There’s no doubt about the power of appearing on the first page in the Google search rankings. For marketers and SEO consultants, it’s often seen as the Holy Grail even though this is not always the best way of measuring search performance due to rankings being so varied for different users.
But, just as you think you’ve got your head around the ways of Google’s world, it turns on its head and tweaks its search engine algorithm a little more. In the last year or so alone, Google has made a raft of major changes that have impacted websites both onsite with technical and content and externally with a harder stance on low quality backlinks.
First launched over three years ago, Google’s Panda algorithm was devised as a way to penalise sites with weak, duplicate and low quality content. Google wanted to make sure that those who created regular, high quality, unique content which is genuinely useful to the audience were rewarded by improved search visibility and search rankings.
The Panda algorithm has seen its most recent update in July 2015 with Panda 4.2, the first full update for over 10 months. This could in fact be coined as the 30th update with all the tweaks we’ve seen since the first roll out. The difference with this update is that it is taking months to roll out as opposed to days or weeks like we are used to seeing.
Most Panda updates are described as a refresh which usually involves a few tweaks as opposed to a major change in the algorithm. These refreshes usually impact between 1% and 5% of search queries on most occasions. The updates do in fact open up new opportunities for sites that have been working hard on their content and reducing thin pages but also can have a negative impact on sites that have dipped in quality or fresh content.
That way, it’s a win-win for both Google and search engine users. The user finds the sites which give them the most suitable information, the products or the services they are looking for. And, their trust in Google to find for them what they want is cemented.
As far as Google is concerned, it is looking for sites which are jam-packed with original content, which are factually correct and well categorised subject matters. Sites which are very thin on content, which have lots of ads and potentially heavy use of paid links are the ones that are frowned upon by Panda.
A note about the extended algorithm roll outs was made during the “refresh,” in March 2013 when Matt Cutts, (head of webspam at Google at the time), said “Rather than having some huge change that happens on a given day, you are more likely in the future to see Panda deployed gradually as we rebuild the index. So you are less likely to see large scale sorts of changes.”
It makes sense for any business to use their website to produce content which shows they are leaders in their field or experts on their subject matter as this will attract natural backlinks, social media shares and attention.
Other Google Updates
There are of course numerous other algorithms that have had significant impact on search results in the last 12 months including Google Penguin, Hummingbird and Pirate.
Google Penguin seeks out sites with low quality backlinks that go against Google’s guidelines and sites that may have been a part of link schemes or deemed to have used black hat SEO tactics. The Hummingbird algorithm also takes into account the way people search now (searcher intent). While in the early days of the internet, searches centred around keywords, users increasing type in a full question when they are looking for something. Now Google is able to better rank sites which could provide the answers to these question-type searches. This makes responses to searches much more accurate for users.
Google’s changes in the main are made to improve the experience for Google users by stopping spammers being able to drive a useless and uninformative website up in the search rankings, instead reserving its top spaces for those sites which make the effort and best answer user queries whilst keeping within Google’s guidelines.
But, no matter what Google’s reasoning is, it’s up to marketers, webmasters and SEO’s to adapt. That should, however, be getting easier because all of Google’s changes lately have served to make the search engine more human.
No longer do sites which churn out huge amounts of spun content benefit. Instead, those which are genuinely engaging are the winners and users are able to ask Google in a more human way for what they want and be pretty sure it will be delivered.
Once thing we can be sure of is Google will continue to make more changes to improve user experience so better to adapt now rather than wait to be impacted by an update.