Over the years, Google has made several changes to their algorithms. In some cases, these often sudden changes caused a ripple effect among the SEO community with lasting repercussions. This is mostly due to the fact that in the past, Google had rolled out the changes with little to no notification. By the time these changes were announced by Google, the damage had been done. But not all Google algorithm updates have to be seen as a scary occurrence. Despite Google’s tendency to retroactively announce changes, these algorithm updates are designed to improve the web user’s experience and improve quality rankings.
Fortunately, SEOs across the board have lived and learned and now we are somewhat used to these occasional changes. When you step back and look at the bigger picture, it’s clear to see that these updates are in fact great. In fact, the changes made by Google have led to a better user experience and deemed Google as a far better search product for marketers and users alike. Below, we will take a closer look at some major algorithm changes made by Google that have led to some significantly positive changes for the web.
The Freshness Update
In late 2011, Google announced a search algorithm change that would reward the freshness of content on websites. This change was impacted up to 35% of queries (nearly three times the impact publicly stated for Panda 1.0). At the time, this was seen as a rather large number for a single Google update, and for many, it was a definite game-changer. Real-time results were most affected by this algorithm update, leading to a stronger emphasis on the more recent content.
As a result, companies responded with a greater emphasis everything from blogs to marketing web content, using freshness a way to stay on top of the game. For some content marketers, this threw a wrench in older black-hat SEO practices that were more rampant prior to the algorithm update. Marketing campaigns were now able to base their success more so on higher quality, organic content to draw in new visitors. The user experience was vastly improved with these changes as consumer could now look forward to seeing more genuinely meaningful, up-to-date content that was relevant and obviously fresh.
The Pigeon Update
Nearly three years later, in early 2014, Google announced another major update known as the Pigeon Update. This algorithm change consisted of a wider set of changes, focused on local searches. These changes have vastly shaped the ways in which local searches work, to this day. Factors for local listings, such as accurate information and increased authority in certain locations were among the areas targeted. The complexity of the local search was significantly increased after the update, but ultimately it allowed for local businesses to benefit from being prioritized among local community searches.
Local search results produced a far more comprehensive return that allowed for better, more relevant returns for users. The greatest benefit for local businesses was that the algorithm update allowed for them to suddenly even outperform nationwide business that had once dominated the market. Many local SEO practices used today are derivatives of this change.
The Penguin Update – Everflux
Not only was Penguin an update, it is also a name for one of Google’s algorithms. Also launched in 2014, this major update was made to the algorithm Penguin towards the end of the year. The update was called Everflux and it focused on allowing Penguin to continuously update itself and its rankings. This was a step up from the occasional updates previously done by Google, based upon gathered site ranking data.
This update allowed for changes to immediately affect page rankings in real time, unlike before, when developers made changes and a certain amount of time would pass before those changes went live. This change caused quite a stir among SEOs and web designers, placing a sudden sense of urgency and pressure on them that they had not had to deal with in the past. The change was initially seen as tiresome but in time, some very useful practices were born from it. This included faster and more accurate results from A/B testing, as well as other present-day tools and ideas that allow for faster performance and ranking data.
The Mobilegeddon Update
With mobile devices on an unprecedented rise, the Mobilegeddon update of early 2015 made considerable changes to the game. Google’s new standard, termed “mobile responsiveness” for web design began this significant shift. Businesses on the web that were mobile responsive were able to automatically adjust and resize themselves to accommodate the typically smaller screens of mobile devices. The ability to correct columns, fonts, and sizes of text for clarity, set the criteria for future mobile browsing.
Older non-mobile websites that were poorly designed were extremely difficult to navigate on mobile devices. This led to issues with traffic, thus loss of rankings for businesses. Businesses who were not mobile-friendly experienced an average loss of rankings by approximately 0.21 positions, according to a data report compiled by the software company Searchmetrics. After the algorithm update, websites that meet the mobile standard were boosted to the top of the search engine result pages (SERPs) when compared to other websites that were not mobile friendly. At the time, this figure was large enough to launch vast improvements to future web designs.
The 3-Pack Update
In August of 2015, Google made an unannounced change to the way in which search results appeared for local searches. In the past there had been seven local businesses listed along the top of the results page, exhibiting valuable contact information and data. Prior to the change, Google decided to experiment with this feature, by reducing the number of displayed businesses to just three. The change turned out to be very mobile friendly and served to simplify the appearance on the search result page. Despite the last four businesses no longer showing, the ultimate goal of a cleaner search page was achieved.
In addition to less clutter, it also encouraged local businesses to effectively contend for one of the top three spots, which ultimately resulted in an increase in both the quality and design of their webpages. Aptly termed the “snack pack,” businesses now face a real challenge if they want to be featured in the three. Going along the belief that Google is best when they deliver clear, concise results, the three-pack proves to be far easier to use than the seven-pack, ultimately creating a superior user environment for visitors and SEOs alike. As more updates come our way, we can expect to see more and more improvements from Google to improve our user experience.
– Carolyn M. Walker, SEO Copy Editor