The good old days of simply building links to your website and watching the Google rankings climb has come to pass long ago. Many advertisers who were currently using this strategy, along with other black hat SEO tactics such as keyword stuffing or hiding content, have seen negative consequences due to the various Google algorithm updates.
At the time, these techniques worked great, but then, starting in February 2011, sites began noticing huge drops. This was directly due to the fact that Google began to evolve, and so did their algorithms. The biggest one regarding content and keyword stuffing was the Panda Algorithm. This Google algorithm continued to update, affecting more and more sites, looking for freshness and unique content that provided value for the end user. Periodically, you’ll continue to see effects of this update and the push for content that adds value and provides the best user experience.
Google Penguin & Hummingbird
Google, however, did not stop there. Now that they rolled out an algorithm for cheating the system via content on the website, their next objective would be to stop inflated rankings caused by black hat link building such as link farms. The strategy behind Google’s newest algorithm for poor link building techniques was first announced on April 24 of 2012, hence the birth of Google’s Penguin Algorithm.
On May 25, 2012, Google unveiled its next Penguin update, called Penguin 1.1. This update, according to Matt Cutts, who at the time was head of webspam at Google, was supposed to affect less than one-tenth of a percent of English searches.
If you didn’t get penalized from the first two major algorithms and your site was still ranking successfully due to your hard work and honest practices, Google created another algorithm based on the performance of semantic searches. In late August 2013, Google began using their new Hummingbird Algorithm but didn’t announce they were using it until September 26, 2013. The sole purpose of this algorithm was to increase the user’s overall experience by taking into account each individual word placed into a search query.
Let us now jump forward to the year 2015, and the ever increasing user interaction with mobile devices. As performance on mobile increases, so does Google’s strategies and adjustments to ensure the overall best user experience possible. April 21, 2015 was the day that will forever go down in history among online marketers as Mobilegeddon. Now this algorithm did not affect anything if services and products were being searched for on tablets or computers.
However, if your site was commonly ranking well on mobile but you ignored all the warnings Google provided prior to the April launch, your site without a doubt felt a very negative impact for users searching on mobile devices.
The Software company, Searchmetrics, which was founded in Berlin, Germany by Marcus Tober in 2005, found that “the average rankings lost for the non-mobile friendly sites measured in at about 0.21 positions on average.” Content marketing company BrightEdge has tracked over 20,000 URLs since the update, and is reporting a 21% decrease in non-mobile friendly URLs on the first 3 pages of search results. A study by search agency s360 A/S showed that mobile friendly websites have gotten 32% more organic mobile traffic than non-mobile friendly websites.
Now, please keep in mind these are the major algorithms that most of you have heard of and well aware of prior to rolling out for the most part. However, Google is constantly rolling out algorithms at their own discretion and will continue to do so as part of their core algorithm. Updates will now come without announcement.
Some of these are just updated versions of the current Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird Algorithms, but it’s the unnamed updates you may not know about which could currently be affecting your online rankings.
To keep yourself, your business, and more importantly, your client’s business as up to date as possible, make sure you are researching updates and algorithm information as closely as you possibly can. Moz is an excellent source to go to in regards to this, as they regularly provide the most updated information concerning Google Algorithms and updates. Especially the unknown or unnamed updates which we refer to as “Phantom Updates.”
Phantom updates have been rolling out more and more frequently, however Google does not always claim responsibility. For example, according to Moz, a phantom update rolled out on February 4th which through various SERP trackers showed enormous fluctuations within Google search engine results pages. Another “Phantom Update” happened on January 8, 2016, in which various tracking tools including MozCast showed huge movements within rankings, however, Google did eventually admit that it was an adjustment to one of their core Algorithms and the only information they provided was that it did not involve their Penguin Algorithm.
Finally, the most recent “Phantom Update” occurred on May 10th 2016. Mozcast as well as various other Google weather trackers reported a very rare pattern of algorithm activity which included a 97-degree spike. Google, however, has not confirmed this update and currently Moz, nor anyone else can find an explanation.
As these Google algorithm updates continue to impact the performance of your website, continue to follow the Google Webmaster Guidelines to ensure you are still performing up to par and better than your competitors.