Google Algorithm Updates: What to Expect

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One question that SEOs tend to get asked a lot is “How often does Google update their Algorithm?”  The easy, short answer is – Daily.  Google makes little tweaks to parts of the algorithm it uses roughly 300 times a year.  But usually when people ask that question, they are more interested in the big changes, as in changes to the core algorithm.  These big changes are usually known by name (such as Panda, Penguin, Mobilegeddon, and Hummingbird).  Major algorithm changes happen less frequently, and are unannounced by Google.  Eventually they are confirmed by an official Googler after a lot of online speculation surfaces in SEO forums and social media.

The most recent “big” algo update happened around the beginning of this month (January 8th) which Google staffers later confirmed after SEOs and webmasters noticed historically large ranking movement over a couple weeks time span.  Gary Illyes of Google stated on Twitter that Panda is now officially part of the core algorithm and not just a spam filter added on at the end.

There was some speculation that a Penguin update happened around this same time, but it was later announced that the Penguin update won’t happen until January or slightly later in Q1 of 2016.  Google’s Penguin algo affects rankings based on your backlink link profile.   A spammy backlink profile can cause severe drops and even a manual penalty from search engines.   This next Penguin update is expected to be big and is also expected to be real-time, which means that Google will be analyzing your backlinks (and your disavowed links) in real time and making adjustments to your site rankings accordingly. 

A little more info about Penguin and Google’s core algorithm here from Barry Schwartz of SEO Roundtable:

What exactly is Google Panda?

To understand how adding Panda to the core Google algorithm will affect your site, it is helpful to understand what the Panda algorithm does.  In Jennifer Slegg’s article Understanding Google Panda: Definitive Algo Guide for SEOs she states:

Google Panda is one of Google’s ranking filters that seeks to downrank pages that are considered low quality, which results in sites with higher quality and valuable content to rise higher in the search results. But it is easily one of the most misunderstood algos.

Simply put, as a Google spokesperson told us, “Panda is an algorithm that’s applied to sites overall and has become one of our core ranking signals. It measures the quality of a site, which you can read more about in our guidelines. Panda allows Google to take quality into account and adjust ranking accordingly.”

Simply put, Google doesn’t want to see thin, unhelpful content on pages it ranks high on page 1 search results.  Adding Panda to the core algorithm will help Google measure the quality of a site more accurately and adjust rankings for related search queries using this information.

What is Google Penguin?

So if Panda addresses content of a website, how does the Penguin algo factor in? The official definition from Search Engine Land is:

Google launched the Penguin Update in April 2012 to better catch sites deemed to be spamming its search results, in particular those doing so by buying links or obtaining them through link networks designed primarily to boost Google rankings. When a new Penguin Update is released, sites that have taken action to remove bad links (such as through the Google disavow links tool or to remove spam may regain rankings. New sites not previously caught might get trapped by Penguin. “False positives,” sites that were caught by mistake, may escape.

For those who have been working with the SEO of your website for the last few years, the terms Penguin and Panda are not new to you.  The question you may be asking yourself right now is:

What do I need to focus on for these new algorithm changes in 2016?

  1. Stay on Top of your Backlink Profile – This will be vital.  When the real-time penguin algorithm rolls out it will not only update your fixes in real time, it will analyze any bad backlinks you gain in real time too.  You will want to continue to go after good quality links and forever leave low quality backlinks behind.
  2. Continue to Provide Quality Content – This not only provides a good experience for your site visitors, it gives Google and other search engines hearty information to index and serve up.  If your goal is to help searchers answer their questions about your products and services, and to provide informative ways they can solve a problem they may need help with, you will be building a solid foundation for your online presence.
  3. Focus on the Big Picture – In times of great SERP fluctuation after the rollout of an algorithm update we can see a lot of ranking changes from day to day, even hour to hour.  While it is worth tracking these changes and looking into the story the data is telling us, it is not a time to panic.  If you have solid content, a clean backlink profile and you are not engaging in spammy behavior, you will be able to ride out the storm.  Many times we see great movement in keyword rankings when algos are first pushed out, then we see momentum swing back after a few weeks when the algos are tweaked and things level out.
  4. Trust Your Team – We are here to look at your data and work with you to find the best solution to your digital marketing needs.  Most of our clients do not see long lasting effects after major algorithm updates.  If we do see changes that appear out of the ordinary, our team here at Page 1 will be ready with recommendations.  Trust that our team will help get you back on track and where you need to be.  We are here to help!

I’d like to end this blog on a positive note by saying that not all algorithm changes and fluctuations are bad or detrimental!   Often times it is a good shake up that moves low quality, unhelpful sites down and out of the way so that good content can rise farther up in the SERPs.  That is Google's goal, afterall. Having a varied marketing strategy will help your site gain momentum.  Stay calm, actively engage your audience, and keep people talking about your brand and your services.  Those are the best things you can focus on to swing momentum your way during the fluctuation period created by algorithm changes.

Posted by Tammy Smith, SEO Specialist