As a Search Exec at Delineo I understand the importance of keeping up-to-date with the ever changing landscape of the main search engines, predominantly Google and to understand what is going on in the search sector. The reason for this is, as with everything, times change and to understand how particular sites are ranked we are constantly learning how Google organises and ranks websites in its search results pages. Google, as a search engine has a philosophy of constantly striving towards providing the most relevant search results to the right user in the right location. Quality of sites and content has long been a crucial factor in SEO practice, according to Google. But why are pandas and penguins related to SEO I hear you ask?
As the search engine continues to work towards improving this philosophy, Google updates are implemented to update the search results and, generally speaking, rankings can be affected. ‘Panda’ and ‘Penguin’ are simply the names of 2 of these updates and there are justifications given by Google as to how and why these names arrived.
What is a Google update and why is it done?
A Google update is a change in the code (algorithm) in which the search engine evolves to improve its features such as instant search, the accuracy of keyword relevance and also to remove webspam1. As webspam is against Google’s code of practice, every effort is taken to remove these sites to ensure the customer journey is efficient as possible and ultimately the user gets what they were looking for when making a search.A Google update is a change in the code (algorithm) in which the search engine evolves to improve its features such as instant search, the accuracy of keyword relevance and also to remove webspam . As webspam is against Google’s code of practice, every effort is taken to remove these sites to ensure the customer journey is efficient as possible and ultimately the user gets what they were looking for when making a search.
The Top 4 ‘major’ SEO updates
Since Google started rolling out its updates way back in 20002, there have been hundreds, if not thousands of updates to the algorithm. To purely keep things simple and to avoid going into technical overdrive, I am negating a large number of the ‘minor’ updates and have decided to focus on what ‘most’ SEO’s feel have had the biggest impact on search results over the last 3 years.
1. Vince update – February 2009
This update appeared to favour the ‘larger global brands’, with many SEOs commenting on the change which saw Google favour established brands and give their websites a rankings boost. Google’s Matt Cutts created a video to answer (questions/concerns) around this update which can be seen on searchengineland.
2. Panda update – February 2011
This is one of the most well-documented major search engine updates to impact SEO practices that is still widely talked about today. According to the official Google Webmaster blog, this algorithm update affected “12% of queries” in countries that Google operates its search engine and approximately “3.1% of queries in English to a degree that a regular user may notice.” Briefly speaking, the Panda update targeted webspam and was implemented by the search engine to remove sites with poorly written content and consequently those which were crowding the SERPs3 with irrelevant, low quality sites. Some of the latest updates make reference to Panda and we are still seeing examples of this today, for example Panda 3.3, linked to the Venice update.
3. Venice update – February 2012
When Google rolled out the ‘Venice’ update in February this year, its sole aim was to tighten up on relevance, more effectively organising local listings in the search results. The aim of this algorithm update was to provide the user with more relevant and accurate search results based on the location of their device, or to be technically correct, their IP address, whether that may be a computer or a smart phone.
To explain these features further, a search for [restaurant] now produces the websites for the restaurants in your area and also shows where these restaurants are, by using place markers on a map, all on the first page, which is the most important element from an SEO perspective.
Other additional features which Google claim to help the user include reviews and a scoring system.
4. Penguin update – February 2012
Considered to be one of the most aggressive updates so far by Webmasters and SEOs, the Penguin update focused primarily on the over-optimisation of web pages and content. High quality sites appeared to escape the wrath of Penguin as this was targeted specifically at over-optimised sites involving practices such as keyword stuffing and aggressive over-optimisation of inbound anchor text.
This also coincided with SAScon Manchester and the Penguin update was one of the main topics of discussion at this year’s conference, with many of the SEOs commenting. We were there to add our thoughts.
1 Webspam can be defined as malicious, irrelevant websites which in the pursuit of higher rankings or increased traffic, use unethical techniques such as keyword stuffing and unusual linking patterns that ultimately do not benefit users.
2 According to ‘The Google Algorithm Change History’ by SEOMoz and considered to be one of the most extensive lists of levels algorithmic changes that have affected search marketing.
3 Search Engine Results Pages.