Is your website one of a number that the latest Google algorithm update penalised? Was the timing around March to August 2018? In this article, we summarise what’s behind these updates and what you can do to remain compliant.


Website owners need to invest in scintillating content as a matter of course. They should review the value they are providing through the content they deliver.


Also, backlinks to your website and mentions of your brand elsewhere on the web are important. But, it is important to highlight that backlinks are a lot more complicated. This is due to the manipulation of rules, which has resulted in complex link changes.


Websites with detailed content that address the topic at hand saw increased rankings. Furthermore, high-quality user-generated content also featured in the March and April updates.


Experts identified four characteristics that were instrumental in ranking gains:


  • Subject experts often created the content, or featured in it with quotes;
  • Weighty volumes of high-quality content contributed to website growth each month;
  • Each article was noteworthy in its own right; and
  • Key topics covered both in an in-depth and wide-reaching basis.


Did your rankings remain steady or unchanged early on in the year? Did you experience sudden and/or rapid change towards the end of the year? This may be due to Google collecting website to make ranking adjustments for better or worse.


If you are like most website owners and content generators, then you keep a very close eye on updates. You are also very aware that as soon as you master one update the next one rolls out. If you do not have your finger on the pulse, any number of Google algorithm updates can come to haunt you.


Some of the main algorithm changes we have summarised below:


  • Health-related websites received a lot of attention
  • More focus on expertise, authority, trust and online reputation in determining ranking positions
  • Content needs to align with user needs and requirements
  • Basic SEO elements came under the spotlight


So, if your site suffered due to a lack of interesting and detailed content then you need urgent change. A first step is bringing a talented SEO expert on board that can help you recover from the August update. An experienced SEO agency will also ensure consistent rankings throughout updates. They achieve this through consistent updates, monitoring and tweaks to ensure compliance.


Do you know if your website lacks brand authority? Do you manage elements such as backlinks, mentions and promote user engagement? If not, then this should be a key priority to avoid or recover from the latest update.


But, overall these months, the depth and breadth of the content provided were what kept a site’s rankings soaring. Second to SEO content, brand authority was able to provide influence as a trade for trust.


Half the algorithm update battle won


“Your SEO expert may not have a crystal ball in front of them to predict updates, but keeping a close eye is critical. Putting the effect of updates into context is equally as important as staying up to date. Furthermore, getting client buy-in into the process ensures support and ease of maintenance.” These are the words from Craig Johnston of Savvy Sprout – a Cape Town based Digital Marketing and SEO agency.


So, what are the major Google Algorithms to take note of that keep changing?


Google Hummingbird


We all know how beautiful hummingbirds are – almost mesmerising! The Google Hummingbird update is no different – mesmerising in its own right.


In 2013 Google made one of the most relevant and widely practised updates. They made the shift in search from keyword-driven to phrase-driven results. This, in part, is due to them focussing on their end-user and not their needs. They realised people started searching for one-word queries. Instead, those fell away in favour of longer phrases and questions.


For example, 6 years ago you might have searched for “lettuce” or “lettuce types”. Now, users are increasingly descriptive. That same search may now be something similar to “which lettuce has the best flavour?”. Or, “is green or red lettuce healthier?”


Search Engine Land, news giants in the digital space, best explain this update. “Hummingbird pays more attention to each word in a query. This ensures the whole query is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching a few words.”


Google Mobile-Friendly Update


In 2015, Google made what is most likely the biggest change in modern search – the mobile-friendly update. Why is this one of the biggest changes? Because it required most if not all websites to redesign/reconfigure their platforms.


As with hummingbird, the end-user was at the core of this update. With the explosion of smartphones came the rise in mobile search. Can you remember having to scroll sideways to view content and oversized images? Now, everything is pretty, uniform and responsive.


This change in web design is thanks to the mobile-friendly update. This update gives priority mobile search rankings to those websites that comply. Is your website still not responsive? You may well be losing out on valuable rankings and visits.


On 26 February 2015 Google made the following announcement. “When it comes to search on mobile devices, users should get the most relevant and timely results. As more people use mobile devices to access the internet, our algorithms have to adapt. In the past, we’ve made updates to ensure correct configuration.”


So significant is this update that it is known in the SEO world as mobilegeddon as the effects were dire. It also demanded immediate attention. It’s a matter of you are in by complying our out, and no one wants to be out on Google.


Google Panda Update


Panda’s are super cute, aren’t they? The Google Panda? Well, that depends on whether your website provides value and quality or not. Introduced in 2011, Google’s Panda update pointed its cross-hairs at low-quality websites. The quality aspect of this update focussed on content in its many different forms.


Some of the content types that the Panda update focussed on:


  • Thin content: low word count per page or article with very few references
  • Duplicate content: content found that is in more than one place either on your website or on the internet.
  • User-generated content: content and comments used that contain many spelling and grammatical errors. It also includes non-credible users generating low-quality content.
  • Low-quality content: these pages or articles contain little value to the reader. This type of content also lacks detail and enough context.
  • Authority & trust: becoming known as an industry contributor is important with this update. Sites with cosmetics, farming, building, education and car information might not do well.
  • False promise content: your website promises one thing but your content says another.


Google Penguin Update


In 2012, straight off the back of the major panda update, Google released the feared penguin. The Google Penguin update targeted two of the most abused areas of SEO – links and keywords.


The SEO industry has in the past been characterised by excessive keyword and link usage. It was often found that the best rankings either had repetitive keyword use, or very high link counts.


What this update did was remove pure volume and replace it with quality. Now, websites with logical keyword use and keyword variation receive better rankings. Websites that earned links and linked out to high-quality sites received recognition.


As these were two of the most common SEO practices, this update goes down as an industry changer.


Google Pigeon Update


Have you used Google Maps? Have you made area-specific searches? If you use Google then the answer is likely YES to both. These are the 2 main areas that the 2014 Google Pigeon update focussed on.


The update aimed to provide increased relevance in local search results. It also provided Google Maps with relevant data as more people started searching within the Maps platform.


Google Payday Update


Launched in 2013, the Google Payday update targeted industries known for high spam. These included, among many others, loans, insurance, and pharmaceuticals. What this update did was try cut down on user exposure to spam and high-risk sites and the impact was far-reached.


Search Engine Journal provides great depth of detail in their Payday update page.


Google Pirate update


Launched in 2012, the main focus of the Google Pirate update was on copyright. Websites that contained copyright infringements filed in the DMCA system were all targets. This update aimed to create a cleaner and more honest internet with original content. If your website consisted of copy/paste material then you were in trouble. Today there are tools to check copyright breaches and duplicate content for compliance.


Google EMD (Exact Match Domain) Update


Do you remember when you chose a domain name based on the keywords you wanted to target and rank for? Well, that was the aim of the Google Exact Match Domain update which also had a big impact on modern search.


What this update aimed to achieve was reduce/remove low-quality websites from SERPs. The quality in this instance referred to thin content and spammy sites/links. Trying to boost ranking with links, keyword stuffing and domain match will get you into a lot of trouble.


Google Top Heavy Update


I am sure you are not the only internet user that gets frustrated by websites filled with adverts. There was once a phase where there were so many of these sites that reading information was hard. Welcome, the Top-Heavy Update. This Google Algorithm update launched to stop sites with lots of ads from ranking well. What is important to note about this is the ongoing nature of this update. If a website with lots of ads got penalised it may fix and regain rankings.


Google Algorithm update in summary


A lot has happened in the SEO landscape over the last 7 years. In fact, the SEO industry has turned upside down but all for the better. Google Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) are the best they have ever been. Rankings are the most relevant they have ever been. Moreover, website and content marketers are providing more value than ever before.


Improvements are thanks to the tremendous effort and focus on end users from Google. They watched, listened and implemented and evoked a change.


What is the moral of the story? What is the most consistent theme throughout all the updates? Quality and honesty. You should provide high-quality content to users and earn links naturally. Your content should be of sufficient length with relevance to promote interaction. Lastly, you should consider your audience in everything you do. Write and design for your audience first then optimise for search engines.

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