Summary of Google’s Organic Search Algorithm Changes
Google makes changes to its search algorithm on an annual basis, approximately 500 to 600 times a year. These changes are typically minor however Google has and will make major algorithmic updates (like the Hummingbird change below) that have a significant effect on search results on an ongoing basis.
Understanding, even at a basic level, when Google algorithm changes take place, why the changes were made and how they impact rankings and website traffic will ultimately provide improvements to your overall search engine optimization process.
Although there have been many changes to search algorithms, the most popular changes (that have created the largest impact on web search engines) appear below.
Some of Google’s updates are unnamed and sometimes unconfirmed. For example, there was a suggestion related to an e-commerce-based update however this has not been confirmed by Google to date.
On April 21, 2015, Google™ made a major update to mobile search, which will reward websites that are mobile-friendly and punish those that are not.
Other updates that were confirmed by Google are listed below.
Penguin – Penalized sites with over-optimized or unnatural (spammy) links
Google Penguin was first announced in April 2012. It is an algorithm created to penalize (i.e. lower the natural/organic search rankings) of sites that have manipulative back-link profiles, such as:
- [icon type=”angle-double-right” class=”fa-li accent”]High percentage of exact match anchor texts
- [icon type=”angle-double-right” class=”fa-li accent”]A lot of low-quality links
- [icon type=”angle-double-right” class=”fa-li accent”]Links from article directories and rich anchor text press releases
At the time, the Penguin update shook up the industry because rich anchor text links were the primary practice for targeting and ranking keywords.
Google launched another update on October 17, 2014. This update was said to be smaller than initially expected according to the experts. It was reported that this update was likely data-only, and not a new Penguin algorithm. Just slightly more than 1% of the United States / English-based queries were affected. It was also reported that the timing of this update was uncertain, particularly on an international level. Google stated that the update was spread over a period of weeks.
- [icon type=”angle-double-right” class=”fa-li accent”]Follow Google’s Disavow Backlinks Guide and remove low-quality, 3rd party links from linking to you. Don’t take the blame for someone who is participating in a link-building scheme or otherwise violating Google’s quality guidelines.
- [icon type=”angle-double-right” class=”fa-li accent”]Avoid pay-for-link and other shifty link-building tactics.
- [icon type=”angle-double-right” class=”fa-li accent”]Start or continue creating high-quality, educational, relevant, compelling content targeted towards your Ideal Client. When the Penguin algorithm change was announced, Google’s Matt Cutt’s had this to say:
“If you’re doing high quality content, Penguin shouldn’t be a big surprise. You shouldn’t have to worry about a lot of different changes.”
Panda – Penalized sites with low-quality, thin content
Google Panda was initially rolled out in Feb. 2011. Unlike Penguin, the Panda algorithm was designed to detect websites that have “low-quality or thin” content and reduce their organic search rankings accordingly. Low quality refers to duplicate, auto-generated or bad content and thin means short, unhelpful pages, possibly with lots of ads.
In 2012, Google announced an over-optimization penalty to Panda. This update intended to help sites with great content rank higher than sites with average content and better SEO, thus helping to spark the content marketing craze.
Fast forward to May 20, 2014 and Panda 4.0 was released. According to Search Engine Watch, Google stated that about 7.5 percent of English queries may see an impact from this update.
- [icon type=”angle-double-right” class=”fa-li accent”]In response to Panda, Google’s Matt Cutts has this to say:
“The overriding goal is to try to make sure that you’ve got high-quality content, the sort of content that people really enjoy, that’s compelling, the sort of thing that they’ll love to read that you might see in a magazine or in a book, and that people would refer back to, or send friends to…”
Hummingbird – Complete overhaul/replacement of Google’s search algorithm
Google announced the Hummingbird 1.0 in August 2013. Hummingbird was a complete overhaul/replacement of Google’s search algorithm. To use a car analogy, liken it to replacing the engine versus getting an oil change.
One of the most interesting aspects of Hummingbird is the incorporation of semantic search or the true meaning behind what is being search on. As such, Hummingbird gives more attention to each word in a search query, ensuring that the entire sentence or conversation or meaning is taken into account, rather than particular words.
In short, with Hummingbird, Google is trying to find the intent behind search queries and offer up more relevant solutions. The competitive landscape for search is becoming less and less about keywords and more about the searcher’s meaning behind them.
For the searcher this is a good thing, but what does it mean for businesses?
- [icon type=”angle-double-right” class=”fa-li accent”]Businesses must understand and adapt to semantic search and the knowledge graph.
- [icon type=”angle-double-right” class=”fa-li accent”]Increasingly, businesses need to position themselves as the source for answers to the questions people are asking.
- [icon type=”angle-double-right” class=”fa-li accent”]Become good at understanding a searcher’s intent, needs and problems. Look at queries and what they really need and then give the people behind the queries want they are looking for.
Pigeon – Impacts local SEO rankings
Google created quite a shock in the SEO world when it made its update called Pigeon, which dramatically affected local results and changed how they handled and interpreted location cues. When a search query indicated local intent (50% of all mobile searches have some sort of geographic descriptor) Google will tailor results to the searcher’s location using their device’s IP address.
Google also reported that the pigeon update created an even closer tie between core algorithms and the local algorithms. What does that mean? Since Pigeon, traditional on- and off-page ranking factors such as page titles, descriptions, meta data, content, site architecture and backlinks impact local ranking even more.
- [icon type=”angle-double-right” class=”fa-li accent”]Make sure you have accurate business name, address and phone number (NAP) on the top directories that are important for your business.
- [icon type=”angle-double-right” class=”fa-li accent”]Earn Links – check out 5 Local Link-Building Ideas for the Post-Penguin/Panda Era
- [icon type=”angle-double-right” class=”fa-li accent”]Get Reviews – Review signals account for about 10% of all ranking factors. More importantly, reviews are positive feedback from your actual customers that trigger clicks and ultimately more business
- [icon type=”angle-double-right” class=”fa-li accent”]Make sure you have optimized your social profiles, citations, and Google+ profiles to reflect a specific location (i.e. neighborhood of a city or region, zip code, etc.) not just the name of that city or region.
There has been many updates and changes to the Google algorithm that has been identified for years and reported as far back as 2000. More than ever, businesses should monitor sites that make this information available, so they can keep abreast of any changes that may have a direct effect on their market.