Google algorithm changes and what to expect in 2012

The past twelve to eighteen months has seen unprecedented change in the search engines but especially Google. We have seen algorithm changes like never before as Google continues to try and serve up the best results to users as possible. The question is are we better off with all of these algorithm changes? Have the results improved? Let’s take a look at some of the recent algorithm changes and evaluate where we might be heading in 2012.

2011: The year of the Panda

I attended PubCon in Las Vegas in November 2010. I was intrigued by a number of comments (hints) that Google’s Matt Cutts had mentioned in various sessions. He kept commenting on the fact that the Google webspam team had regrouped and would be taking some distinct action against webspam and things such as duplicate content. Little did we know that within about sixty days these comments seemed hauntingly accurate. On January 26th Google launched their “Farmer Update” an algorithm change that focused on content, scraped content and such. High quality content sites would be rewarded while low quality sites began to be devalued.

  • Panda Update 1.0: Feb. 24, 2011
  • Panda Update 2.0: April 11, 2011
  • Panda Update 2.1: May 10, 2011
  • Panda Update 2.2: June 16, 2011
  • Panda Update 2.3: July 23, 2011
  • Panda Update 2.4: August 12, 2011
  • Panda Update 2.5: September 28, 2011

There have also been some minor tweaks as well:

  • Panda Tweak: October 3, 2011
  • Panda Tweak October 13, 2011
  • Panda Tweak: November 18, 2011

The Panda updates along with the original update have had more impact than any other updates that we have seen (even more that the Florida update from 2003). So big in fact that it has been stated that Panda is an algorithm unto itself. Google has communicated that we can expect to see regular Panda updates from here on. Here are some key facts about Google Panda:

  • the update was focused on promoting high quality content and devaluing content of lower quality
  • the Panda update works in conjunction with other Google algorithm changes such as the Google Vince Update (where brands were given a boost in the results)
  • Panda is a site-wide assessment so even your high quality pages can be impacted
  • recurring Panda updates are due (in part) to new signals being incorporated into the Panda algorithm
  • some Panda related updates are based on recalculations of how sites perform within the Panda algorithms

Keep in mind that this is just Panda. Google has been rolling out additional algorithm updates including the recent “Freshness Update” [] whereby as Google states the new freshness algorithm “…better determines when to give you more up-to-date relevant results for these varying degrees of freshness.” The purpose of this update which is based off Google’s Caffeine infrastructure is to prioritize “recent” & “timely” results. The goal is to surface more recently published content in the results relating to certain types of queries.

What do these algorithm changes mean for you?

Algorithm updates [] are not going away, in fact expect to see more of them. For better or worse, these algorithm changes have had an impact on a number of sites. Whether Google’s search results have improved remains to be seen, but at the end of the day Google is simply trying to provide the best search results possible and we cannot fault them for that. It’s a daunting task and Google being the premier player means that the search results have undergone and will continue to undergo change like never before. Just because you have visibility for <insert key phrase here> in the top spot in Google today does not mean that you will have this visibility tomorrow (even if you have ranked number one for years). Organic search means that we are at the mercy of the algorithms, there are simply some things that are out of our control and we just have to let the algorithms run their course. However there are some things that you as online marketers, webmasters, site owners and SEOs can do to keep on top of the algorithm updates.

How to prepare for 2012

According to some prophets and the Mayan calendar [], some say that the world is coming to an end in December 2012. Well I fully expect to be using Google in January 2013 and beyond and will expect to be dealing with even more algorithm changes moving forward. So what will you need to do in 2012 and beyond to effectively drive your online and digital marketing efforts while dealing with search engine algorithm updates? Here are a few items that will help you prepare for current and future algorithm updates

  1. Be aware of the algorithm updates – pay attention to when Google releases/announces an algorithm change or update. Google is getting better at communicating these announcements via their Inside Search [] or Official Google Blogs [].
  2. Create a Year-over-Year (YOY) Google Traffic Comparison – compare your monthly organic traffic in Google between 2010 and 2011. Was your site in fact impacted by Google algorithm changes? Or was is simply a result of your own site errors? Google tends (but not always) to release algorithm updates in the first quarter (Jan-Mar) and in October. Pay attention to your traffic trends in these months.
  3. Clean up duplicate content – this is a problem with almost every site that we see. Duplicate content can be caused indirectly where you may not even be aware that you have duplicate content on your site. Take inventory of your content and make intelligent decisions about how to syndicate your content. Look for future Google algorithms to be taking a harder look at duplicate content. Address this now so that you are not impacted in a negative manner later.
  4. Work on improving usability and site engagement – create a site that people will not only want to visit, but will want to stay on once they arrive there. Create a site where people will want to share your content, link to your content and return to your content.
  5. Create high quality content – forget about pushing out those lame articles just for the sake of adding content to your site. Create content that helps your site become the authority on your subject matter. Content is the secret to your success. More specifically highly engaging, high quality content will serve you well. Create a new content development and content promotion strategy for 2012.

Google has been aggressive with their algorithm changes and updates in 2011. There is no indication that this will change in 2012. While we are all at the mercy of the mighty algorithms, we can take solace in the fact that if we produce high quality content and create a highly engaging site experience, regardless of Google algorithm changes, we will experience success in our digital and online efforts.