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Guide to Google Algorithm Changes and Their Effect on SEO

Guide to Google Algorithm Changes and Their Effect on SEO

As we all know, Google makes changes to its algorithms all the time.  In fact, Google’s algorithm gets adjusted for different reasons on a daily basis.  However, most of the changes that are implemented to Google’s ranking and indexing systems are not obvious to users and don’t always impact SEO.

In mid-April, we saw Google Search Console effected by an indexing bug.  Changes to indexing were reported, and it was determined that Google had dropped a large number of pages from their index.  The result of the issue was that many websites lost valuable rankings for keywords and search queries they would have otherwise ranked for.

Although this change to Google’s algorithm did not affect the masses, it was noticed by many people.  Eventually, Google reported the issue had been resolved on April 17 in a tweet by @searchliaison.

Google Search Liaison

March 2019’s Core Update started on March 12.  Although Google does broad core updates several times a year, it was decided to name the update to avoid further confusion.   The update was a noticeable change, yet Google stated that the algorithm change was not huge:

“This was a noticeable update that we felt warranted confirming, in keeping with what we’ve said before.  But it is far from being the biggest update Google has ever done. We’re not characterizing it beyond that.”

Important Previous Google Algorithm Changes You Should Know:

Panda

About: Google Panda algorithm was first introduced in February 2011.  Panda brought about a change to Google’s search results ranking algorithm.  If a site didn’t meet the new quality standards, it would send low-quality signals to Google that would lower ranking.   This important change aimed to rank higher quality sites and provide better user experience by filtering sites with “thin” or duplicate content (such as content farms).

The Panda algorithm was essentially introduced to focus on quality content issues and maintain a higher standard for the sites that would rank.  Now you might be wondering, what is “thin content”?  Thin content is content that doesn’t add value to a website. Therefore, Google’s Panda algorithm has improved user experience by limiting sites with thin content from ranking in organic results.

Tip: When facing Panda, you can use canonical tags to indicate to search engines which page on a site is the main page or master copy of a website.  This is useful when duplicate content is present and will prevent algorithmic penalization.

Tools: use Siteliner or Small SEO Tools to identify duplicate content on your website

Pigeon

Google’s Pigeon update was released in July 2014.  This update prefaced the Possum update of 2016 which I will discuss next.  Pigeon was initiated to improve local SEO and increase the rankings of local listings.  The changes impacted organic and maps results.

Tip: For local SEO it is very important that NAP info is consistent.  Any discrepancies can affect your local ranking and confuse Google.

Possum

Google’s Possum algorithm was launched in 2016.  Possum impacted local and organic SEO by implementing 5 changes to assist in determining ranking and maps results.

  1. Physical location of the person conducting the search
  2. Keyword variation conducted in search
  3. NAP/Location of business
  4. Increase in “location” flexibility (in relation to city limits)
  5. Improvements to local algorithm

The overall change with the Possum update is focused on local quality signals to determine ranking results.

Hummingbird

Google’s Hummingbird update, which was launched in 2013, was a change to Google’s core algorithm in its emphasis on understanding user intent when conducting a Google search.  With the Hummingbird update, Google is now able to understand what a user is searching for in a query and provide results that are more relevant to the user.  This update provides sophisticated user experience and a level of artificial intelligence that previously had not been seen in SEO. 

RankBrain

Google’s RankBrain algorithm was first confirmed in 2015.  RankBrain is an update that utilizes artificial intelligence and machine learning to continuously update the way it provides users with relevant search results.  Furthermore, search results are based on ever-changing user queries combined with other online signals that Google is able to analyze.

With RankBrain, Google is able to measure user intent and user experience in a way that continually changes and improves on its own.  It’s been said that RankBrain is an updated version of Hummingbird.  But nonetheless, Google’s ability to interpret and understand user intent has been increasingly improved with both algorithms.

Penguin

About: Google’s Penguin update focuses on differentiating quality links from spammy links.  The update was launched in April 2012 and has helped Google to identify sites that don’t meet Google’s quality standards.  This update penalizes sites that buy links, use PBN’s or create links in other manipulative ways (to boost search ranking results) by lowering the site’s ranking.

In 2016, Google Penguin 4.0 came out, which can identify spammy or manipulative links in real time.

Tip: Unnatural anchor text patterns can also be identified by Google’s Penguin algorithm.  For example, if an exact match anchor text is used too frequently, a site could be penalized as that would be deemed as unnatural.

In Summary:

Google’s algorithm changes will not always affect your page rank or inhibit SEO results.  By staying informed and understanding the major algorithm changes, you can stay on top and maintain a positive ranking.  Things change quickly in the world of technology, AI, and SEO.  Being informed and following SEO best practices is the best way to prepare for any algorithm changes.

Because it’s important to be aware of such changes, it is also essential to know where your website stands as well.  If you aren’t sure about your SEO score or whether or not your site ranks, you can find out here for free.

In essence, maintaining high standards which abide by Google’s guidelines of quality is the best preventative to being negatively impacted by any major algorithm changes.  If you focus on quality and stay informed you will find you don’t have anything to worry about and will probably stay on top and make changes as they come!

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