Google has an affinity for giving their projects cute names: Whether it’s Jelly Bean or KitKat, there’s something a little whimsical about their product updates. This also extends itself to the algorithmic updates periodically released over the years. The three most important changes made in the last three years were named Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird. Understanding the importance of these changes can be the difference between success and failure.
Introduced to Environment: February 2011
The Panda updates began to target the rank of sites with low quality and/or high amounts of advertising. Affecting roughly 12 percent of search results, it also increased the ranking of social networking sites and certain news sites.
There are several differences with this algorithm than previous changes. For one, it was the first time Google actually decreased the importance of Page Rank and focused on user experience. Also, and perhaps more indicative of Google’s direction, is the use of advanced artificial intelligence to rate sites based on several factors – download speed, quality, and design were just a few of the elements evaluated to determine a site’s overall value. Google even took to publishing guidelines on its blog, outlining what they considered a high-quality site – you can find it here – so there would be no misunderstanding.
Why does this animal matter to you?
This update was especially focused on the concept of trustworthiness. Are your content, site and author trustworthy? These elements can be useful for marketers when determining how best to serve their audience. Ensuring your content is quality and your site is error-free is a good start – and developing a strategy to establish your site’s authority shouldn’t be far behind. This should absolutely include authorship in the Google+ environment.
Introduced to Environment: April 24, 2012
This update was more specific in nature: it targeted artificial link building schemes. Although it only affected a relatively small number of pages on the Internet, the Penguin updates proved important for determining better web practices in general.
How can this animal help you?
This update’s targets helped to easily define current Best Practices for Webmasters and marketers. Reinforcing white hat SEO tactics also made it easier to demonstrate the importance of site/content integrity to both the user and the site owner, while being clear about the ramifications of black hat tactics. By targeting spammy link building and behaviour, it made Google’s stance on integrity clear – and that makes it easier for marketers to ensure the quality of their work is in line with Google’s ideals.
Making these updates public also makes it easier to ensure your external contracts are following the Webmaster Guidelines – without needing a deep understanding of the technical elements. It empowers you as the client to ensure your site’s continued success, while protecting you from the risk of penalties (not to mention paying for services that will harm your business).
Introduced to Environment: August 30, 2013, was formally announced September 27, 2013
With an advanced understanding of natural human language, the largest major update in three years is supposed to increase ease of usability for users while simultaneously providing better and more accurate results.
The recent revelation that Google is redacting all keywords in Analytics and offering only limited information in Webmaster Tools, means that search has changed substantially in a very short time. This major shift, although contentious in the digital marketing world, is actually going to better the overall user experience.
Why does this animal matter to you?
Although this latest update (coupled with the Analytics redaction) caused a lot of uproar initially, it is actually not that worrisome for digital marketers who have been paying attention to Google’s changes over the last few years. By removing the quantification of keywords, it forces you to come out of a metrics-based mentality and focus on the user. This is not a bad thing! We can sometimes get lost in the quantifiable aspects of the job and lose perspective about what users want. Removing this data forces us to evaluate the overall page experience and ensures the user behaviour and experience becomes the keystone of our marketing initiatives.
Over the last three years, Google’s algorithmic updates have increasingly focused on users. Although it’s easy to focus on the numbers, it’s time for digital marketing to move away from the quantifiable properties of the job and remember the human element. We, ultimately, are here to help the user: their needs, experience and wants must be paramount in any digital marketing plan. Having consistently useful and valuable information will bring better search results. Avoiding unnatural link building will lessen the chance for penalties. Understanding the improved search algorithms can help you better tailor your content to the needs of your audience. This shift in values, while temporarily confusing, is another opportunity to set your organization apart from the competition. Just don’t taunt the animals behind the glass, and you should be fine.
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About the Author
Bria Jordan is a Search Engine Optimization and Social Media consultant. A published writer for the last 14 years, she can often be found celebrating her off-time by bicycling through the city or cooking. She currently lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and two cats.