SEO: The Challenge of Being the First to Know

By Tinuiti Team

As an SEO it’s essential to be on the forefront of Google algorithm updates. In order to stay up to date, there are a wealth of blogs that SEOs get their information from, and on a rare occasion, Google itself will blog about new updates and make our lives a little bit easier. So I wasn’t quite sure how to respond when a friend asked me “Why doesn’t your company hire someone to stay on top of the latest Google updates – wouldn’t that give you a competitive advantage?”

Google Updates & Transparency

Of course, Google wants SEOs to be in the know to some degree – otherwise who would help website owners implement code or strategy changes that fall in line with their algorithm updates? However, the truth is, they would rather disseminate this information on a need to know basis.
I first attempted to answer this question by conducting a simple Google search for “where do SEOs get their information?” and “how do people find out about SEO updates?”

I quickly discovered there was no easy answer to this question. This could mean one of two things: maybe no one cares where SEOs find information, or maybe this question has never been formally addressed (I’d like to think the latter).

What Google Tells Us

First, let’s establish some facts.

1. Google does blog about certain updates. Sometimes. For example, on the Google Webmaster Blog Google casually published an entry titled “Finding more mobile-friendly search results.” Which goes on to say:

“Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.”

Google also provided a best-practices guide for making your site mobile friendly. The reason for this “generic” sounding description, which provides no specific recommendations, is so that webmasters, regardless of their level of SEO knowledge, can generally understand what Google wants them to do. When it comes to defining what website elements to optimize, SEOs often examine what has worked historically and build predictions based around those successes.

2. Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) will highlight problematic areas of your site prior to an algorithm update.

In the past, Google only provided basic meta data errors along with back-link warnings of potential penalties; however, this new approach indicates that Google would rather have your site be prepared than penalized. Here is an example in GWT, which can be found under Search Traffic > Mobile Usability:

Going back to the question at hand, the best way I can answer this is by saying that SEOs get their information through the grapevine. No person or group (outside of Google’s own offices) is really able to know the exact specifics of Google’s updates, and Google has never provided detailed instructions regarding the next steps that webmasters should take. If Google were to divulge this information, their algorithm would become vulnerable to manipulation and ultimately, the user-experience would suffer.

Is Stalking Google The Answer?

Based on what we know, you might be thinking it would make sense to send someone to attend every Google conference. This could be helpful but costly, and even if you attend every conference there is no guarantee you will become privy to any “inside” information. Most of the really eye opening statements recently and regarding this latest mobile update, were made impromptu and off the cuff by a Google employee. These tidbits of information often arise by someone asking a clever question and being in the right place at the right time.

What This Means for SEOs

The good news is that SEOs are willing to blog about their own successes and failures for the benefit of the SEO community at large. Google releases updates with the general goal of helping improve the user experience and at the same time, the user experience cannot improve if webmasters don’t know what changes to make. We can assume that Google does not want webmasters to be left in the dark and that is why Google, in time, will release bits and pieces of information. With that being said, SEO blogs provide a forum, not only to spread information, but to facilitate a discussion amongst SEOs and webmasters about what these changes could imply for the future of SEO.

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