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James Perrott explains which algorithm updates have improved the way everyday people use Google and why we need to consider their experiences.
This blog isn’t designed to criticise Google or tell Matt Cutts how to do his job. The purpose of it is to identify the relevant updates, algorithms and refreshes in 2012 so far that have improved the quality of the search results for every Tom, Dick and Harry using Google, not us as digital marketers.
Search, Plus Your World – January 10th
The SEO world at the time saw this as one of the most transformational updates ever rolled out by Google. We now know since this update that it was the start of a series of Google+ and local integration updates to the SERPs.
Search, Plus Your World introduced Google+ profiles into the SERPs for signed in Google+ users. It suggests Google+ profiles when users type in names of accounts and also displays relevant Google+ posts to that of the user’s search query.
This could be of use to Tom, Dick or Harry because some searchers have a Google+ profile. However, this will continue to invade results as Google+ is made evermore integrated into Google features and as more users sign up to Google+. This is why it is included in this list.
• 3.2, January 18th
• 3.3, February 27th
• 3.4, March 23rd
• 3.5, April 19th
• 3.6, April 27th
• 3.7, June 8th
• 3.8, June 25th
• 3.9, July 24th
• 3.9.1, August 20th
• 3.9.2, September 18th
• #20, September 27th
When Google first released Panda into the world of search in February 2011, it was designed to target websites that had thin, spam content, which over time has evolved into targeting duplicate content too. At Zazzle Media, we have dealt with sites that have been affected by Panda and every time we have assessed the affected site, it was the same story.
Each of the sites had either very thin or duplicate content issues. The three reasons as to why Panda will affect a site; thin, spam or duplicate content do not provide useful, unique or high quality information to Tom, Dick or Harry.
It is great to see Google rolling out Panda refreshes on a monthly basis (apart from May) to battle poor content on the World Wide Web. It is one of the most useful updates that Tom, Dick or Harry don’t realise is happening, but would be very grateful if they did. The main reason for user searches on Google is for useful, informative, high quality and unique content. Panda helps provide this.
Ads above the fold – January 19th (also Page Layout #2, October 9th)
If a website had a lot of adverts above the fold for revenue purposes, it is very likely that the website will not provide much information to the user. This is because the Webmaster is more interested in ad money, than providing great content and information to the user. A high ad to content ratio results in poor user experience and means this penalty will affect the site.
This update for Tom, Dick and Harry was a hugely successful one. It’s widely known that bounce rates increase on a website if visitors can’t find relevant information above the fold. It has become more and more important that landing pages are carefully created with the user in mind, not their bank balances.
Venice – February 27th
Like Mike Ramsey (who wrote a Venice update piece for SEOmoz), a lot of people were very surprised how under the radar the Venice update appeared to be. Pushing local results into the SERPs was an ingenious idea by Google and really transformed local search.
Tom, Dick and Harry would want local results to be produced when searching locally; an example query could be ‘things to do in London’. It would be useless for users if they were searching for that, and Manchester events appeared in the SERPs. Tom, Dick and Harry used to have to sometimes drill down or make the search very long tail to find local results prior to this update.
This update was hugely successful for Google’s users and it looks to be continually updating as an upgraded version of the knowledge graph for these local search terms was also spotted recently. It might prove tricky for us as digital marketers to compete in the long run with local searches, as traffic could be lost to the official sources or as local places/pages could be integrated for queries, such as ‘PC Shop London’.
• Introduction, April 24th
• 1.1, May 25th
• #3, October 5th
The Penguin update had the most significant impact on SERPs to date in 2012.
It was designed by Google to stop websites ranking highly that have significant ‘web spam’ in their link profile, too much spam on-page (too many footer links, in content links etc) and have wrongly gained significant rankings and traffic.
We know that digital marketers both loved and hated this update. This is because if their websites were affected, it is very hard work to remove this penalty, which involves a lot of legwork. Although, this has become much simpler due to the announcement last night from Matt Cutts at Pub Con about the Google Disavow Tool (Source).
For Tom, Dick and Harry, has this improved the quality of search results? Maybe?
These websites that have been affected by Penguin have had significant SEO influence in their past. Is that a bad thing? No.
The concern now, is that of the results that have replaced the results affected by Penguin. The ‘payday loans’ SERP has been one of hot discussion and has been producing a variety low quality results as Google continued to fix it. The aftermath of Penguin has lead to brands doing very well in organic search along side websites that have followed a natural, long term organic growth approach to online marketing.
Matt Cutts told the digital world that “you don’t want the next Penguin update” and that it would be “jolting and jarring”. However, the last update only affected ~0.3% of English searches, which was somewhat disappointing due to the hype surrounding it.
Knowledge Graph – May 16th
Knowledge Graph was designed to display additional information about people, places and other information along side SERPs. Sourcing the Knowledge Graph involved Google gathering 3.5 billion facts about and relationships between 500 million different objects or entities. Due to the way the knowledge graph is displayed in SERPs, it’s proving to be very useful for Tom, Dick and Harry when they are searching for individual entities that don’t require entering a website because of this update.
Much like the knowledge graph Google have been expanding the SERP’s for years with extra detail, such as the Olympic medal table during the London 2012 games.
Other great examples of extra data being utilised by Google to display information on the SERPs are Cinema listings and Football fixtures. These improvements means that the users don’t have to venture away from results pages to find out basic information.
Football fixture information
Exact-Match Domain (EMD) Update – September 27th
The Exact-Match Domain update affected Exact Match URLs that match their search terms. For example, if your company’s’ product were green watches and your domain was www.greenwatches.co.uk you could possibly be affected.
Websites that were affected had one of the following factors on their site; low quality content, poor site structure or low quality links – or all 3.
For Tom, Dick and Harry, this update was useful due to low quality EMDs being pushed down in the SERPs. EMDs used to receive a natural boost from Google, however this boost is becoming less and less due to EMDs being exploited by business and webmasters. If you want to learn more about this, there is a blog about it here.
So far in 2012, Google have done a great job in improving the information provided in the SERPs, the quality of the results and the type of results because of these mentioned updates, algorithms and refreshes. Nothing is ever perfect, but Google are helping Tom, Dick and Harry find more information on the SERPs, instead of going into a website – which makes our job as digital marketers, more exciting.
How will the newly announced link disavow tool by Google, improve or worsen the quality of the SERPs?
I am not a massive fan of the concept behind the link disavow tool, but this depends on how Google react to the data that is provided. If website owners can disavow all their poor linking domains (10s or 100s) and return to their original rankings by simply building more links until Google plays catch up, it could become a vicious circle which Google will have created. Only time will tell if this is a useful tool, or not.
So, has Google improved the quality of the SERP so far in 2012 for Tom, Dick and Harry?
The views expressed in this post are those of the author so may not represent those of the Koozai team.
Google On Computer Screen via BigStock