The world of search engine workings, particularly those of Google, is a mystery to many – arguably to all but the select few engineers who work directly on the algorithms themselves.
There are, however, periodic updates to Google’s ‘organic’ search engine ranking algorithms which are well known (if perhaps less well understood). Sometimes these are publicly announced by Google, and on other occasions they are not. Never-the-less, the SEO community will document changes and synthesize their collective observations to reach significant findings about these changes and how they may affect your website. I’ve listed some of the most prominent updates to the Google organic search algorithms below, but it should be noted that these are not the only updates.
A brief overview of Google’s update history
Below I’ve tried to outline the updates that Google has implemented, in chronological order, from its inception. I’m not going to go into detail here about what each update was based upon or what impact each of these updates had on the internet in general. The main reason for including this section is twofold: firstly, so that you can get a grasp of how many major updates have been implemented by Google and secondly, so that you can approximate the frequency with which Google has been implementing these significant updates.
December 2000: Google Toolbar with Toolbar PageRank is launched. Heady days of “The Google Dance” begin. So-called because webmasters would have to effect knee-jerk reactions to the rapid changes being implemented at Google.
2002: First significant Google algo updates kick-in. These remain unnamed to-date.
2003: Boston, Cassandra, Dominic, Esmerelda, Fritz, Supplemental Index, Florida.
2004: Austin, Brandy.
2005: Nofollow, Allegra, Bourbon, XML Sitemaps, Personalized Search, Gilligan, Google Local/Maps, Jagger, Big Daddy.
2006: Supplemental Update, “Update False Alarm” (no major updates reported by Google, though webmasters notice significant ranking changes).
2007: Inclusion of Universal Search, Buffy.
2008: Dewey, Google Suggest implemented.
2009: Vince, “rel=canonical”, Caffeine (preview), Real-time Search.
2010: Google Places officially rolled out, May Day, Caffeine (official rollout), Brand Update (inclusion of multiple entries of same domain in same SERP), Google Instant is implemented, Instant Previews, Negative Reviews, Social Signals confirmed as a ranking factor.
2011 (here’s where it gets hairy!): Overstock.com Penalty, Attribution Update, Panda/Farmer, The +1 Button, Panda 2.0, Panda 2.1, Schema.org, Panda 2.2, Google+ launched (10 million users within 2 weeks), Panda 2.3, Panda Goes Global (2.4), Expanded Sitelinks, Pagination Elements, Panda 2.5, Panda “Flux”, Query Encryption (aka “(not provided)”), Freshness Update, 10-Pack of Updates announced, Panda 3.1, December 10-Pack.
2012: January 30-pack, Search+ Your World, Panda 3.2, Ads Above The Fold, February 17-Pack, Venice, February 40-Pack, Panda 3.3, Panda 3.4, March 50-Pack, Parked Domain Bug, Panda 3.5, Penguin, Panda 3.6, April 52-Pack, Inclusion of Google Knowledge Graph, Penguin 1.1, May 39-Pack, Panda 3.7, Panda 3.8, Link Warnings issued through Webmaster Tools, Panda 3.9, June/July 86-Pack, DMCA Penalty update, 7-result SERPs for some searches are implemented, Panda 3.9.1, Panda 3.9.2, Panda #20, EMD Update, August/September 65-Pack, Penguin #3, Page Layout #2, Panda #21.
As you can tell from the list above, the frequency with which Google implements important updates varies greatly. It’s also clear that the pace at which Google is making these changes has been stepped up several gears since early 2010 and shows no sign of petering out any time soon.
Super-Significant Google Updates you should know about: Black’n’white furry critters
Things that pandas and penguins have in common: both are black and white, they’re both (arguably) cute and both are potentially harmful to your organic search rankings. Though these updates are very different in nature, they both have the potential to have your site knocked down the rankings – and in some extreme cases have caused websites to lose over 70-80% of their traffic.
The Google Panda Update
The Google Panda updates are content-centric. If your website contains low-quality or thin content on its pages, it will make prime Panda fodder. If the copy isn’t of high quality with good informational content, the Google Panda will be on to you and your poor-content will be Panda-snaffled impacting your rankings significantly. Remember: if you’re not at the quality content table, then you’re on the Google Panda’s menu!
The Google Penguin Update
Among Google’s chief concerns is keeping its search results highly relevant to user queries. The Google Penguin update was used to target websites that were using manipulative techniques to artificially inflate their natural rankings in Google SERPs. This has the effect of filling the Google SERPs with spam or low quality websites. Often (though not exclusively) penalties incurred as a result of the Penguin update would be accompanied by a message from Google informing webmasters that their website was “using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines”.
A Cautionary Warning
Google Updates are almost always phased in, and are not applied across-the-board in one go. Even though this is the case, don’t risk your revenue by leaving it to chance – make sure you have an expert SEO team who can minimize your chances of getting hit by future Google updates.
There are now tools available which allow you to overlay important Google updates directly on to your Google Analytics data. The idea is that the overlay will enable you to identify fluctuations in your traffic around the times these updates were phased in.
If you think you’ve been affected by the issues mentioned within this article, or you have any wider concerns about SEO for your website, please feel free to contact us for a friendly and helpful service.
Author: Oliver Lee Hirst