Local SEO for Good 2024 - September 12

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The Human Impact of Google Algorithm Updates

The Human Impact of Google Algorithm Updates
Key 'Takeaways' From This Post

Small Google algorithm updates occur virtually every day, with Google tweaking its magic formula continually without warning. While this does make it difficult for SEO professionals to get bored, a major algorithm update can bring with it a whole host of worries for those who actually have to then implement the changes.

While plenty has been written on updates themselves, there has been a lack of discussion around the impact it has on the person behind the keyboard. To tackle this, we surveyed our users to get to the bottom of SEOs’ real feelings towards Google algorithm updates – and how these changes impact their relationships with their clients.

The study found that a major algorithm update creates an average of 9 extra hours for each SEO in the week it hits – with some respondents reporting up to 40 hours of overtime. Looking back to Moz’s 2011 survey into SEO pricing, they found that the average hourly cost was $76-200. Taking the midpoint of $138 per hour, we can safely assume that the extra work is equivalent to $1242 per person for these 9 extra hours. If SEOs are able to charge this back to the client this can be a lucrative time, but those who charge retainers rather than for each hour worked could be missing out on vital income. And with the cost per hour certain to have grown in the past six years, this potential loss to the SEO industry could be exponentially higher.

Of course, this can vary depending on the nature of the update, but for many people, Google’s change of direction can result in more than a full day’s extra work. With updates appearing without warning more often than not, major algorithm changes can often come as a surprise – bringing with them stress, excitement and hefty workloads.

The Impact of Google Algorithm Updates on SEOs: More hours, more stress, lost clients

Have your business or clients ever been impacted by Google algorithm updates?

44% of respondents reported that their business or clients had been impacted by Google algorithm updates – with an equal split (22% apiece) witnessing a big impact and a small one.  Just 20% had not yet been party to a major update, with a further 36% not being sure.

We asked this significant 44% of our users who had been through a major update how these changes impacted them on a personal level, as well as their agency – and the results reveal a worrying negative trend.

How do algorithm updates make you feel?

*Respondents were allowed to select multiple answers

Our study found that algorithm updates spark a range of reactions from SEO professionals. One in three (35%) said that updates don’t worry them. However, 25% told us that they feel stressed when updates hit, with a further 26% saying they struggle to know how to react. This culture of stress and uncertainty is worrying for the industry – meaning a major change could have a negative effect on the health and happiness of digital marketers everywhere.

At the other end of the spectrum, 23% reported feeling excited by the challenge of an update. A major change such as we saw when Penguin, Possum and Pigeon rolled out can be an interesting and unifying time for the industry. But in order to make it easier for more people to see this as a positive experience, the industry needs answers – which Google often fails to provide. In order to move from stress and inertia to more people relishing the challenge, SEOs need the tools and information from the search engine giant on what changes have been made and how to help clients succeed within the new boundaries.

Have you considered quitting SEO because of Google algorithm updates?

In SEO, we’re at the whim of search engines’ desires. While of course updates ultimately make ranking easier in the long run for those following the rules, the immediate time following a change can be gruelling on SEO workers. We found that 27% of our users have considered quitting the industry as a direct result of algorithm updates. With so many professionals considering moving their skills outside of SEO, major algorithm updates in the future could be the straw that broke the camel’s back – and even cause a significant skills gap.

While only a tiny amount have actually stopped, it’s important to note that respondents consist of our users, who of course predominantly remain SEO professionals. In fact, the number could be far higher among those who previously worked in SEO, with the potential for the industry to have already lost some great talent.

But it’s great news to see that SEOs are ultimately a resilient bunch, with 72% telling us that updates had never made them want to leave this industry that we all love!

The Impact of Google Algorithm Updates on Clients: Demand, Distrust and Dependence

How have Google algorithm updates impacted you and your agency?

*Respondents were allowed to select multiple answers

Updates can be both a blessing and a curse for digital marketers. 26% of respondents have won new clients as a result of Google algorithm updates, and 23% grew existing clients. Algorithm updates can see businesses who previously had good rankings fall out of favor – and can be a great opportunity for SEOs to swoop in to offer their expert services.

An opportune time for SEOs to win new customers

A major update is a great time for agencies and freelancers to increase their marketing activity. With customers unhappy and unsettled it’s an opportune time to up your PPC and paid social media spend so you’re visible when customers are looking around. Also, be sure to update your blog with information on the change so those looking for help know that you’re the one with the answers – and add a clear CTA/contact form to the post so it’s easy for them to contact you.

Of course, some updates can be more troubling. A small but notable 2% have stopped doing SEO work because of the updates, with one person telling us their agency closing was due to Google’s changes. The increased workload can mean working over a normal retainer or project scope, with 14% saying they’ve overspent on clients because of an algorithm update.

A significant 31% told us they’ve lost clients because of updates. SEOs should focus on building a strong relationship with clients based on trust and mutual understanding. Communicate often to let clients know how their business is performing, as well as getting to know them on a human level. If you can understand their needs on a personal level, they’ll be more likely to stick around when the going gets tough.

How do algorithm updates impact the agency client relationship

*Respondents were allowed to select multiple answers

Google algorithm updates can have a negative impact on the agency-client relationship, with 29% saying they make clients more demanding. Working with challenging clients can make the lives of SEO professionals more stressful, and it’s apparent that changes to Google’s formula only exacerbates this. 31% believe updates make clients distrust agencies, while 28% think they make clients consider changing agency.

It’s not all bad news for SEO professionals, with 57% saying updates make clients dependent on agencies. Of course, improving search visibility is an ongoing process, and algorithm updates are a good reminder to clients that what works for them now may not be sufficient for future success.

Kneejerk Reactions to Updates

We asked respondents to share the first thing they do when an update hits. There’s no typical reaction – as you’ll see from some of our favorite answers below.

Take Your Time

“Acknowledge that is has occurred, give it a few days to play out, then evaluate the effect (if any) on my clients’ digital presence.”

Major updates tend to garner a lot of media attention, so when clients or your senior team come questioning what your plan of action is, it’s important to take your time. It’s often difficult to know the full impact right away, so wait until you have the facts before making any major changes. Keep clients informed of your plan, equip team members with the party line, and only take action once you know it’s going to tackle the changes. It’s okay to be cautious – as long as you keep everyone updated with the plan.

Do Your Research

“Read as many industry assessments as I can to get a feel for the depth and direction of the impact so I can begin formulating a plan as necessary.”

For many, the first thing to do is read. Industry experts are always quick to jump on updates, and it’s important to be signed up to the top blogs, follow SEO influencers on Twitter, and bookmark forums and SERP trackers such as Mozcast. Check out our list of our users’ favorite blogs, and comment below to let us know where you get your information.

Rally The Troops

“Share the news with my team and engage them in coming up with a plan.”

New SEOs are joining the industry every day, and it’s likely that not all of the team have experienced a major update before. Getting the whole team on board from the start means no one feels left behind or confused during the process. Having a set process to follow will help the whole team – and work towards easing the stress and extra workload an update can bring. This means the next generation of digital marketers are ready to lead the way in the future, and everyone is confident in advising clients on how such algorithms affect them in the long term.

Don’t Panic

“Freak out.”

Algorithm updates clearly spark a range of reactions – and while it can feel apt to panic if unprepared for, it’s far more useful to put a strategy into place. If clients sense that an SEO is confused and without a plan of action, there’s a chance they could begin to distrust the marketer’s competence – which could lead to more clients distrusting agencies. Even a strategy based on “wait and see” can let clients know that their business is in the hands of experts who will do everything in their power to help them rank highly going forward.


Thank you to our users for sharing their insights into Google algorithm updates – comment below to let us know how you react to updates. Plus, make use of our free tool Local RankFlux to track algorithm changes affecting your industry’s local results.



Rosie Murphy
About the author
Rosie managed BrightLocal's delivery of research and survey pieces. She headed up data-driven content such as regular polls, webinars and whitepapers, including the Local Consumer Review Survey.

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