So, recently I’ve put up a couple of posts about Google’s latest updates, and after reading through the comments, I figured it would be good idea to right a post describing each of the major updates. And so, here it is! Now, there are an insane amount of Google updates that have released since December 2000, so I won’t be going through all of them… Instead, I will focus on the major ones that everyone should know about. So, here we go!

Google Panda

Let’s start with the cuddliest animal, but one of the most important algorithm updates. Now, Panda is an algorithm that specifically looks at the content of your website, and will either give your the green light if everything is good. or penalise your site if you’re not doing things the way you should be.

It’s worth mentioning that whilst some of Google’s algorithms will penalise on a page by page basis, Google Panda does it at site-level. What this means is that, if you are penalised by Google Panda, your entire site suffers from the penalty. And that’s why you need to make sure you get the content side of things correct! So, here’s a brief rundown of what your content needs to adhere to;

  • Every page on your site should have written content on it. Images do not count.
  • Content per page shouldn’t really be less than 250 words, if possible. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but is a good lower end target.
  • Content must not be duplicated from elsewhere on the internet. Identical content is a big no-no!
  • Content should not be duplicated around your own site. Each page should be unique, providing a different “service” to the visitor.
  • Every page should have a unique Page Title that explains what the page is about, but not containing a list of keywords.
    • In order to avoid the Page Title and H1 being the same, a good Page Title layout would be:
      Title/Keyword | Optional Keyword | Brand
  • Meta Keywords should not be used! Leave it empty, as Google does not view it as meta data anyway, and can lead to excessive keyword use per page.
  • Every page should have a unique H1 that is different from the page title, but also descriptive of what the page is about.
  • Every page should have a self-referencing rel=canonical tag, to avoid duplication caused by content management systems like WordPress, Blogger or Joomla.

Google Penguin

The next big Google algorithm is Penguin. Now, this is another really big hitted, but the key difference in terms of the penalty is that it is (initially) on a page-by-page basis. So, it’s actually harder to detect at first. However, the penalty can eventually move to a site-level penality if you keep doing naughty things!

So, what is Penguin looking at? Well, whilst Panda looked at your content, Penguin looks at your backlinks (links from other sites to yours) and determines whether they are quality links from relevant places, or whether they are spammy links. Or, indeed, if it thinks you have paid for the links, which is a really bad idea! A good example of this was Interflora UK, who had used an “SEO Agency” to buy a load of links before Valentine’s Day 2014, in order to get to the top of Google’s search results.

Instead, they got hit by Penguin with a site-level penalty, and even if you typed Interflora.co.uk into Google, you wouldn’t have been able to find them! So yeah, Penguin is a really big deal, and as of September 2016, it is now a real-time update!

What that means is that it could be run on your site any time that Google crawls it, and will take effect immediately. However, on the flipside, that also means that once you’ve cleaned up your backlink profile, the penalty would be removed as soon as Google has crawled the site again (or you submit a Disavow File). So, how do you avoid this?

  • When trying to get links, make sure the website has a good Trust Flow and Citation Flow, with Trust Flow being no less that 15 below Citation, unless the website is less than a year old. Use Majestic SEO for this.
  • You can also cross-reference this with the Domain Rank from Ahrefs, which will bring to light those with reasonable TF/CF ratio, but still bad links, and those younger sites that are worth approaching.
  • Finally, if you have spammy links then you’ll need to make a Disavow File, which you can submit to Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) to disassociate your website from those links.

Google Hummingbird

Moving on to yet another delightful little animal that Google has released on the world, Hummingbird has actually benefited a lot of smaller sites! Why? Because it was a change to the way Google understands what people search for.

Gone were the days of having to type broken English into the search bar, using only specific keywords like “wordpress help error”. Google could now understand and interpret an actual sentence! So you could search for things like the following, and Google would know what the hell you actually meant;

  • What kind of meat is in a McDonald’s cheeseburger?
  • How many records of Justin Bieber will I need to burn to eradicate them from the world?
  • What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything? (Seriously, try that one out!)

So, whilst Hummingbird did not target any aspects of your website specifically, those sites that had more luck with long-tail keywords (e.g black satin dress with lace) rather than short-tail (e.g red roses), saw a spike in traffic. And that hasn’t changed. In fact, most of the Organic Traffic that I get comes from long-tail keywords! So, yeah, thanks Hummingbird!

Google Possum

Possum is one of the newer updates that Google released, concentrating on local searches (the bit in the search results that shows a small map and 3 places near your location). Because of this, it looked at your Google My Business page more than your website’s content. Here’s a rundown of what it did, because explaining it would take forever!

  • If you have two businesses wth the same owner, in the same business category and within a very small distance from one another, only one will be shown in search results.
  • If your business is just outside of city limits, searches within that city will now include your business.
  • Search results will change based on the current, physical geo-location of the person searching, via IP address or GPS signal.

Then, a couple of weeks after this, Google updates the local listings even more by announcing that rankings within that 3-pack below the map will also be affected by the amount of people that visit your business! And that this data will be taken via the GPS signal on people’s phones.

So, again, it’s not a website-focused update, but is one that changed the industry massively!

Mobilegeddon

Back to site-focused updates now, we move on to Mobilegeddon, where Google changed their base algorithms to look for fully responsive websites! In short, if your website was not responsive, and din’t pass their Mobile Usability test (here) you would appear lower in the search results.

To add to that, Google are now making the move to a “mobile-first index”, which means that they will use mobile rankings for search results on desktops and laptops. Now, that might not seem an issue, but if you decided to skip a responsive website and just make a separate mobile site on a subdomain (e.g m.example.com) then it is very likely that this version is going to be the one that desktop users get taken to by Google!

So yeah, if your site isn’t mobile-friendly already, it’s definitely time to get that sorted!

Intrusive Interstitial Update

The last major Google update that we’ll look at today is the Intrusive Interstitial update, which is a bloody horrible name to try and say! This one was yet another move to make websites more user-friendly on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, by penalising you if you had pop ups that cover a large portion of the screen but don’t actually offer anything to the user.

For example, a pop up advert that covers 2/3 of a mobile’s screen, or a pop up asking you to turn off adblock before being able to read the content, will get you penalised. On the other hand, if you’re using one to get people to accept a cookie policy or enter their date of birth to access mature content, that is fine. Why? Well, it’s a legal bloody requirement to have them!

But there are also cases when you can get ads or mailing list forms as “pop ups” that are okay. If they only take up a “small amount of screenspace” (how open ended is that…) then it would be okay. So, my recommendation is to have these sort of things at the top of the page and only taking about 10-20% of the screen (just like mine).

And That’s The Major Ones

There are, of course, hundreds of other updates that have taken place throughout the years. You can find a list of them all over at Moz, but for now, those were the big name ones that you really need to be aware of if you are running a website or blog! I hope this has been helpful, and I apologise about the wall of text that this post became! If it has been helpful, let me know in the comments below!

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