Volatility

If you’re enthusiastic about ranking higher in search engines, you’ll be interested in reducing volatility. Is there a method to keep your ratings more consistent?

The short answer is no. It’s important to update your site regularly, adhering to new technological standards and introducing new content for your visitors, and those changes alone will impact the way you rank. Even if you kept everything completely consistent, web sites you’re competing with will be adding new content and making changes daily, and Google would constantly be refining how it considers and ranks search results.

That said, you can be assured that Google’s motivations—to give users perfect online experience—will remain consistent. As long as you’re making a genuine effort to create user experiences better, and supply them with the content they would like to see, you need to be capable of steadily increasing your rankings.

The Future of Volatility in Search Rankings

Google moved from introducing occasional, major overhauls to its search algorithm to releasing a consistent stream of smaller tweaks as updates. Accordingly, we can assume Google is satisfied with just how its algorithm works, and the future will undoubtedly be mostly aimed toward making small, gradual improvements. Volatility in the foreseeable future will likely be less extreme, but more common; search engine rankings will change constantly, but the major boosts and plummets will all but disappear.

Some volatility is a good thing for se’s, since it means users are becoming a more up-to-date, more vigilantly considered set of results. And with the existing state of Google search and user expectations, volatility seems to be in a good place. 

Nate Nead

Nate Nead is the CEO of SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION.co/; a full-service SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION company and DEV.co/; a custom web and software development business. For over 10 years Nate had provided strategic guidance on technology and marketing solutions for many of the most well-known online brands. He and his team advise Fortune 500 and SMB customers on pc software, development and online marketing. Nate and his team are based in Seattle, Washington and West Palm Beach, Florida.

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