A Brief History of Google Algorithm Updates and What To Do If Your Ranking Drops

Google's algorithm is ever changing, which means at some point it's going to impact your website.  Which is why you need to keep a steady eye on the health of your SEO.

Despite all of the upheaval it causes there are ways and means of working around this fluctuating leviathan.  

So What is the Google Algorithm?

This is the mechanism Google uses to rank content, and uses hundreds of factors, such as keywords, usability, backlinks and more.

How Does the Algorithm Work

Most of its methods are kept secret but it's believed that it uses over 200 ranking factors which means it's constantly changing and evolving to keep up with current technology, and can release updates up to six times a day.

As scary as that sounds these changes are for the benefit of websites worldwide and help them stay safe from any online threats.

What We've Learned So Far About Google's Algorithm

Google won't reveal its ranking factors but we can take a look at the obvious points of how Google ranks each website.

  • High user engagement and bounce rates are looked at.
  • Google prefers website's that have HTTPS status, these websites are viewed as safe and secure.
  • Websites that are mobile friendly will rank higher.
  • Google likes good links that are informative, relevant and make your website useful.
  • User-friendly website design is a ranking factor.
  • Google prefers websites that upload quickly because they offer the user a better experience.

In other words Google likes websites that really offer something practical to the users experience, with an easy-to-use website navigation.


What About Core Updates?

Core updates are usually released once or twice a year.

Let's take a look at the history of Google's core updates.

2011

Panda

The first major update that dealt with on-page factors that really hit hard affiliate sites, and websites containing really thin content.  

As a result it re-ran the Panda algorithm and included it in the core algorithm of 2016, because of this update, websites can no longer get away with low quality content.

2012

Venice

This algorithm understood what people were really looking for and started including more local results for the user.

Penguin

This particular update looked into backlinking and whether or not websites were receiving genuine links, or using companies to provide their website with clicks.  Back then paid links were heavily used and an easy shortcut for many website owners to boost their rankings.  Any artificial links found Google would downgrade the website. Penguin was also added to the core algorithm in 2016.

Pirate

As the name suggests Pirate got to grips with websites that were spreading illegal copyrighted content and gave websites a negative ranking.

2013

Hummingbird

Hummingbird update relates to the algorithm that focused on voice-search, which in recent times has become more widely used since the inception of devices like Alexa.  This unique update pays attention to each word in a query, and sees to it that all search phrases are taken into account.

Hummingbird made it clear that all SEO copy should be readable, and the same keywords shouldn't be repeated, but instead the use of natural language, and synonyms instead.

2014

Pigeon

This update looked at page results based on local SEO, and led to accurate localisation, and gave priority to those living in the local area.

HTTPs/SSL

This looked at the importance of security, and saw the introduction of HTTPS and encryption to make website connections secure.  

2015

Mobile Update

Google came to realise by 2015 that most results were coming via mobile devices which led to two versions of a website, the mobile and desktop version.  Which means every website today should be mobile-friendly. 

RankBrain

This state-of-the-art algorithm centres on machine learning to handle queries.  RankBrain looked at past searches and began analysing them to determine the best result to make improvements.

2016

Possum

Introduced in September 2016, Possum looked at local search results and realised that localised searches were a key part of the search platform.  Google started looking at physical location and phrasing of the query to give its users a better experience.  

2018

Mobile Speed Update

This was implemented for mobile search results and mostly hit slow mobile websites.

Medic 

Medic, as seen by the name, targeted medical websites that were supplying their users with false claims and information, and saw these particular websites as suspect.

2019

BERT

This update hit most websites the hardest because it impacted "one in ten searches", and used a neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP).  

BERT is short for:

Bidirectional
Encoder
Representations from
Transformers

BERT understands the full context of a word and does this by looking at the words before and after it.  This method is done instead of  looking at words in sentences individually.  Which means it can interpret any search query and intention behind it.

2021

Page Experience

This update looks at the page experience and looks at real-world user experience, interactivity, visual stability, loading performance.

Google is using a more comprehensive "look at page" experience, but still sees relevant content as a ranking factor, and has created tools in Search Console to help its users to create better content.

How to Manage Google Algorithm Updates

As a website owner you need to show Google and any other search engine that your website contains content that's relevant, and that you're an authority on the subject.

To have this kind of authority online means you can give your users a better experience but you need to make sure that your website has a solid foundation, readable content and covers your particular skill set.

1.  Create a Solid Foundation

It's really important that users that come on your website discover a highly usable platform that's easy to navigate.  This means that everything is at their fingertips the moment they land.  With pages and posts that can be found easily that cover old as well as new content that's evergreen, as well as current information

With a solid foundation you can weather any algorithm storm that comes along.

2. Provide Relevant Readable Content

Providing accurate relevant information is a vital part of SEO and will enable search engines to address whatever user intent is.

This doesn't mean creating the same kind of long form content every time, it just means publishing content that is evergreen and up-to-date.

You need to aim for content that solves a problem to build your reputation as an authority online.

3.  Show Your Own Particular Skill Set

This is another part of preparing yourself for algorithm updates, the ability to demonstrate your particular skill set on topics in your chosen field.

You can make your content more engaging by using images, statistics and infographics.

The more relevant your content is the more likely people are to link to your site, and bring you organic backlinks.

Success Will Follow

If you've done everything you can to optimise your site for a better user experience, and you've built trust and become a reputable source of information, success will follow.

Don't let algorithm updates mess with your SEO plan, instead give your audience the best experience and content they want.

Solid platform and trustworthy content is your preparation for any algorithm update that's rolled out.

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