Google Core Update

Potemkin Village

Moved My Website Ranking Down Now What?

        Google periodically drops core updates. So what does this mean for you? Hopefully, these updates will do nothing to your rankings. If they do affect you … well you might want to work on your site a bit. But what changes will help you the most? To answer, I’m going to start by telling you a story. You might have heard this story before but, bear with me, I have a point.

The Potemkin Village

        After Russia seized Crimea in 1783, Catherine II or Catherine The Great (whichever you prefer) appointed her lover, Grigory Potemkin, to be governor over her newly acquired territory.

        Crimea’s Muslim inhabitants, the Tatar, had put up a good fight and were still considered a threat. Potemkin’s job was to subdue any remaining resistance and begin urbanizing the newly annexed territory by building prosperous cities. 

        In 1787, war was reportedly imminent with the Ottoman Empire. Queen Catherine wanted to show Russia’s allies and her court the progress her appointed governor had made in newly annexed Crimea. She traveled to the area by barge with an entire entourage of fellow aristocrats.

        But, there was a big problem. Potemkin had not been successful in his building campaign. After encountering multiple setbacks, including Plague, he had failed to drum up the level of wealth and prosperity befitting his beloved Catherine. So, being the resourceful man that he was, Potemkin built fake, movable villages to be set up along the shores of the Dnieper River.

Painting of boats sailing

        Everyday before Catherine’s Entourage arrived at a particular section of the river, Potemkin and his men would dress in peasant’s clothes and walk around the fake village looking busy and industrious. 

        Later, as Catherine’s barge floated out of sight, Potemkin disassembled the village and re-erected it further down river. Thus, the process would continue the each day.

Potemkin Village

How does this have anything to do with SEO?

Though many historians debate the accuracy of this story, it is still used as a cautionary tale to describe a facade one puts up to make themselves look more prosperous.

        The reason I tell this story is because when developing a website, you can’t make them Potemkin Villages. If anyone on Catherine’s barge had bothered to get out and actually have a look around, it would have been much more difficult to hide the deception. 

        Google’s algorithms are not viewing your site afar from a ritzy boat. They are scrutinizing every detail, filtering out false or misleading content. Google prizes usefulness and authenticity, and any “facade” will be easily detected and penalized. 

        Accordingly, Google’s updates tend to incorporate rankings penalties for websites that don’t play by the rules. The systems are complex and ever-changing to ensure that sites are continually updated for maximum user experience. 

        In fact, Google states on their website “These ranking systems are made up of not one, but a whole series of algorithms. To give you the most useful information, Search algorithms look at many factors, including the words of your query, relevance and usability of pages, expertise of sources, and your location and settings.”

        Fortunately, Google has also put out some guidelines for best practices that really haven’t changed too much over the past 5 years.

So What Are The Guidelines?

        Referencing Google’s page still, they have gathered the guidelines into three groups: general guidelines, content specific guidelines, and quality guidelines. 

        These focus on making sure your site is safe and easily accessible. Here you will find things like URL structure, meta data, browser compatibility, and much much more. I’m not going to focus too much on this area because Google does a better job at explaining it than I ever could.

        Google looks at more than what the average viewer sees. In reality, there is a whole world of communication going on behind the screens (not scenes, see what I did there?)

Pictures – when you upload photos, they need to have an alternate attribute and description (just in case the pictures don’t load, a text describing the picture will appear. Or, If you’re visually impaired, screen readers will read the description of the picture to you.) Also, they need to be AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) compatible.

Videos – Like pictures, videos need to have a description. If your video has sound, you will need to upload closed captions. Video’s should also load fast and not be so large they slow the entire speed of the site.

Sitemaps – These probably could have gone under general guidelines,  but I felt it important to mention it here because they are literally telling Google what your site is about and how it’s laid out.

        Last, but by no means least, we look at quality. Quality Guidelines ensure there are no Potemkin Villages by checking the quality and safety of the website. It includes things like spamming content, virus infecting, automatically generated content, and doorway sites, just to name a few.


        Maintaining a site requires patience and dedication. It can be tempting to try to take shortcuts, but remember that Google’s algorithm is no “passing barge.” Make user experience and security a priority, and you will be well on your way. 

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