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Google Algorithm Updates

Google Algorithm Updates: Google constantly tries to provide the best results to their users’ queries. To do so, it implements an algorithm to rank pages using various metrics. But every algorithm is hackable and Google’s algorithm is no exception. To stay a step ahead of the webmasters exploiting any such weakness in their algorithms, Google updates it on a regular basis. Site Galleria presents you a list of important updates which has affected the way webmasters do search engine optimisation in a major way:

Google Algorithm Updates


1. Panda Update (February 23, 2011) First major post-2010 Google Algorithm update

Panda update was the first major Google Algorithm Update after the turn of the decade. The main purpose of the revamping of the algorithm was to prevent low-quality websites and content from popping up at the top of the results page. Many Website Development Company in Bangalore has taken Panda update seriously and had a major effect on a number of SEO practices at the time, eliminating the need for “content farms” and penalising websites which employed such practices. Content farms refer to the practice of creating a large number of low-quality content, usually plagiarised or scraped from other similar websites. This is one of the first major Google algorithm updates focusing on creating quality content. Panda is regularly updated to monitor the web pages, and penalise/de-penalise websites who have changed their tactics since the last update accordingly. The major penalising factors of the Panda updates are:

  • Thin Content or low-quality content. Thin content refers to the pages covering a lot of topics but provided very little details for any of them. And pages which provide little value to its readers is termed as low-quality content.
  • Duplicate content. Content which is copied from other pages on the internet. This is inclusive of your own website and many pages having the same content can affect your search engine rankings. To escape the penalty, it is better to employ the ‘canonical’ tag.
  • Authoritative websites. After the update, Google started giving better rankings to websites which are known to be an expert or “authoritative” in their respective domains. One of the factors it determines it is by seeing if users would be willing to provide the credit card information to avail their services.
  • Blocked websites. Websites which are frequently blocked by users in the search engine results page have witnessed a decrease in the search engine ranking after this update.
  • A high ad to content ratio. Websites having high ad content when compared to the volume of content they provide were first affected in this update.

2. Penguin Update (April 24, 2012)

Penguin update was the first Google algorithm update which impacted off-page optimisation tactics such as link building. In many ways, Penguin update is an extension of the Panda update. It is aimed at improving the quality of the content by penalising websites which employed keyword stuffing among other things. Major negative triggers of Penguin updates are:

  • Keyword Stuffing. The overutilization of certain keywords in an article or webpage negatively impacted the search ranking for the webpage.
  • Spam Links. If the webpage consists of many links leading to websites which are known to have spam content. Google will penalise your website too after this update. It is better to remove any such links if present, and if you have no control over the links, you can disavow the links.
  • Irrelevant links or Unnatural links. In addition to the spam links, if your website has links which lead to websites not related to your content or domain, it will be considered irrelevant links and your webpage will be penalised for it. This was introduced to discourage paid link building schemes. Unnatural links are links which have unnatural or promotional anchor texts associated with it and will be penalised by Google after the update.

3. Exact Match Domain (EMD) Update (September 27, 2012)

Initially, Google used to consider the domain name of the website as one of the main signals for ranking a website. If the search query was an exact match to any of the domain names, that exact match domain name website used to rank higher in the search engine results page. This was exploited by many webmasters to rank low-quality web pages higher in the search results. After the update, the exact match domain name was no longer a major factor, and web pages known to have low-quality content were penalised even if they had the exact domain name as that of the keyword. There were many false positives and websites which had high-quality content were also penalised for having the exact domain name. These were corrected in later updates. The major negative of EMD update:

  • Exact match domain name. Prevent using domain names which are similar to a popular search query. The probability of your website to be considered spam by Google is very high in such a scenario.

4. Payday Update (June 11, 2013)

Some search queries are known to have exceptionally high “spammy” content. Queries such as payday loans, coupons etc. Payday update was made to clear the search results page of such niche queries. For a webmaster, the payday update didn’t have any major impact on their workings and tactics.

5. Hummingbird Update (August 20, 2013), the first AI Google Algorithm Update

Google was usually bad at providing the required results for a long tail or even sometimes for medium tail queries. With the help of the hummingbird update, Google successfully overcame this problem and for the most part, was able to predict the “user intent” in search queries. The Hummingbird update is one of the major steps Google has taken to implement Artificial Intelligence in its Search product. They incorporated Natural Language Processing and collection of synonyms, which they have been working on for a long time, to provide accurate results for long search queries. This update didn’t have any major impact on the workings of Search Engine Optimisation though.

6. Pigeon Update (July 24, 2014), the first local Search Google Algorithm Update

Pigeon update was rolled out to increase the relevancy of local search results. Google revamped the importance of various location-based signals and introduced new ones, some of which the business owners have no control over, such as GPS location. Hyperlocal content, local links, business listing are some of the major signals Google started considering after this update. To improve the local listing you can take the following actions:

  • Local Content. Start creating content which concerns the target local area. By creating the content which locals of the area care about, the Domain Authority for the region increases.
  • Local Link Building. Create links in websites which have a strong local presence. Make sure the contents of the web pages are related to your website.
  • Prevent Spam Reporting. Make sure that your listing is reported as spam by the local users. It may directly affect the local search ranking of your page even if you have done everything you can optimise your webpage for the website.

7. Mobile Update (April 21, 2015)

The premise of Mobilegeddon update is simple, if your website is mobile-friendly, it will rank higher than web pages which are not optimised for mobiles. The experience of using websites in mobiles not optimised for it is often subpar. Since there has been an exponential rise in the number of mobile users and Google always prioritises the interests of users, this update does not come as a surprise.  To prevent a penalty from this update, the website owner can:

  • Mobile Optimised Website. It is imperative that you create mobile-friendly web pages. This is not only a direct signal but the bounce rate and engagement rates are poor for the websites not optimised for mobile. These two are among the signals that Google considers are important. And it can lead to a snowballing effect leading to a drop in ranking in the search engine results page.

8. Rankbrain Update (October 26, 2015)

RankBrain is the second major Artificial Intelligence update Google has incorporated into its search algorithm after Hummingbird update. It is widely considered that RankBrain is the third most important signal Google takes into account while ranking web pages for search queries. Like Hummingbird, rank brain tries to improve upon to understand the ‘intent’ of the user. It tries to accomplish this by creating a “concept” of the user search queries and displays results that satisfy or answer of that concept.

Over 15% of the search queries Google encounters daily is completely new, this update has helped to provide the best results for such first-time queries. But it has also significantly altered various Search Engine Optimisation tactics. Writing articles for long-tail keywords or creating similar articles for synonym keywords no longer work. The changes to the search engine optimisation strategies after RankBrain update can be summed up as:

  • One keyword web pages. Since the Hummingbird update, creating a webpage for each keyword was not a good strategy, but after RankBrain update, creating a webpage for each similar but unique keyword no longer works. It is better to create a single webpage targeting all similar keywords than to create a unique webpage targeting each one of them.
  • Signal importance. The importance of signals is no longer a fixed quantity and it will change based on the individual search queries. If a search query required a long-form of content, then the articles with longer content will rank higher.
  • Website Reputation. The reputation of a website will have a much higher impact on the ranking of its web pages. The reputation of a website can be based on any number of factors such as frequency of the fresh content delivered, quality of the content and popularity of its content. The reputation of a website is different from PageRank, which has more to do with the number and quality of links leading to the web pages.

9. Possum Update (September 1, 2016)

Possum update is an extension of the Pigeon update. And like Pigeon, it is aimed at improving the local search results. This is one of the last known Google algorithm updates focusing on local search. Google has changed the importance of certain signals with respect to local queries and has also affected the local SERPs dramatically. Since it is a relatively new update, many of its features are yet to be revealed. Some of the changes of Possum update are:

  • Outside City limits. Businesses listed outside the main city limits are also shown in location searches. Unlike before, the locations of such “outside” businesses are revealed when performing a city-wide local search.
  • Duplicate Listings. In case of any duplicate listings, all the listings are merged to show only one single listing of the business. Before, many had exploited this feature by creating multiple similar profiles for the same business as different entities. Such grey hat tactics no longer work with the release of Possum update.
  • User location. The searchers’ physical location seems to have increased in importance than before.

10. Fred Update (March 8, 2017)

The latest update is yet to be officially confirmed by Google. The motive of Fred update was to target low-quality websites which have excessive ads within their web pages. Websites with large amounts of low-quality content made for the sole purpose of rankings, also known as content farms, have also been hit by this update. The complete extent of this update is yet to be fully understood. Some of the factors a webmaster should consider with respect to this update are:

  • Ad content. If your website has an excessive amount of ad content, it will be penalised regardless of the quality of content you provide. Thus, it is advisable to scale back on excessive ad content.
  • User Experience. Websites which are known to have poor User Experience are observed to have a much higher drop in the search results page than before.

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