SEO can improve ranking, but if the changes aren’t timely, improvement may be slow. When should search marketers set their deadlines to make the biggest impact? 

Deadlines. Most jobs have them, and typically they provide some way of centering you. They’re a mark to say when you need to get everything done, or at least have it as close to finished as possible. Deadlines are a part of life and the norm for most jobs, but in select roles they can be much more aggressive. 

When you’re a journalist, every day is a deadline. That’s life for the modern day journo: every day you need to produce at least one new story for your publishers and outlets, all in an effort to “feed the beast” that is your website, TV program, and so on. 

Strangely, the journalist’s daily deadline is nothing compared to the deadline of a search marketer. 

In SEO, the deadline is last week. Truthfully, it was probably two weeks ago, but it sounds less painful to say your deadline is last week. Always last week.

Sadly, our work on time machines hasn’t quite progressed to the level we’d like, and we can’t go back to fix our websites with the future in mind. There’s no Grays Sports Almanac for life, it seems. Rather, search marketers need to think with last week in mind because of how Google updates work.

Why search marketers should plan for the past

When Google rolls out an update of its systems, it reindexes everything every webpage is sending out. It looks at the content, the signals, the links and backlinks, the author credentials, the speed and tech and every spot of information you’re sending into the world – and then it balances it all. And that takes time.

Google updates can take anywhere between two and six weeks to fully roll out. But even before these are run, Google is taking signals. It’s like building a bathroom in your house: you don’t just grab the toilet and hope for the best; you take measurements, plan the work, get the materials, hire the right people and get to work building an addition which will hopefully make life easier for everyone living at home. 

That’s not far off the mark for what Google and other search engines do before a major update rolls out. 

Google calls a major update a “core update” or “system update”. And they’re big, often affecting multiple systems handling multiple signals. They’re so big, they take time to get right. Think of it like an OS update for your phone, except for search. It takes a big update to change the very nature of search and deliver different (hopefully better) results in the end. 

To assist with that process, engineers will take the signals needed before the update rolls out, often to the tune of days to weeks. It means that by the time Google announces an update, the readings and measurements governing how the world’s webpages will be reindexed were probably taken two weeks ago. 

When Google rolls out a core update, you are essentially helpless. Judgment has already been made. There’s very little you can do today to change how the core update will impact your website this time. Your site’s signals were already measured, and the system is already updating. 

This is why the deadline for search marketers is always in the past. The only way to stay ahead of Google’s updates is to plan for an event that could already be happening and get it done ASAP. 

How does a late deadline help SEO

The problem with a retrospective deadline is it can frustrate people; managers usually, but anyone who struggles with the idea of what deadlines are supposed to reflect. 

A deadline is meant to be a target to aim for, ensuring tasks are finished on time. Being late undermines the point. No one likes working with someone who doesn’t value punctuality. 

However, in SEO, thinking about what you needed to do two weeks ago allows you to prioritise the tasks that are most important right now to gain – or regain – position. 

Imagine Google has a core update coming out in a month. That gives you roughly two weeks to fix the most important things that will matter when Google performs a total re-indexation of your site. After that, Google will use the remaining two weeks capturing the signals and measurements in preparation for the re-indexation. SEO teams can use this logic to inform their strategy, determining those factors that will be most important in the upcoming event, before gradually fixing other less important issues.

In March 2024, Google released its first core update for the year, which will take a month to finish. That means any major changes you make to your site from March onwards will likely not make the impact you expect until the next update arrives, whenever that may be. 

The biggest issue, however, is that Google doesn’t warn anyone when these updates are coming, so you have no way of knowing. Knowing that a hypothetical core update is coming is largely meaningless if you don’t know in which month it’ll arrive. 

With no way of knowing when you should set your SEO deadline,  a good search marketer works on the assumption that an update is always around the corner, continually planning for the past and getting the most important things sorted immediately. 

Always think with last week in mind, and prioritise the most important changes as if they’re already overdue. 

What do I need to fix in my SEO?

Working out what you fix as a matter of importance isn’t easy. Unfortunately, there’s no one quick fix or SEO strategy that can be applied to every site. All manner of webpages will each have their own issues to contend with, whether the problems are to do with content, technical considerations, UX issues, broken links and so on. 

If you’re to achieve all this at speed, bringing in experienced search marketers to quickly analyse and understand what’s needed is critical. 

You should have done it last week. What are you waiting for?