An entire industry has developed around the concept of search engine optimization, worth an estimated $65 billion globally last year. Unfortunately for the marketing managers and site administrators at the SEO coalface, it’s rumored that Google Algorithm updates take place – – on average – twelve times a week.
In fairness, the vast majority of these 600 annual updates are minor. They might involve boosting the results positions of mobile-friendly sites, or tweaking advertising within Google AdWords. However, there are also periodic revisions to the overall algorithm, typified by the significant changes that happened on September 1st last year. These are not publicly announced, and are often flatly denied to prevent unscrupulous individuals finding workarounds. If nobody knows how Google’s Algorithm works, it’s harder to subvert or cheat it.
Fortunately for those of us with a vested interest in achieving optimal site rankings, some industry insiders are able to detect revisions to specific elements within each Google Algorithm update. These are often – informally – given an animal’s name to differentiate them. Last September’s rollout was christened Possum, because Google My Business listings were suddenly filtered. Hidden but not eliminated, they were effectively playing possum.
So were you up to date in 2016 with Google Algorithm updates?
There were eleven major revisions last year, including the Possum adjustments, which enabled companies based outside a city but serving local residents to perform more strongly in urban searches. Google denied most of these changes even took place, though it did acknowledge a two-stage revision to its Penguin algorithm. This saw a devaluation of bad web links, rather than the punitive action previously wrought upon sites containing disreputable links.
Another confirmed revision took place last May, when Google rolled out an update designed to boost rankings for mobile-friendly sites searched for on tablets or smartphones. Sites are being closely scrutinized on how well they display and how quickly they load, with the latter calculated by Google’s web crawlers as they scan each page. Indeed, Google often indexes mobile pages as the canonical URL, which is the primary address for all search results. This is bad news for any sites with popups or interstitial ads on their homepages, since they will effectively be ranked as adverts. Last month saw confirmation that mobile sites with popups or hover ads on their main pages are being substantially downgraded.
Crawling the internet is a hugely complex and resource-intensive process, but it’s one that periodic Google updates require. Because it takes weeks for armies of supercomputers to visit every corner of the World Wide Web, revisions don’t have an instant impact on results pages. Indeed, it’s worth remembering any Google Algorithm update takes a few days to fully embed. Sometimes a change will be reversed, or only introduced as a temporary beta test, after which the previous rankings will be gradually restored. Plus, when one site gets penalized, others have the opportunity to improve their ranking position. There are winners and losers in every algorithm adjustment…