Detecting algorithm updates

I’ve been in St. Petersburg this week, talking with SEO experts from around the world at the SEMrush conference. One of the topics at the top of our lists was one of SEMrush’s products called Sensor, and it’s all about detecting algorithm changes. 

We were in round tables talking about algorithm changes: how we detect them, how we find them, how we use them, or how we even know an algorithm change has happened. There were a lot of responses, but most of us in my group agreed that it had a lot to do with waiting to see what happens with site traffic and rankings.

I’ve never been one to look at prediction sites and signs; I’d rather wait and interpret the results. We detected a change in 2012 that none of the forecasting sites predicted, but it certainly affected the Australian database. Some of these changes are different, based on the verticals we’re looking at. We had the Fred update and it affected different categories in different ways and on different dates, but the world often interprets it as one overall update.

We’ve also been talking more about backlinks. I’m not saying you don’t need backlinks, but the key is branding, not linking. Google talks about popularity, and that means branding. If enough people search for you, you’re going to get some backlinks, but that’s a result of your initial branding work and audience building, not the other way around. If you’re focused on backlinks you’re leaving money on the table. Focus on building your brand instead, and the natural backlinks will appear.

Again, if you’re noticing changes on your site, it could be a change in one vertical on Google, not a widespread update. That also means that a general update like Fred doesn’t necessarily have to affect your site.

This article originally published on

Jim Stewart is a leading expert in search engine optimisation. His business StewArt Media has worked with clients including Mars, M2 and the City of Melbourne.


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