Much to the chagrin of many businesses, Google is constantly tweaking their algorithm in an attempt to provide users with the most pertinent information as quickly as possible. The algorithm is constantly changing, resulting in disgruntled businesses when their search engine rankings are affected. Any business with a website needs to understand the latest updates and how they affect search engine rankings. A failure to stay up to date with the Google algorithm likely means masses of lost traffic.
The Panda 4.0 Update
The Panda 4.0 update rolled out in May of 2014 with one specific purpose: to streamline the existing algorithm to make it harder for websites with poor or weak content to rank high in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). Google has made regular updates to the Panda algorithm in the past, but in this major update they reworked some of the most important aspects of the code.
The Consequences of Becoming Penalized
Again, the whole point is an attempt to clean up the web for Google’s users. Spammy sites like content mills that spam links, horribly watered down content, and duplicated content were given lower rankings as a result of this new release. However, even top legitimate brands and businesses were affected by the powerful changes to the search engine. For example, in May of 2014 eBay took a massive blow as a result of the Panda update. Losses were estimated at a staggering 80% of organic traffic searches and long tail keywords. This is not the first time something like this has occurred, though. In January of 2014, Expedia reported lost 25% of its organic search rankings after getting penalized by Google. However, despite so much upheaval of high long-time rankings, Google did not give many of the technical, down and dirty details of this update.
Bing Implements Similar Algorithm
Not surprisingly, Google’s search engine competitor Microsoft Bing has mirrored this update in their search engine as well. Although, they seem to have done a much better job of communicating at least some of the mechanics of how the code determines a piece of content’s quality. Bing reported that they use at least three metrics: authority, utility, and presentation.
- Authority: Is the content trustworthy and credible?
- Utility: How useful is the content and how detailed is it?
- Presentation: Is the content easy to find and easily accessible or is it tucked away in some corner of a website?
While we do not know for certain, we might assume that the Google update uses similar metrics in their evaluation of website quality.
The Pigeon Update
The next beast that Google released was dubbed the Pigeon update in July of 2014. You should be aware of this update if you optimize your website to rank higher with local searches. If you had found fluctuations (good or bad) in your local search organic rankings in July, it was most likely due to the Pidgeon update. The change not only affects typical Google search results but also Google Maps queries. The new release targets optimizing distance and location parameters to provide the most relevant, closest results. One thing remains constant after this update, though. Optimizing your website for local searches is still a great way to increase local search traffic for your website.
Encouraging the Use of HTTPS
This update is exciting for security nerds, because Google announced in August that HTTPS (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure) would be used as a metric (or in Google terminology a ‘ranking signal’) to evaluate ranking precedence. The reason they have made this change is to provide webmasters with incentive to move from HTTP to HTTPS. HTTPS is much more secure than HTTP because it uses the SSL/TLS (Secured Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security) protocols to encrypt data so sensitive information cannot be decoded if it has been intercepted or compromised. Whenever you see a locked padlock in the upper-left corner of your browser to the left of the URL, your connection to the webserver is using HTTPS.
New Penguin Update
The latest Penguin update was released in October of 2014. The Penguin portion of the Google algorithm focuses on cracking down on web spam and exploits that create unnaturally high volumes of links. Basically, the algorithm discredits links from articles that have utilized article spinning software (as well as downright atrocious content). These backlinks are ignored and not factored into the grand scheme of the page ranking system.
Previous versions of this component caused some websites to disappear from Google Search results. This can be problematic if you are penalized owing to the fact you will need to wait until the next release to be reconsidered, which could take months. Because the Penguin code was updated, Google allowed an opportunity for websites that had previously made the ‘naughty list’ to submit a request for reconsideration.
This update reportedly affected about 1% of Google Search queries. While that may not sound like a lot, consider that in 2014 Google had a monthly query volume of almost 12 billion searches per month. That means that over 120 million searches each month were affected by the refresh of the algorithm.
Negative Consequences of the Penguin Update
After this update was released, there was a flood of extortion threat emails by internet crooks trying to make a buck. Essentially, they threatened to spam a bunch of links through low quality content in an attempt to get a website penalized by Google unless they were paid a sum of money. Negative SEO extortion is not a new idea, but the Penguin update massively increased the frequency of these threats. Google’s response to these threats was to use the Google disavow tool to disassociate yourself from the links and content and to report the threat to law enforcement.
Additional Updates, Code Releases, and Refreshes
There were many other updates to the Google algorithm, but the most significant improvements seem to be the real game changers that make or break a website’s rankings seemingly overnight. There are many, many other changes though. Some of them seem to be smaller, but still upset many people. For example, in June Google removed the photos of authors from the SERPs. This change had a dramatic change on traffic for those websites that had it in place.
Stay Updated or Fall Behind
While the next changes to the Google algorithm in 2015 are almost unpredictable, you need to stay in the loop and keep your website updated accordingly. Google seems to make changes to its algorithm at the speed of light, so staying updated will help you adapt to maximize your website traffic. If you want to keep up to date and do your own SEO, check out Red Canoe Elite.