When it comes to understanding fluctuations in search engine rankings, there is no better place to start than looking at Google’s algorithm changes.
There have been many updates (major and minor) over the years, and its the job of a search specialist to both plan and react when there is a shift.
We’ve taken a look back over time at some of the major changes in Google filters and algorithms, and have outlined what you can do to arm yourself and your content for these changes.
If it isn't on Google, it doesn't exist.Jimmy Wales, Co-Founder @ Wikipedia
Google Panda [Feb 2011]
Implemented in early 2011, the Panda algorithm checks for low quality content or spam, keyword stuffing, plagiarism and things of that nature.
Although it was initially applied as a filter only, 2016 saw it integrated as a key ranking factor and a core part of the ranking algorithm.
We love Panda! Google is paying homage to those sites that are creative, innovative, original and helpful with its content. You’ve heard it often enough, but providing valuable content to your users is a must.
Google Penguin [Apr 2012]
The next major algorithm update was Google Penguin. Launched in 2012, Penguin takes care of spammy and unnatural backlinks to sites by penalising your ranking page(s).
What constitutes a poor quality link you might ask? Well, make sure links to your site are coming from webpages related to your industry and offering wherever possible. Also avoid building backlinks for link farms and directories.
You can regain rankings between each release of Penguin by taking care of the offending links before rescans. So, what are you waiting for?
Google’s disavow tool is the perfect approach for removing harmful backlinks to your site – in addition to contacting the offending site webmaster, that is!
Google Hummingbird [Aug 2013]
Next up is Google Hummingbird.
Since 2013, there has been a growth in the importance of semantic search in the Google camp.
In essence, there is less emphasis placed on individual keywords, and a larger focus on the related searches, synonyms and the meaning behind groups of words and content.
Whilst many found this difficult, true content marketers and copywriters the world over saw the value this offered. It meant being able to truly write content for humans first, knowing that Google could pick up the slack and understand the meant that pages could rank for keywords (even where you hadn’t explicitly mentioned them).
Its a win-win for viewers too – easy to read content that makes sense every step of the way.
Google Pigeon [Jul 2014]
Running a business that is geography bound? Pigeon (the Google algorithm update) is just the thing for you.
Launched in mid-2014, Pigeon provides a better link between local and core algorithm changes, and means that there is a larger role that local pages play in search results. Based on where a user is and what they search for, you can expect to find different result pages.
You can expect more targeted and relevant traffic from searches to your site as a result.
The changes aim to motivate brands and local directories to utilise the full suite of Google tools like Places and Google My Business to improve search visibility.
N.B. At the time of writing, Google Pigeon currently only supports English searches.
Google's Mobile update [Apr 2015]
It’s over a year since Google’s Mobile Algorithm update came into play. So, if you still do not have a dedicated mobile experience on your website the time to act is now.
The update boosts search rankings for mobile-friendly websites and pages and penalises pages that do not meet this standard. It checks legibility of text (font sizes) as well as the visible viewport amongst other more technical factors like mobile page speed loads.
If you’ve noticed a drop in traffic due to this update, your key choices are to:
- Integrate CSS in your site that will serve a responsive version of your webpages
- Dynamically serve mobile versions of pages (our recommendation) – you’ll be able to customise the experience in a way befitting of mobile visits without compromising on load time
Check your own analytics to get an idea of how much of your web traffic is from mobile and tablet devices – we’re sure you’ll be surprised at how dominant the mobile web is.
Unsure if you’re pages meets Google’s mobile standards? Why not check it for yourself with the Google Mobile-Friendly Test.
RankBrain [Oct 2015]
In October 2015, Google launched an algorithm change that improved search results based on relevance. It learns from historic searches and the pages served, to improve what pages it suggests in the future (Rise of the Machines anyone?). It’s an important ranking factor and cannot be ignored.
RankBrain for the most part is still shrouded in mystery but there are some things that are certain. To maintain search positions, you’ll want to ensure a positive user experience and maintain relevance across your content and pages to the search terms you’d like to rank for.
Handling changes to Google search
It can be a daunting thought to know that your page rankings can fluctuate, and how much work really goes into getting pages to rank. Even so, if pulling traffic to your site is of importance (we’re sure it is), then you can’t avoid adopting a solid SEO strategy.
Partnering with an SEO agency with the experience and capability to deliver, or getting the resource in-house to deliver on your search optimisation needs is essential.
Whichever approach you take remember to:
- Avoid black hat techniques
- Create valuable, unique and varied content
- Think about local search
- Take care of mobile visits
- Create a rich user experience that encourages engagement and conversion
We’d love to hear how you’ve handled changes in search rankings. Join the conversation below!