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Google’s key algorithm changes: a timeline
In the digital marketing industry, audience always comes first. But hot on its heels is Google. Performing well on Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) is what every business strives for; it increases traffic, brand awareness and authority. Getting your company to the top of the first page, however, is not an exact science. The king of search engines has maintained an air of mystery around the way it does things and the reasons why a website may be rewarded or penalised.
There have been several significant algorithm updates over the last few years that have changed the way the industry does things. This blog post will bring you up to speed with the terminology, Google’s latest and most significant updates and how you can use these to your advantage.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
What is an algorithm?
noun: A process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer. ‘a basic algorithm for division’
Oxford English Dictionary
Google’s algorithm is the set of rules it follows to provide the user with a list of the most relevant and helpful website pages to answer their query.
The historic Google algorithm updates you need to know about
Fred – 8th March 2017
The Fred algorithm update penalises thin, ad-centric and affiliate heavy content.
Why would Google want to penalise these sites? Because they are focused on making money via spammy techniques, as opposed to adding value to the user.
This is a violation of the webmaster guidelines Google has issued time and time again.
Identify thin, poor quality content on your website and add depth. Ensure any ads displayed are relevant and helpful to the user on any page they appear. They must enhance the user experience, not obstruct or muddy it. If a page or blog post contains affiliate links, then state this in the post. You will not be able to trick Google into thinking otherwise.
Possum – 1st September 2016
Possum is intended to emphasise relevancy in the SERP when it comes to localisation.
Google wants to promote sites of most relevance to its users’ SERP – and it makes sense. As a user in London UK, you’ll likely want Google to show you results from local companies, rather than those at the other end of the country. This is all about Google putting the user first and personalising their experience.
Ensure localised terms are included in your keyword set and that your Google My Business account is completed and optimised.
Rankbrain – 26th October, 2015
The Rankbrain update was part of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm and was created to help Google identify relevancy and penalise thin content and weak user experience.
To ensure Google can deliver the most relevant and helpful content to the user, it needs to understand ‘search intent’. RankBrain identifies relevance features on a web page and places greater importance on query-specific ranking factors.
This is all about creating great content. Optimise the content on your website to ensure it is as detailed, up to date and comprehensive as possible. It needs to cover all relevant search terms and add real value to the user.
Mobile – 21st April 2015
This update does precisely what it says on the tin: optimise your website for access on mobile devices or create a mobile-specific site.
You will not be surprised that this too is an algorithm update solely focused around enhanced user experience. In simple terms, any page that is not optimised for use on mobile, or that does not offer a mobile-specific version, will be either down-ranked or removed from the SERP entirely.
Focus all development and SEO efforts on optimisation for mobile; usability and speed should be at the top of the priority list here.
Pigeon – 22nd December 2014
Pigeon is all about SEO—both on-page but also off-page.
The pigeon algorithm update is dual levelled. It focuses on creating a closer relationship for local searches on both the core algorithm and the local algorithm.
Ensuring your on-page basics are nailed – including your local SEO – is of course important. But think about how you can improve your localised off-page SEO, too. Being listed on local digital directories is a great place to start.
Hummingbird – 22nd August 2013
The Hummingbird algorithm update was one that brought music to content creators’ ears, as it began to penalise keyword-stuffing and poor content.
This update focused webmasters’ attention on the provision of quality content, rather than content that tried to cheat the system by cramming keywords. It was at this point that content became much more than ‘keywords’ as Google became more intelligent in terms of semantics and intent. Co-occurring terms also became recognised as valuable in content with this update.
Remove keyword cramming from all content, expand keyword research and cover relevant topics and questions in detail.
Penguin – 14th April 2012
This update was centred around spammy and poor quality backlinks.
Penguin works as part of Google’s core algorithm, and its purpose is to down-rank sites that use poor quality, spammy and manipulative backlinks.
Audit your website’s backlink profile and remove any poor backlinks. Priority should always be on quality and relevancy over quantity.
Panda – 24th February 2011
A shut down on plagiarised, thin content and keyword cramming.
Panda now makes up part of Google’s core algorithm and promotes content best-practice through and through. It rewards those sites that take time and care in creating their own, original and detailed content. Not content that is lazy and crammed with keywords.
Running regular site audits, ensuring all content is original and detailed is the best way to ensure you are not struck down with a Panda penalty.
Where can you keep up to date with Google Algorithm updates?
- Twitter – We are sure you all know that this social media platform is the place to be for news. Following Google and other industry market leaders is essential to keep up to date with any rumours and announcements of new algorithm updates.
- Industry leaders such as Moz and SearchEngineLand offer great content in their blogs and newsletters, so they are worth checking out.
- Following relevant hashtags on LinkedIn and influential people in the SEO space is also a great way to keep on top of core updates.
So there you have it, an overview of history’s most important Google algorithm updates. It is essential to know the history of the leading search engine we are all slaves to, to understand how our industry has evolved over the last ten years – and how ‘user first’ has been at the heart of every evolution.
Is the ‘user first’ methodology at the centre of all of your marketing activity? It should be.