Go with the flow & continue to grow and thrive! This quote was, is and will be my favorite as I’m in the field of constantly changing SEO. When I started my career as an SEO Analyst 4 years ago, I wondered how to bring up my website(client’s) at the top of Search Engine Results Page(Google). Every day hundreds of thousands of websites were launched and new competitors were kept on increasing.
Google use to update its algorithm about 350 to 400 times a year. Many times, Google algorithm updates were welcomed by the white-hat SEO practitioners and at some times it left everyone confused. SEO industry has faced so many challenges and battles against irrelevant information and poor-quality content. Hence to fix these issues Google made algorithmic changes to provide quality results for the users. The better you understand the history of Google algorithm, you will get to know which process will work and you can easily avoid getting penalized from Google.
This is a guide for entry-level SEO Analyst to get to know the Google major algorithm updates, its effects, benefits, things to avoid, things to follow & quality guidelines. It’s a little lengthy article(more than 2000 words) and we request our readers to get prepared to read it fully which could be very useful in getting rewards from Google.
Why Google is changing its ranking algorithm?
Every day Google releases one or more changes to its ranking algorithm designed to improve its results. Some are focused around specific improvements and with no wonder, it tries to shake up the SEO industry at least once in a year with a major update. Neither SEO Specialist nor a content marketer can accurately predict what the future algorithm update will look like.
Google Search Statistics
Google processes over 40,000 search query every second on average, which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide
Google ranks #1 search engine on the web and it achieved this position because of providing quality results and the best user experience where no other search engines can deserve to hold it! Nearly 75% of all desktop searches come from Google, followed by Baidu around 11%. It also dominates tablet and mobile search, owning more than 92% of the traffic whereas Baidu holds the second position with 4%.
Our goal is to get you the exact answer you’re searching for faster.
– Ben Gomes, Google’s Vice-President of Engineering
Google made algorithmic changes to address poor-quality content, irrelevant information, content plagiarism, spam links etc., Each and every issue has to be addressed and fixed to provide quality results for the users with the best experience. That’s the motive behind every update.
5 major Google Algorithms
The better you understand the history of Google algorithm, the more likely you are to run a site that ranks well. The 5 major algorithms of Google are,
Launch Date: Feb 24, 2011
Hazards: Duplicate, Plagiarized or thin content, user-generated keyword stuffing
It was the first time Google shocked the online world with its major algorithm update in ranking. Yes, it was Panda! Panda was once a filter considered to be the part of Google’s ranking algorithm, but in June 2016, it was officially incorporated into the core algorithm.
Fact to Know
Panda uses a search algorithm named after the Google Engineer, Biswanath Panda
Panda revolutionized SEO by combatting low-quality content that ranks high on its search engine result pages (SERPs). This is where content quality and user experience became the core of Google’s algorithm. Prior to that poor quality content, websites with high volume of backlinks could often do rank well in SERP.
Quality Filter targeted the poor quality content and thin sites who have been ranked top in Google’s search result. As a result of these changes in the algorithm, many sites were penalized with lower rankings while other sites experienced a surge in organic traffic and improved rankings. Panda changed the content strategy, keyword research and how links are built. The high-quality relevant links pointing to a site will add value to the SEO.
Panda rewards the site that organizes and present useful, unique and relevant information to the user and at the same time, it downgrades websites that are publishing thin & poor quality content just to earn money. Panda made a revolution in Google’s algorithm history to improve the quality of search results in spite of the war of spammy links and hacking sites.
How to adjust?
Focus on providing the best possible experience for users. Provide unique content and useful information. Run regular site checks for content duplication, thin content & keyword stuffing.
To check for instances of external content duplication, use a plagiarism checker like Copyscape
Note: The Panda algorithm runs continuously as a part of Google’s primary indexing and scoring system.
Launch Date: Apr 24, 2012
Hazards: Spammy or irrelevant links; links with over-optimized anchor text
Penguin penalizes websites that use spammy link building tactics to boost their search engine rankings. It created a mission of the search engine focus on quality over quantity. Penguin works in real time. Over-optimized sites and sites that have other forms of unnatural link building are usually trapped in Penguin. It will also down rank the sites whose links it considers manipulative.
Image Credit: Elite Strategies
In this algorithm, Google introduced “Google disavowal tool.” This helps you to notify whether spammers are trying to attack your site with low-quality links.
How to adjust?
Building high-quality links mainly from niche which will make your site rank high in Google’s search results. Monitor your link profile’s growth and run regular audits with a backlink checker.
Launch Date: Aug 22, 2013
Hazards: Keyword stuffing, low-quality content
The main purpose of Hummingbird is for Google to better understand the user. At the time of Hummingbird, both Penguin and Panda algorithms continued to work and this added a new part to the search engine. Hummingbird gives Google a “Precise and Fast” platform where search users can easily find what they’re looking for when they type a given keyword in the search engine. Hummingbird uses long-tail key phrases where the sites that use long-tail keywords have experienced a lot of success.
How it works: Helps Google better interpret search queries and provide results that match searcher intent. It brought natural language processing that relies on LSI, Google related searches and Google autocomplete.
Launch Date: July 24, 2014 (US) & Dec 22, 2014 (UK, Canada, Australia)
Pigeon is the great evolution of Google to better serve its users in terms of local search. It meets the need of searchers looking for products or services on-the-go. It gave weight to local search sites and directories.
Pigeon rewarded local businesses who integrates geo-specific keywords into their content. It helped users to quickly find the nearby locations or businesses on-the-go. In this algorithm, Google meshed the results of their search engine with Google maps to produce the same results. Google took into consideration how synonyms play into local queries.
“best coffee shops in Tambaram” & “where can I find a best coffee shop in Tambaram” you can get the similar results. This is because Pigeon update considers the synonyms and similar search queries. Also, there is no need to include the geo-specific term “Tambaram” on search.
Launch date: March 8, 2017
Hazards: Thin, affiliate-heavy or ad-centered content
How it works:
The Fred Update is seen to be the latest update by Google to clear up the bad and spammy practices done by the websites in order to increase their domain authority and website traffic.
Image Credit: Blue Corona
Google Fred was created to provide the better experience for the internet users to find the more relevant content that is exactly related to their search queries. Websites with the low value of content which aims to generate revenue from ads are the most affected by this algorithm. Affiliate based sites that provide a poor experience (ads and clicks) are caught in the Fred net.
How to adjust:
If your site is full of ads that means it’s going to be affected. Figure out to create a balance between informative content, and ads that are on the site. Design clear-cut ad spaces all around the site like in the middle of a content or in a particular corner of the site. Avoid putting any ads on pages like the home page or contact page.
Effects of Google Algorithm in 2018
Algorithms like Panda and Penguin have been rolled into Google’s core algorithm. Essentially, there is no separate Panda algorithm anymore and there won’t be any standalone updates. The algorithm will continue to be tweaked over time but it’ll be part of Google’s ongoing process of refining its core algorithm. Google’s learning algorithms may occasionally identify new signals that can be used to separate documents into “low quality” and “high quality” groups.
Duplication can come under two categories:
- Duplicate content within a site
- Duplicate content from someone else’s site
Duplicate content within a site, may not affect your site, except when it is spammy. Research the duplication in your site and replace it with original content. Or, you can add a “no-index” tag so that it will not be indexed by the Google.
Search Engine will determine the duplicate content from someone else’s site. You can use a tool to analyze the duplicate content in your site. If any duplicate content found, try to revise the page with original content. Focus on providing useful information to the users which add value to the SEO power.
Low-quality inbound links
Low-quality links pointing to your pages can also trip you up. If your site has a large number of inbound links coming from irrelevant sites your chances of getting a Google penalty will increase. Focus on getting incoming links, predominantly from sites have the same theme or subject as your site.
High bounce rate
A high bounce is a signal to Google that your visitors aren’t finding what they are looking for on your site or they don’t consider your site to be useful.
Image Courtesy: CXL
Craft interesting articles and engage with the blog readers. They, in turn, engage with your site that lowers your bounce rate. Nearly 50% of your search queries come from the mobile device. Invest time and effort in mobile site optimization. Nowadays, mobile optimization made simple by CMS sites like WordPress, SquareSpace etc., You can also run Google’s Mobile-Friendly test to make sure your site is optimized in mobile.
Low repeat site visits
If your visitors are coming to your website more than once, it signals that your site is not useful or interesting to visit again. Pay attention to the repeat visitors. Ask your visitors to “Subscribe” your articles or send a “Push Notification”, so that when you post the next article, they will get a notification and you can bring your visitors back to your website.
Benefits of Google Algorithm Changes
Google will reward the sites who deliver “what users want!” This is the reason why they won the search engine wars against competitors such as Yahoo, Lycos and Bing.
We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling websites. As always, we’ll keep our ears open for feedback on ways to iterate and improve our ranking algorithms towards that goal.
– Matt Cutts, Former Head – Web Spam Team, Google
- Help each search user find the correct information they’re looking for as quickly as possible.
- When you have created a page that the search engine deems worthy it can continue to attract traffic to your site for months after you publish it.
- Google provides the need to meet the searches on-the-go. For example, searchers no longer need to explicitly state keywords if they’re looking for something locally. “Near me” is good enough for Google granted you’ve provided your location.
- Improved rankings for in-depth content.
- High-quality links will improve your brand and relevance online it will boost your organic traffic and gains high SEO power.
- When you publish fresh content on your site, Google gives your webpage a score.
How to adjust?
Google is transparent with its ranking algorithm and giving a clear picture of what it expects in terms of quality and user experience. It never punishes reputable websites with original content and which follows Google quality guidelines. You can follow the following things to avoid penalize from Google/drop in SERP.
- Quality content that provides genuine and useful information should be the important part of SEO strategy. Rewrite all the inappropriate and badly written content and keep your site content updated. Do regular site checks for content duplication & spam links.
- Create great content that naturally attracts backlinks.
- Fill your Website with useful content: Google requires large volumes of data to be able to make better decisions to provide results to the users. The more relevant results people get when they search for a specific keyword, the more accurate the data Google can extract and return for other searchers.
- Avoid overstuffing of Keywords in your site.
- Analyze your content pages and blogs for any inaccuracies or grammatical errors.
- Length is Strength. Include more of the long-form contents and rewrite the old content if you want to add more value to it. If your contents are thin, badly organized, or full of errors, you’ll get penalized!
- Invest time in On-Page & Off-Page SEO. Focus on quality backlinks rather than quantity, because the small number of quality backlinks have a larger SEO impact.
- Fast loading site creates a better user experience.
- Have a user-friendly website design. The site should have appropriate category structure and clean navigation. Also, focus on the speed and usability. You can also do mobile compatible check for various aspects using Google’s mobile-friendly test.
- All you need to do is to build links in a scalable, organic way and focus on providing the best quality content.
- Every Page Counts. Pay attention to your entire website. If only one or two pages on your site are of high quality and the rest are low, then your entire site will be considered low quality.
- Ensure that you are following Google Search Quality Guidelines and all the links found on your site are high-quality and offer relevant information.
The SEO game is constantly changing. It is important that you need to be working to improve your site and update your SEO strategy according to Google Search Quality Guidelines. Google’s motive is to help searchers find what they are looking for while battling against irrelevant information and poor-quality content. Hence avoid any outdated process and follow the things which can help your site to get rank well.