A brief history of major Google algorithm updates
Each time Google updates its algorithm, business owners, managers and SEO companies must update their SEO strategy. Here are the most recent major Google algorithm changes, and their effect on searches and SEO.
Mobile popup penalty
Google’s first big algorithm change of 2017 lowered the rank of mobile sites that display intrusive popups (called 'interstitials' in web jargon). This was so that users – especially those on mobile devices – can find the information they want as quickly as possible, without annoying popups slowing them down.
Understandably, some interstitials, such as age verification pages, are exempt. But anything that is intrusive or annoying is targeted by this update. Google outlines the kind of pages that will be hit hardest by the algorithm update:
- Pages with popups that hide all or most of the page content, either immediately after users navigate to the site from the search page, or when the user is mid-scroll.
- Pages with standalone overlays, where the page content cannot be accessed until the user dismisses the overlay message.
- Pages where the essential content sits below the fold, and content above the fold is similar to a standalone interstitial.
This new algorithm immediately boosted the search rankings of sites optimised for a mobile user experience, and forced many publishers to quickly remove intrusive popups. While this was great for improving the user experience, marketing managers grew concerned as mobile popups are a well known method for generating mobile leads.
Of course, Google algorithm updates are not without loopholes, and some SEO companies reassessed their strategy so interstitials appeared on the following page – without penalty – if the user navigates beyond the homepage.
Google’s original 2012 Penguin update penalised sites known to spam search results. Sites using 'black hat SEO' to boost search rankings, through tactics such as paid links or link networks, were penalised and filtered out from Google searches over a period of months.
Penguin 4.0, however, operates in real time. As soon as a site is flagged as a ‘spammy’ one, it’s immediately removed from search rankings. While on the other hand, when a site removes link spam, the effects will be immediate. This means penalised sites can reappear in search rankings – a huge benefit to sites wrongly flagged as being spam.
Most businesses working with a credible SEO agency were unaffected by this Google algorithm update, as a good agency will only use best practice SEO. If anything, high quality sites see a boost in search rankings, as spam sites are removed from the playing field.
Google’s major mobile-friendly update, dubbed ‘Mobilegeddon’, made site owners rush out to optimise their websites for mobile devices. The algorithm didn’t quantify 'mobile-friendliness' – it simply checked to see whether sites were mobile-friendly or not. Sites that weren’t optimised for mobile were filtered out of search results for mobile devices.
While desktop SEO went unscathed, there was a significant drop in mobile rankings for sites if they did not have a mobile friendly experience. Google’s PageSpeed Insights allows site owners to discover how mobile-friendly their site is. Those sites scoring 80% (or higher) are likely to see better rankings in mobile search results.
Increasingly, Google users are typing complete questions and phrases into Google searches, instead of simple keywords. The Hummingbird update aims to improve search results for these types of queries, optimising the algorithm for ‘conversational search’ and 'long tail' keywords.
Although the Hummingbird update makes Google Search more intuitive, it caused many SEO companies to reassess how Google processed content. For example, Google’s ‘information card’ for Google Chrome, which gathers user information, has been accused of stealing traffic and information from websites that put in the work to rank highly with SEO.
Outside of these concerns, SEO was relatively unaffected by the Hummingbird update. It did mean that SEO agencies began focusing more on long tail keywords and conversational phrases. However, the fundamentals of SEO did not change. That is, creating original content and optimising using SEO best-practice.
The key takeaway is that Google algorithm updates are, after all, made for the searcher and not the websites, the business or their SEO agency. Keeping this mind can help you target which are the best SEO strategies for you, both on desktop and mobile. Anything that improves the experience for the user will likely be beneficial to your SEO efforts.
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Digital360 on 15 May 2017
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