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What you need to know about Google’s algorithms

Not really sure how Google's algorithms are affecting your rankings? Here's what you need to know.

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It may seem like Google algorithms are difficult to keep up with, but it’s worth learning a little about them to make sure your site is ranking as best as it possibly can. Here’s what you need to know about the major updates.

First of all, what exactly is an algorithm? Well, an algorithm sets the stage for a computer to perform a very specific task, and Google algorithms are no different. When you search for something on Google, for example, “boots” or “cute dog videos”, the search engine delivers millions of results. How it chooses these results and in what arrangement is what is described as an algorithm.

With us so far? Great. Here’s where it gets complicated. Algorithms are an intricate set of rules, and Google tends to change it almost every day. These changes can be the tiniest of tweaks and others can be massive disturbances. However, these algorithms do not override each other, they work in tandem.  For example, if you take the Pigeon algorithm, the local and web algorithm work together to help small local businesses rank higher. But frequent changes mean you can’t stop your digital marketing efforts. Just because a certain company is number one on Google one day, does not mean that they will stay in this position the next.

Major Google updates and how they affect your rankings


1. Panda

Date: Launched in February 2011
Risks: Duplicate, plagiarised or thin content; user-generated spam; keyword stuffing

Keyword stuffing is an SEO technique, however, it is considered as webspam. Webspam is a phrase used to describe web pages that are designed to spam Google search results – for example, when keywords are crowded into web page meta tags, visible content or backlink anchor text. Many businesses have used this technique to achieve an unfair advantage in search engines. The Panda appoints a quality score to web pages and this is used as a ranking factor.  Google is looking for quality and original content that is relevant and interesting. This, however, does not mean you shouldn’t use keywords, they are still very important and are key to your ranking position. Up until 2016 Panda was just a filter, however, it was then integrated into the core algorithm.

What does this mean for me? You need to make sure your site is using keywords but avoid keyword stuffing.



Date: Launched in April 2012
Risks: Spam or irrelevant links; links with optimised anchor text

The Penguin came about to reward high-quality sites and down-rank the pages using manipulative links and keyword stuffing. It was created to combat businesses which were using backlinks that were unrelated to the product or service in order to advance in search engine optimisation, creating false relevance. As mentioned before Google will no longer tolerate keyword stuffing. What do we mean by this? Well, an unnatural repetition of keywords might look like this “A carpenters in Dundalk, James is the carpenter in Dundalk that Dundalk residents trust when they need a carpenter to help them out with their carpenter needs.”  As of 2016 Penguin has been part of Google’s core algorithm.

What does this mean for me? Using quality links will help improve your businesses ranking.



Date: Launched in August 2013
Risks: Keyword stuffing; low-quality content

Hummingbird enables Google to better understand searches and allow them to supply results that better match the purpose of the search. It allows a page to rank for an inquiry, even if it doesn’t include the exact words requested in the search. This is accomplished with natural language processing.

What does this mean for me? Natural language processing means you don’t have to rely on keyword stuffing to get your site to rank.



Date: Launched in July 2014
Risks: Poor on- and off-page SEO

Pigeon was created to link Google’s local search algorithm closer to its web algorithm, and to improve ranking quality based on distance and location. Its link to the web algorithm highlights the need for local businesses to have a persistent organic web presence, this way they can compete for local rankings. Both algorithms are used in conjunction with one another.

What does this mean for me? The Pigeon algorithm means that potential customers within your locality will be more likely to be directed to your site.



Date: Launched in April 2015
Risks: Inadequate mobile version of the page; poor user experience

The Mobile update (Mobilegeddon) guarantees that websites have mobile-friendly pages. More and more people are using their mobiles to search on Google which means websites need to invest in mobile. Mobile-friendly pages rank at the top of the mobile search, whereas pages not optimised for mobile are down-ranked.

What does this mean for me? Make sure your site is mobile-optimised to avoid being down-ranked by Mobile.



Date: Launched in October 2015
Risks: Lack of query-specific relevance features; poor UX; sketchy content

RankBrain works with Google’s Hummingbird algorithm, it is a machine learning system that enables Google to perceive the meaning behind the queries, and deliver the top search results. Google refers to the RankBrain as the third most important ranking factor.

What does this mean for me? If your user experience is lacking, consult a marketing or design agency to revamp your customer journey.



Date: Launched in September 2016
Risks: Tense competition in your target location

This ensures that local results differ more depending on the location of the searcher. Therefore the closer you are to a business address, you are more than likely to see local results. The Possum update promoted businesses outside of the city areas.

What does this mean for me?  Depending on the location of your business, Possum could help you compete with local rankings.



Fred – this update was launched in March 2017
Risks: Thin, affiliate-heavy or ad-centred content

This is Google’s latest confirmed algorithm update. This is targeted at sites that are in breach of the webmaster guidelines. Blogs with low-quality posts are most affected by this update, they seem to be created to generate revenue.

What does this mean for me?  Make sure you are posting quality content. Articles written solely to generate revenue will be penalised.



We will never fully understand every single piece of the Google Algorithm, but keeping up with the major updates will give you an edge. If you bear in mind the customer journey and post quality content, you will be ahead of the game. If you enjoyed this piece, read about how chat bots can automate tasks and reduce your workload.

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