Crucial Google algorithm updates 2016 #1
Google makes over 600 changes to its algorithm in a year which equates to roughly two changes every day.
Changes the search giant makes range from cosmetic ones on how the results will appear, to rank and visibility affecting core algorithm changes. Rolling out changes at such a frequency is not new for Google, however, some of the changes late last year and in 2016 so far have been so profound that they are even challenging the notion of success associated with ranking on position 1 in Google.
Every challenge resulting from these algorithm changes is a window into the search giant’s plans for the future. This automatically presents brands and agencies an opportunity to adapt and future-proof their organic search strategies.
In the first of a two part blog series we’re examining Google updates to the mid-point of 2016.
The story so far
A quick overview of the changes by Google since 2011 will highlight a clear pattern and a clear message coming from its team of engineers and spam team on how brands should optimise their sites.
Google began by waging a war against spam with its Panda roll out in February, 2011 targeting content farms. Then came the crushing Penguin update in April 2012 where a range of websites with over optimised links, including a few famous ones, were penalized. Then Google started encrypting keywords, pushing webmasters to focus harder on the landing pages. For more details on all the updates please read ‘The Story of Google’ from our Digital History series.
This war against spam was at the forefront of Google’s strategy for maintaining relevance until October 2015 when Google turned over a new leaf and openly acknowledged its most significant update i.e. the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence. In October 2015 it declared that RankBrain was the third most important ranking factor in its algorithm.
In summary, the clear message from Google’s algorithm timeline is that SEOs should move away from heavily focussing on keywords and instead focus on user experience across devices and fulfil user intent through purposeful content on transactional as well as editorial pages.
RankBrain – October 2015
Introduced in October 2015, RankBrain is deemed the third most important ranking factor by Google. It is essentially a combination of artificial intelligence and machine learning, where the true intent behind the search is determined first and then the results are presented. A key characteristic of RankBrain is that search results i.e. the landing pages from it may not necessarily have the exact query included in them.
Google created this method to fulfill intent instead of simply trying to match keywords. The need for such an artificial intelligence was triggered due to rising number of never seen before searches that users were making (nearly 25% of the 3 billion searches each day). Since there was no record of such searches in Google’s database, maintaining relevance had to be addressed with an intelligent system.
How should brands adapt to it?
- Expand your focus beyond the main keyword
- Write detailed content and answer as many user questions on a page as feasible
- Keep an eye on your search console query data to identify never seen before queries
- Not every page needs to be an essay. If applicable, identify the content that can be simply restructured to fulfill user intent as soon as the user lands on the page. For example, if you have a cost page then instead of presenting information with long paragraphs, restructure it with tables and listings, so the information is immediately visible and intent is fulfilled.
Core algo update – 8 January 8 2016
The new year started with lots of chatter in the SEO circles about large ranking movements that were noticed across the board. Such major fluctuations were only noticed when Google rolled out Penguin, so it was assumed that this was a major update to Penguin, however, Google soon confirmed it as a ‘core algo update’. Initially, it wasn’t clear what it meant so it led to some confusion. Upon further questioning, Google confirmed that instead of Penguin, it was Panda that was moved permanently into the ranking algorithm. This meant that Panda was no longer being used just as an outside extension to improve results, Google now had enough confidence in Panda that its codes were pasted right into the core algorithm codes.
This further confirms Google winning its war against spam and moving on to focus on other intelligent matters.
How should brands adapt?
If you have been following the Panda basics ever since its roll out, you shouldn’t have noticed any negative difference. If you did, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Google adwords layout change – 28 February 2016
After weeks of experiments since December 2015, Google rolled out perhaps the most significant change that shook both worlds of search marketing, more so for organic search. Google removed the right-column ads entirely and rolled out 4-ads at the top of Google desktop search page. The 4-ad format was more prominent for many commercial searches. For organic search this meant that even a position one ranked website was not visible above the fold, causing significant drops in CTRs.
Since this was more prominent for commercial queries, retail websites across the board noticed significant drops in their organic traffic. The addition of the 4th ad coincided with the disappearance of the right-hand ad-sidebar. There is strong evidence that Google is aiming to use this available space for product listing ads (PLAs) for commercial queries and knowledge graph panels for non-commercial queries.
How should brands adapt?
- Focus on your keywords that are sitting on positions 4-10 to move them to the top of page 1
- Pay attention to your meta descriptions to help improve click through rates in view of this increased competition at the top page 1
- Implement structured data tags to enhance your snippet to stand out
- Restructure content for Google to consider showing your site when it comes to featured snippets
- Ensure you roll out a holistic PPC and SEO keyword strategy to avoid keyword cannibalization
Mobile friendly 2.0 – 12 May 12 2016
Just over a year after the first mobile-friendly update, Google confirmed that it has rolled the mobile-friendliness completely and now has a page-by-page detail of all the websites in its index. The direct implication of this was that the webmasters began receiving page-by-page warnings for mobile friendliness in their search consoles.
What should brands do?
- Ensure you have a mobile friendly website to begin with
- Run the mobile friendliness check crawlers and make a list of pages with issues
- Ensure that mobile friendliness is on top of your developers to do list
Accelerated mobile pages – 25 February 2016
While not necessarily an algorithm update, AMP presents an interesting opportunity for SEOs. For more details on this please read our blog about its introduction in October 2015 and how it works.
Presently AMP is more prominent for national publishers such as the Guardians and the Daily Mails. We believe that in future brands will rapidly adapt this mobile friendly feature and will be pushing their own newsworthy content at the top of a search page; another feature pointing towards the changing landscape of organic search.
The recent algorithm updates represent exciting times for SEOs and the marketing teams they work for. SEOs are fast realising the need to move away from archaic keyword heavy techniques and adopt intelligence, user experience and fulfilling intent as the pillars of their optimisation strategy. However, with rapid adoption will come increased competition. Now is the best time to implement and stay ahead of the curve.