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How to prepare your website for Google algorithm updates

James A. Martin | March 24, 2016
Search engine optimization experts share advice on how marketers and SEO pros can keep up with Google's ever-changing algorithm and ensure that their websites rank prominently on the world's leading search engine.

4. HTTPS will be even more important in the future

In 2014, as part of its quest to deliver the best search experience, Google boosted search rankings for sites that use HTTPS, the secure version of HTTP. "Google is now sending out stronger messages that HTTPS is important," said Vistaprint's Kyne, and it will "preferentially index pages" that have HTTPS certification by default. Google also said at that time that it wants to "encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe" on the Web, according to Search Engine Land.

Kyne said marketers and SEO pros should secure their websites with the 2048-bit encryption certification, a move that's often inexpensive, or even free via the Let's Encrypt certificate authority. After adding the encryption, it's important to test and optimize server performance, according to Kyne, because slower load times can be a turnoff for website visitors and send Google negative signals about site quality. It's also a good idea to use 301 redirects for sites' HTTP-to-HTTPS URLs, she said.

Google could easily "turn up the knob" at any time on the HTTPS ranking factor, according to Big Leap's Straatman. Another advantage of making the switch to the secure protocol is that it can help convert lookers into buyers. Many consumers today understand what HTTPS is, and they look for it on sites that ask for personal information or credit card numbers. Sites without HTTPS risk losing consumers.

5. Google has no love for slow mobile sites

With more searches happening on smartphones and tablets, it's crucial that marketers make sure their sites are mobile friendly and fast, according to Kyne.

Google's Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project is an open source initiative designed to "dramatically improve the performance of the mobile Web," the company said in an October 2015 blog post announcing the project. AMP is Google's response to proprietary platforms, such as Facebook Instant Articles and the Apple News app, that are designed to make news stories load quickly on mobile devices, Kyne said. The search giant may prioritize AMP-optimized mobile pages in the future, because speed is "among the signals favored by Google's ranking system," she said.

AMP helps simplify the Web's look and feel, according to Straatman. "One thing that's huge in design, in general, is simplification; just look at Apple," he says. "Their whole brand is about simplifying, so you might see more of that look with accelerated mobile pages."

Some critics voiced concern that Google already had too much leverage over the Internet, and AMP gives the company even more influence. AMP is trying to "change the way that the Web is built, killing off some technologies and advantaging others," wrote Joshua Benton, director of the Neiman Journalism Lab, in a blog post. Benton noted that AMP HTML documents do not support author-written JavaScript or third-party scripts. "In a world of controlled platforms and walled app gardens, the Web is the last open space standing, built over two decades, and there's something irksome about a few Google engineers deciding which parts to ban," he wrote.  


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