Google, the most popular search engine, rolls out algorithm updates once every month or two. There may be few changes happening silently which we are not made aware of; but we need not worry as these do not affect the Search Engine Results Page (SERPs) much.
With every Google Algorithm Update rolled out, it brings many changes to the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy and the industry too. With many businesses depending on search engine results for their lead generation as well as product sales, knowing about these updates can help reduce the harm.
In this article, I have tried to compile all the major updates that Google has rolled out so far and what implications it has on the way websites are ranked.
The Panda update was launched on February 24, 2011 and the goal of this update was to de-rank websites which had poor quality content. In fact, Google started altering the rank factors for all website which had duplicate content, were copying text from other websites (popularly known as Plagiarism), had thin content, were practicing keyword stuffing or the websites had a poor user experience in terms of structuring.
The Penguin update was first launched on April 24, 2012 and then it has seen subsequent rollouts over time. Major updates were rolled out in May 25, 2012, October 5, 2012, May 22, 2013, October 4, 2013 followed by another in October 17, 2014, September 27, 2016, October 6, 2016 and now being updated real-time since then. The goal of this update is to de-rank websites filled with spam and manipulative links. Links coming from poor quality “spam” sites, links coming from sites created purely for SEO link building, links coming from irrelevant sites, paid links and links with highly optimized anchor text were considered major negative factors in this update.
The Pirate update was launched in August, 2012 with an update rollout in October, 2014 and the goal was to down rank websites against whom copyright infringement reports were filed. Google started acting strictly against websites which hosted pirated content or had high volume of copyright infringement reports which were filed through Google’s DMCA system. Prior to the Pirate update, Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) requests were applicable to the removal of a page from a site if it did not follow the copyright laws. With the Pirate update in place now, Google started checking the entire website and applied a penalty for the entire website instead of a single webpage which was reported.
Hummingbird also happens to be the core algorithm of Google. An update was launched on August 22, 2013 and the goal here was to produce more relevant search results by better understanding the meaning behind queries. So far, this update stands to be the most important update in Google’s Ranking Algorithm. It changed the way Google interpreted the search query and provided results. The search engine became more smarter and better by providing search results that matched the intent, rather than matching individual keywords within the search query. In short, Google post this update, was using Natural Language Processing to provide relevant search results based on long queries instead of short keywords. It became more human!
Showing search results of a local shop in India to a citizen in Europe does not make much sense. Launched on July 24, 2014 in the US and then subsequently on December 22, 2014 in UK, Canada and Australia; the goal of this update was to provide high quality, relevant local search results. This update currently affects search results which are in English language and has not been rolled out worldwide at the time of writing this blog. This took the local search to a whole new level of specifics and accuracy. The algorithm connected web search and map search in a more cohesive way to provide better results by using location services. It also gave greater weight to local businesses that had neighbourhood-focused keywords and citations. Websites or businesses who have poorly optimized pages, improper setup of a Google My Business page and lack of citations in local directories are affected by this update.
GOOGLE MOBILE FRIENDLY UPDATE
On April 21, 2015, Google released a significant new mobile-friendly ranking algorithm that gave a boost to mobile-friendly pages. The goal of this update was to give mobile friendly pages of a website a ranking boost in mobile SERPs, and de-rank pages that were difficult to access on a mobile or tablet. The algorithm affected websites which lacked a mobile version of the page (responsive websites as we call it), had improper viewport configuration (controls how a webpage is displayed on a mobile device), illegible content (one which becomes difficult to read on mobile screens) and heavy plugin use. If your website is not mobile friendly, or if you want to ensure how your website is rendered on a mobile screen, you can check it out with Google mobile-friendly tool.
The RankBrain update was launched in early 2015 and the goal of the update was to deliver better search results based on relevance and machine learning. RankBrain is Google’s machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) system that helps better understand the meaning behind search queries, and serve best-matching results. When presented with an unfamiliar word, using complex formulas, RankBrain will take a guess at what the query was about and filter accordingly. When RankBrain was first announced, Google called it the third most important ranking factor.
The Possum update is a collective name given to several changes that were applied to Google’s local ranking filter. It was launched on September 1, 2016 and the goal was to deliver better, more diverse results based on the searcher’s location and the business address. The main purpose, it seems, was to diversify the local results and prevent spam from ranking as well. The update covered the physical location of the user and the search results were now determined based on the actual location of the user, keyword variation results where same keywords when typed in different order delivered different results, location of the business where Google applied a filter to eliminate businesses having more than one listing for the same location, city limits where businesses that are outside the city limits, but conduct business in the nearby city were also now shown in the search results, and lastly it is believed that there are two different local search algorithms. One is for Google Maps results and the other is for the organic listings in Google.com.
Google Fred is an algorithm update that was rolled out to target black-hat tactics which were tied to aggressive monetization. This update was launched on March 8, 2017 and the main goal of the update was to filter out low quality search results whose sole purpose was to generate ad and affiliate revenue. The studies of affected sites showed that the clear majority of websites which were affected were content sites (mostly blogs) with low-quality articles on a wide variety of topics that appear to be created mostly for generating ad or affiliate revenue.
I hope that this Google Algorithm article has helped you to understand the major Google updates and as always, I am looking forward to your comments and questions below. Did any of the updates impact your organic traffic? If so, what was the tactic that helped you recover? Please share your experience in the comments.