Part I: What You Need to Know About Google Algorithm Changes - GO.CO Blog

Howdy, .COers! As you may know, here at .CO, we want to help you build the best website and enjoy as much success as possible. When it comes to SEO, I aim to arm you with the SEO knowledge and tools you need to make applying SEO best practices a bit easier.

I’m here today to talk about a subject that can often be mysterious and murky—Google algorithms. You may have heard about a few changes—such as Panda, Penguin, or the most recent update—Hummingbird.

To say that it is difficult to keep up with the changes that Google makes to its index is an extreme understatement. Being a good webmaster is hard enough—creating and maintaining a user-friendly website with great content and getting the word out to potential customers—without having to worry about how Google will “rank” you, and how often that may change.

There are also many factors that can make matters even more complicated and frustrating.

For instance, perhaps you were employing an SEO consultant or agency and were not fully aware of everything they were doing. Then, all of a sudden, your search engine rankings and web traffic plummet after an algorithm change. You may be at a complete loss as to why you were affected, since you thought you were running a reputable website, when it may be the case that your SEO agency may have been engaging in shady tactics without your knowledge.

To make matters more confusing, Google launches updates often—not only that, but there are also many iterations of each algorithm change.

Don’t stress—we are here to help! Over the course of several blog posts, we’re going to break down the updates and what they mean for you. We’re also going to tell you how to bounce back if you’ve been affected, and what you can do to stay ahead of the game.

Read on for a primer, and make sure you check back often for new updates!

What is an algorithm change?

 A search engine algorithm is the unique formula a search engine uses to dictate the most relevant results to a particular query. That formula is constantly tweaked, with the aim of returning the best possible results—this is called an algorithm change. Google currently uses over 200 signals to help determine what site is the best match to a searcher’s query.

 How often are they released?

 While Google usually announces an update, often they will announce it after it has been released. Also, many times Google will not reveal if there has been a change, and it is left to speculation when a site’s rankings fall. As mentioned earlier, there are usually several re-iterations of the major updates. For example, the first release of Google’s Panda update was back in 2011, however, new releases and tweaks to the change are still being made.

Why are they released?

As mentioned earlier, search engine algorithm changes are made in order to return the best-matched set of results to a user’s query. Usually, an algorithm change will have a specific focus, such as links or content.

Recent algorithm changes

Over the course of 2013, there were over 15 algorithm changes. In 2012, there were over 35, and in 2011 there were over 20.

As you can see, that’s a lot of algorithm changes. However, there are only a few that you should focus most on learning about. Two of the biggest changes you should be aware of: the Panda Update and the Penguin Update. Although both of these changes were deployed in years past, updates are still being released.

Panda Update

The Panda algorithm change made its debut in February 2011. Its focus was on “thin” content, content “farms”, and duplicate content. Unlike other algorithm changes, entire domains were affected—as opposed to just individual pages. An astounding estimated 12% of search results were impacted.

Penguin Update

The Penguin algorithm change was first released in April of 2012. Penguin addressed webspam, namely “blackhat” SEO tactics such as link schemes. Millions of sites were hit—most of which were using paid links. Many site owners were not even aware that they had paid links, especially if there were using an external SEO company.

What to do

It’s a smart idea to adhere to SEO best practices to avoid getting “hit” by algorithm changes in the first place. In the most basic terms, some of the most important are:

  • Write great content that is original to your website
  • Don’t steal other sites’ content
  • Obtain your backlinks naturally—don’t pay for links
  • Update your website content often

If you need a primer on SEO best practices, check out our SEO best practice blog posts, which are chock full of helpful SEO tips.

What’s next

Be sure to stop by our blog often for more blog posts about Google algorithm changes—specific updates, details and dates, as well what to do if you have been hit.

Stay cool, .COers!