There is nothing constant when it comes to Google’s search algorithms. Every year, it changes around 500 to 600 times. These are usually small ones that don’t require any adjustments in SEO strategies, but there are also several major updates that can affect search results. In fact, in a span of two years (from 2015 to 2016), Google’s algorithm went through nine major updates. So, yes, when it comes to Google algorithms, nothing is permanent.
But what is Google’s algorithm all about? Why is it important for SEO?
Understanding the Google Algorithm
The simplest way to define the Google algorithm is to say that it is the formula or calculation that ranks web pages when someone makes a query on Google. What normally happens is that you type a keyword in the search bar and the algorithm looks for pages that contain the said keyword. It is used to return results that are of high quality, relevant, and fresh.
Google’s algorithm determines the search results standing; i.e. which one appears on page one, two, or three, and so on. Since most searchers tend to look only at the first few results, those that are on top are the ones that people check out and visit. The search results standing is determined by a process known as the PageRank system.
In other words, Google’s algorithm uses ranking factors to identify which search results should be on top.
Why is Google’s Algorithm Important for SEO?
While you are not required to make changes to your SEO strategies every time a minor algorithm update takes place, it is essential to keep tabs on and learn all that you can about all the major updates Google rolls out.
Why, you ask?
Because algorithms will affect your search engine ranking and your website traffic. If you follow and practice good SEO, you won’t have too much to worry about. But if you employ underhanded SEO tricks, or if your website is flawed or has low content quality, you have to act fast before your high ranking plummets every time an algorithm update happens.
In reality, though, Google’s algorithm can hit your website without warning. And this is why it is important to be updated at all times. So even if you are in seventh heaven because of high rankings, you cannot afford to let your guard down.
Google Algorithm Updates for 2016
As previously mentioned; Google updates its search algorithms several times in one year. For 2016, a total of 11 were rolled out (including unnamed/follow-ups), with the first one taking place in January.
January 8-9, 2016 – An Unnamed Update
This update focused on Google’s Core Ranking Algorithm and no direct confirmation was given. There was, however, a statement that informed the public of Google Panda becoming a part of the Google Core Ranking Algorithm. The update caused significant changes and fluctuations in searches and rankings. Later on, Google confirmed a core algorithm update.
February 23, 2016 – AdWords Update
Days before the update, Google came out with an announcement about the possible removal of the sidebar ads that almost everyone has become accustomed with. On February 23rd, the sidebar ads were replaced by four ads located on top of the search engine results. Although it was an update for a paid search, it triggered a variety of reactions, especially from small businesses. The update affected not only paid search results, but also the organic ones. Additionally, SEO specialists had to work harder on coming up with more creative and competitive keywords.
May 10, 2016 – Another Unnamed Update
A lot of unexplainable activity happened from May 6 to 13. According to reports, algorithm activity went up to over 90° during that 6-day period. Google, however, offered no explanation for what happened. This update has yet to be confirmed until now.
May 12, 2016 – A Mobile Friendly Update
The first mobile friendly update was rolled out in 2015. Almost one year later, Google rolled out another one. This algorithm update was aimed at improving ranking signal and was practically intended to help mobile-friendly sites.
September 1-2, 2016 – The Possum Update
SEO specialists and the SEO community in general observed a possible shake-up after fluctuations as high as 114 were recorded. With a major activity going on, particularly in terms of local pack prevalence, it was easy for analysts to conclude that a major update just took place. There has been no confirmation from Google, though.
The term Possum came from Phil Rozek and is an indication of the changes on Google My Business listings—where business listings that seem to have disappeared are filtered and are actually still there, just playing pretend, pretty much like the common opossum.
September 13, 2016 – Universal Shake-Up
A large percentage drop in search engine results pages was observed and this led to changes in ranking. A lot of activity and a lot of talk, but no straightforward confirmation from Google. However, spokesperson John Mueller tweeted that their engineers and algorithms were working hard to improve things. Some say that, in reality, this was part of a bigger update.
September 23, 2016 – Penguin 4.0
Google announced a major update on Penguin. One of the intentions was to minimize search results spam. The update welcomed two big changes: 1) Penguin’s incorporation into the core ranking algorithm; and, 2) Devaluing of spam, which means Google will no longer punish an entire website for spewing spammy content. It will now analyze site pages individually, separate from the website.
The last Penguin update was in October of 2014.
September 27, 2016 – Penguin 4.0 First Phase
An algorithm spike of over 100° was observed as Google rolled out its first phase of the Penguin 4.0 update.
October 6, 2016 – Penguin 4.0 Second Phase
Algorithms spiked heavily for two weeks, with the final one recorded on October 6. This happened as Google rolled out the Penguin 4.0 update. This update resulted to all previous Penguin penalties being reversed.
November 10, 2016 – Major Update (Unnamed)
Two major spikes were observed in November, on the 10th and 18th of the month. Despite all the chatter (and questions), Google did not issue any confirmation or explanation.
December 14, 2016 – Another Unnamed Major Shake-Up
A lot of exciting activity was tracked from December 14 to 15, but again, there was no confirmation from Google. Most of the comments were about losing significant site traffic, although quite a few also reported a massive improvement in their rankings.
Dealing with Algorithm Updates
This year, nothing will change. Google will continue to roll out algorithm changes and updates. In fact, it has already come out with at least four since January 10, 2017. To help you deal properly with these updates (so you won’t go nuts), here are three tips you can follow:
- Do not try to guess what will happen or what kind of update will be rolled out.Do not go ahead of the actual events. This will only cause you to panic and do a lot of things that you may regret later on. There is no such thing as getting ahead in the game when it comes to Google algorithms. If you find out that a major update is about to happen, wait for it to roll out and wait for information (no matter how minimal) to be disclosed. Google almost always provides some details about the changes.
- Do not react or overreact right away.Reacting without knowing the details is simply not acceptable. Again, this will cause you to panic and resort to doing reckless things. Do not make changes to your pages or site immediately after the update was rolled out, or before getting more information about the changes. Besides, if you employ the right SEO strategies, you won’t have any reason to panic when updates happen, would you?
- Research, analyze, and make the necessary adjustments.Do not make changes to your site without doing some research, reading, or analysis about the update. Head on over to the Google’s Webmaster Blog and get all the information that you can about the update. Do not just read; analyze, understand, and know the purpose for the changes, and so you will know what you need to work on and what you need to continue doing. Also, do not perform all the changes at once. Inject the changes to your site one at a time so you’ll be able to observe their impact.
It is easy to understand why a lot of people fear or panic when a major algorithm happens. But again, if you practice good and clean SEO practices, there really is no reason to worry. Just be sure you’re constantly up-to-date so you’ll know when Google rolls out these changes.