As you may already know, Google is the largest and most commonly used search engine in the world today. This search engine uses a complex system designed to retrieve data from its search index and provide the best results possible for a specific search query.
The system itself is based on a combination of algorithms and search ranking factors to categorize websites and individual web pages on search engine results pages (SERPs) based on their relevance and other meaningful attributes.
Back in the day, Google used to make only a few updates to its algorithm. Nowadays, Google makes thousands of updates to its algorithm each year. Most of these updates are not significant enough to be noticed.
They are mostly tweaks and fixes that make the engine run smoothly. However, when an update is large and significant enough, it’s assigned a silly name like Pigeon or Bert and is properly announced, as well as explained by Google developers.
For anyone who’s using SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for marketing and other purposes, these updates are very important because they oftentimes change the way SEO works. They also change what Google considers an important ranking factor.
With that in mind, let’s have a look at a few of Google’s algorithm updates and what they mean.
- 1. Panda
One of the most famous algorithm updates released back on February 24, 2011, carries the name Panda. This is the first time Google introduced “Quality Score” to web pages. Panda update was designed to weed out duplicate, plagiarized and thin content, as well as look for user-generated spam and keyword stuffing.
In other words, Google was out to hunt down black hat SEO tactics and webspam. One of the goals was to get rid of so-called “content farms” that were used to boost website rankings. The effects of the Panda update were mild at first.
It wasn’t until 2016 that Panda became incorporated into Google’s core algorithm and became stricter with penalizing fraudulent behavior.
Panda update is still relevant today, and it’s used to determine the quality of content by relying on machine learning capabilities. Therefore, if you want to favor good rankings and avoid Panda’s watchful gaze, your website better have high-quality content that’s original and relevant to your target audience.
- 2. Mobile
You’re probably familiar with Google’s mobile-first indexing. This wasn’t just an algorithm update as we know it. It was more of a cultural shift as Google was about to change the rules of the game completely. Back on April 21, 2015, Google released their mobile-friendly update.
Among the businesses and individual web owners, this update was known as “Mobilpocalypse” and “Mobilegeddon.” You may guess how shocking it was to learn that mobile-friendliness is now a major ranking factor.
Not just that, but mobile-friendliness was given priority, and there was no grey area to work with. Your pages were either mobile-friendly, or they weren’t, that’s it. At first, web owners thought of having two versions of their website, one for desktop devices and the other for mobile ones.
That worked out well in the beginning but maintaining two versions of the same website has proven to be both expensive and difficult.
Nowadays, web owners opt for adaptive or responsive web design that can adjust to any screen size and any device. That way, you can kill, well pretty much all the birds, with one stone.
- 3. E-A-T guidelines (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness)
Back in 2014, Google introduced E-A-T principles for search quality guidelines. This wasn’t an algorithm update on its own, but it largely affected both previous and upcoming updates to Google’s algorithm. This eventually gave birth to the so-called “Medic” update that was released on May 4, 2018.
Essentially, Google targeted websites that produced content with life-altering decisions, such as providing medical, legal, financial and educational advice. Google wanted to make sure that the information was relevant and accurate, as well as that the information had the necessary expertise and trustworthiness.
The E-A-T principles have spread to other areas as a factor that determines the quality of content and the information provided in the content. Many web owners and businesses either had to find experts or link their findings to relevant research, statistics and expert articles.
E-A-T score also became a vital factor for creating exceptional branding strategies. This is why many companies enlist the aid of a digital branding agency to help them boost their website authority and brand trustworthiness.
After all, Google wants to provide users with the best results possible, which is why they are so keen on checking the accuracy of the information and the expertise behind it on numerous websites.
- 4. Hummingbird
Arguably one of the most important Google algorithm updates, Hummingbird revolutionized online search as we know it. Its legacy is still evolving even today.
The Hummingbird update was announced on September 26, 2013, but it was released a month prior to the announcement. Back then, the basics of SEO were pretty much the same.
You had to earn links and not purchase them and answering questions with your content was a big deal even back then. However, search results were unlike anything we have today. Whether a user typed a single word, a long-tail phrase or an entire sentence, the search results would all look the same.
The main reason is that search results could provide any in-depth meaning, answers or resources about the query in question. The Hummingbird update changed all that by introducing natural language processing.
Search engines were now able to understand the intent behind a query and provide meaningful results for both short and long-tail queries. Search results would also provide answers to topics and sub-topics in accordance with user intent.
Hummingbird also laid the foundation for voice search and local search improvements. It’s safe to say that search results wouldn’t be what they are today without the Hummingbird and the evolution of the Knowledge Graph is supported.
Even though there are thousands of algorithm updates today, you don’t have to worry about them changing everything. Every now and then, Google announces a major update so that everyone involved in SEO can adequately prepare for the upcoming changes.
Google’s goal is to provide better results and make online search more seamless. If you want to be at the top of those search results, you’ll have to do what Google expects you to do, which they let you know through their updates.
Sophie Douglas is a digital marketing specialist and a journalist based in Columbus, state of Ohio.
Her characters are passionate, innovative, and ambitious.