Google is a company whose behaviour impacts virtually every business with an online presence and even many of those without. When Google update their algorithms, or their probability calculations, the entire online landscape shifts. What does this mean?

Well, to use a geographical metaphor, where you might have once had an online ‘shopfront’ that was positioned as if on a busy city street, with plenty of passing trade, you might suddenly find yourself in the backwoods of the internet, with just about nobody ever finding your site, let alone staying long enough to buy anything. OUCH!

But how do you stay ahead of the game? Well, first of all, it is good to be informed. Forewarned is forearmed as they say, so here is an overview of the biggest updates rolled up by Google in recent years. There have been numerous mini-updates on top of these, but we are going to stick with the big one.

panda-151605_640Panda: first released Feb 2011

Aim: The overall effect of this update was to lower the ranking of poor-quality sites and sites with thin content. The objective was to return ‘quality’ sites to the top of the rankings. The search for ‘quality’ is something that drives all Google updates. They want to give the very best answer possible to any given query. So, with this update, out went keyword-stuffing. Google no longer focused on keyword density as a measure of relevance. Other factors now mediated, and keyword stuffing was now actually penalised. Only fair really.

Remember when ezine articles and the like always used to come up on any search? Notice they don’t anymore? That was Panda.

penguin-150563_640Penguin: Launched Apr 2012

With this update, Google yet again re-defined it’s criteria to catch out sites it deemed to be spammy. These were websites that would buy links or obtain them through link networks primarily designed to manipulate rankings. Google has never liked any linking it considers unnatural, and its algorithm is always getting smarter to try and catch these websites out.

squab-151212_640Pigeon: Released July 2014

The Pigeon update was all about local listings. People’s search results are now filtered with their location in mind – increasing the ranking of local listings in any search. Just because you can buy from anywhere in the world, doesn’t mean people always want to. Naturally, they want to see what is on offer in their local area first and foremost.

cell-33083_640Mobilepocalypse: 2015

This dramatically titled sequence of changes rolled out by Google in 2015 was intended to encourage people to move with the times. More and more people are doing searches on their mobile devices rather than on their desktop. This change reflects that trend.

To put it simply, Google will now decrease your ranking in mobile search if your site is not optimised for display on a mobile device. Again, seems fair. Google do not want to send their customers to a site that they cannot read or will not display properly because they are on a smartphone.

Remember, all these updates are about the improvement of the user experience.

Rank Brain – October 2015
In October of 2015, Google announced that ‘machine learning’ had been a part of their algorithm for months. In fact, it was now the 3rd most influential ranking factor.

This is indicative of a trend that Google is investing an enormous amount of time and energy into. At the moment, Google still needs real people to test sites and evaluate content. However, by studying the behaviour of their testers over time, they have been able to build certain patterns into their algorithm. The aim, of course, is to create a program that can understand natural human language.

The focus is more and more on real, engaging content, written by humans for humans, not by text-generators for web-crawlers.

megaphone-147176_640Ad-words Shake Up: Feb 2016

February of 2016 saw major changes coming to Adwords – Google’s advertising program. The right column ads were removed entirely from search pages. Instead, they introduced four ad ‘top spots’ on commercial searches. Apparently they had begun to realise that just about nobody bothers to click those side ads anyway.

door-575970_640Doorway Pages Algorithm:

With this beast of an update, penalties were introduced for very large sites (numbering hundreds and thousands of pages) which have many pages designed purely to catch long tail keywords. These sites have a great many pages whose purpose is purely to funnel visitors to another page – doorway pages in other words.

For example, local plumbers who have many pages for different service areas in which they do not have a verified address.

The Future

Without access to Google’s ever-growing bank of data on search queries, it is hard always to predict what they will do next, but what we do know is Google cares about its users and is always focused on increasing the user experience. This means it wants trusted sites at the top of its search results. To rank, you must have garnered Google’s trust.

As the saying goes: Rank in 5 minutes, rank for 5 minutes… If you’d like any help addressing the impact of Google’s algorithms on your website, get in touch with Wise Optimise SEO Sheffield for advice from an SEO expert.