These days, answer to all our problems lie in search engine. A user feeds a problem into the search engine and voila! the search engine gives the multiple solutions. Starting with a very basic question, what is a Search Engine Algorithm? It is a unique and a complex formula that the search engines use to determine the significance of a webpage and ranking the website. Different search engines use different algorithms but there are few factors which are common for all. Some of the factors are: Relevance of the content, Backlinks, keywords in the content, Sitemap, Mobile optimized site, Domain history etc.… This formula is a closely guarded secret and no one really knows exactly how much weightage a search engine gives to different factors, so there are lots of assumptions, speculations about these.
The most commonly used, Google search engine uses around 200+ factors in its algorithm. Google keeps changing its algorithm constantly. The focus areas for these changes have been
- Content of the website
- Quality of the Links
- How we search
Let’s look at the major updates that Google came out in past few years
Google Panda which was launched in 2011 and had several updates rolled out since then, focused on content. It measured the quality of websites and lowered the ranking of low quality/ thin content website/pages. The sites with high quality, original, regularly updated content were ranked higher. The factors that undermined the content of the website were thin content, duplicate content, low quality content. The impact of panda was immediate & 12% of the search results were affected when it was first rolled out. Content farms, sites with too many ads & low quality content were penalized by their rankings dropping and in turn traffic getting impacted. Losers were lyrics site, gaming sites & medical content sites as they had thin content. High quality sites benefitted and were rewarded by increase in traffic & page ranking. The winners were News site, Content sites. A major change that took place post panda was that the focus of the content changed from ‘being for web’ to ‘being for readers’.
To rank higher, a websites need to have a site map, good quality and original content. Content is the king and quality with the relevance to the keyword is the core.
Google Penguin released in 2012 and which impacted 2.3% of English based search queries, dealt with SEO practitioners violating Google Webmaster Guidelines, using ‘Manipulative/Black Hat SEO Tactics’ and boosting their search engine ranking. Black Hat SEO tactics are manipulating the links pointing to the website (either buying links or acquiring them through their network), keyword stuffing, duplicating copyrighted content from high quality websites and use of invisible text on web pages. Google penalized such sites by lowering their ranks and pushed them to build links which were genuine, not spammy, links which were useful, relevant & valuable to the audiences. One negative impact of Penguin update was negative SEO or in simple words some websites intentionally added spammy links to their competitor’s websites to get them into trouble & harm them.
The websites need to have legitimate, good quality links, keywords should be appropriately placed and used in moderation. Get rid of the duplicate keywords, make sure the links are earned (not bought), and tailor your content towards long tailed keywords.
Hummingbird Update which was released in 2013, focused on Google search engine experience for a user. This affected 90% of the search results. It used an entirely different and a new search algorithm which goes beyond keywords and uses the context of the query, the meaning behind the words. This brought in ‘conversational’ or ‘contextual/semantic’ search and introduced the importance of mobile devices to search. This update makes the web a more meaningful & a useful place. This intelligent update uses phrases or long tailed keywords, understands user’s intent and gives more relevant results. Websites need to be optimized for unique, authoritative content and be mobile responsive.
Pigeon Update which was released in 2014, aimed at giving a more useful, relevant and accurate local search results. This impacts the search results shown in Google maps & Google regular search results. This algorithm connects the results on both these. Unlike Panda & Penguin updates, this update does not impose penalty.
Mobilegeddon updated was rolled out in 2015, wherein Google gives preference to websites that display well on smartphones & other mobile devices. After this update, traffic to non-mobile-friendly websites from Google mobile searches fell 12% in the two months, relative to mobile-friendly sites. Mobile friendly sites were elevated above the non-mobile friendly websites.
This update is applicable only to the searches on Mobile devices and tablets and not to desktops. Optimize your content for mobile searches by having mobile friendly website which will have text which is readable, content fits the screen properly without scrolling horizontally and links are far enough to be tapped.
The latest update in Jan this year has been that Panda algorithm is a part of the core ranking algorithm. Panda was launched as a spam filter which was applied to the search results after the core ranking algorithm as a different algorithm. Now, Panda is no longer a separate entity and is integrated into the core algorithm. This would mean that more attention will have to be paid to the site quality and it will not be the number of visits that will be important but focus will be on being useful.
From SEO perspective, the key takeaways from all these updates are that focus should always be on having a site which has high quality, original, new & valuable content, right & high quality links, a proper site structure, mobile responsiveness and an amazing user experience.