What Do Those Google Algorithm Updates Mean?

Date: January 31, 2019

If you want to stay in the SEO game, then you need to understand the rules

Understanding Google Algorithms

Google is particularly adept at separating the upstanding websites from the shady ones, and this is attributed to its unparalleled search ranking algorithm. This algorithm is a chameleon of sorts, constantly changing to prevent low-quality sites from scamming their way to the top of the search results.

Google holds all of its tenants to a very high standard and has a zero-tolerance policy for anything less than top-notch content. Even if you’ve been rewarded for upstanding SEO practices in the past, your rankings and traffic levels can quickly drop off if any of the algorithm updates identify an overlooked misstep. What constitutes a misstep? It can be as simple as too much or too little of something buried deep within your website.

Google changes its search algorithm around 600 times a year, and while most of the changes are minor, some of these updates can be major gamechangers, designed to impact SEO in significant and historical ways.

Here is an overview of some of the most important algorithm updates to date.

Google Panda

This one is all about ensuring quality content, and also the one most likely to bite you. The original Panda update was rolled out in 2011 and incorporated into Google’s core algorithm five years later. It was designed to clean up search results by penalizing low-quality content, which unfortunately ruled supreme before this algorithm update.

Google Panda evaluates websites and makes judgments based on the quality of their content. Thin content, or content that provides little to no value to the reader, will trigger Panda and your SEO rankings will suffer.

To avoid this, do regular site audits and look for things like duplicate content, keyword stuffing (overusing keywords), and overall irrelevant content. Try and publish as much original content as you can and get creative with things like product and service descriptions.

Google Penguin

This update was Google’s second big move in fighting internet junk. It launched in 2011 and became part of Google’s core algorithm in 2016, just like Panda.

The objective of this algorithm was and still is to negatively impact rankings for sites using spammy backlinks. To best explain what a spammy or manipulative link is, it’s best to explain what it is not.

A trustworthy backlink, an SEO best practice that can positively impact a site’s ranking, is contextually appropriate, surrounded by relevant content, linked from trustworthy sources, and derived from different domains.

To check for dubious links, you can use software to help determine which ones are harmful. After you’ve identified the offenders, you can attempt to have them removed by contacting those sites that link to yours, or if you’re dealing with more than just a few unwanted links, then you should probably move forward with Google’s Disavow tool.

Also, audit your site and make sure you’re not overusing keywords in your anchor text. Otherwise, Penguin will find you and put you in SEO jail.

Google Pigeon

The Pigeon update was rolled out in 2014 and targeted local SEO to help improve the quality of local search results. Today, a local website’s ranking is determined by its location, relative to the user’s. Basically, the closer the two are, the higher the website will rank.

Although businesses can’t physically move themselves to be closer to each user, optimizing your websites for the local search algorithm is necessary to remain a contender. Try to incorporate content, both visual and written, that is directly related to your location. Always include NAP (name, address, phone number) on business directories and on your site, and include customer reviews when possible.

You can also strengthen your search rankings through traditional SEO methods like creating good-quality content, including keywords relevant to your location, optimizing for mobile, and reputable link building.

Google Hummingbird

This update, which came on the scene in 2013, was one of the first major updates that wasn’t geared toward website rankings. Hummingbird was designed to help decipher the intent behind search queries. Before this update, Google provided search results based on the keywords used, but users were beginning to use longer, more conversational, and natural phrases to ignite their searches.

What does this SEO update mean for businesses? Basically, gone are the days of short-tail keywords embedded in your content. Instead, try to diversify your content to include more natural language, especially in your titles and meta descriptions.

Your rankings will get a boost if you proactively think about what your users are typing in their searches and then incorporate those phrases into your content. It is also beneficial to do a competitive analysis to help uncover relevant terms and phrases being used by your most successful competitors.

Google Mobile-Friendly Update (Mobilegeddon)

Mobilegeddon was introduced in 2015 and was Google’s way of adapting its algorithm to recognize searches made on devices other than computers. Basically, pages that were designed for mobile devices were rewarded with higher rankings in mobile search, and those pages not designed for mobile were punished with low rankings.

Shortly after Mobilegeddon hit, Google realized that it was not enough to just divvy out high or low rankings based solely on how mobile-friendly certain pages were. So in 2018, mobile-first indexing was introduced, which scans a website’s mobile version almost exclusively in order to index it for search. Websites that only have desktop versions are also indexed.

If your site is optimized for mobile (which it should be), then you can run the mobile-friendly test to see if it meets Google’s criteria. You’ll also want to make sure to use the same structured content on both your mobile and desktop website versions.

Google Fred

Think of Fred as the umbrella that encompasses lots of minor updates made to Google’s search algorithm. One Fred, in particular, was dropped in 2017 that penalized websites whose purpose is to drive revenue, instead of providing valuable content.

To stay on this Fred’s nice list, you may want to scale back on the number of ads on your site and always make sure they are from reputable partners. Audit your site for this content and always review your pages through the lens of the user.

In short, if you ever see your rankings or traffic levels abruptly fall off, you’ve probably been hit with one of these SEO updates, or who knows, maybe a brand new one hot off the presses. Like it or not, these updates are here to keep us all honest and on our toes. It’s a competition of the fittest, and only the SEO savvy will survive!

Stay on top of Google’s algorithm updates and learn more about how they can affect your SEO efforts.