The name Google is synonymous with online search and for good reason. The tech giant accounts for 90% of all internet searches, essentially deciding which web pages get the most views, due to their prominence in the search results.

These “decisions” are based on the Google Search Algorithm, a complex system that looks at a range of factors and signals to determine what pages should rank where in their search engine.

There are hundreds of different ranking factors, with some of the most important being:

  • Quality content
  • Backlinks
  • Relevance
  • Page speed
  • Mobile friendliness
  • Freshness
  • Domain Authority
  • User experience
  • Website security

When someone performs a search on the web, Google (and other engines) look at the above metrics and a vast number of others, to come up with what they deem are the most important search results for that keyword.

Google Algorithm updates

The search results provided by Google are by no means perfect. And for that reason, they are continually making changes to the mathematical formula or ‘set of rules’ used to determine the ranking of web pages in its search results. The importance (and thus weighting) of different ranking factors can change regularly. This is known as a Google Algorithm Update.

Google regularly updates its algorithms to improve the quality and relevance of search results, making changes in line with evolving user behaviour, technological advancements, and the need to combat low-quality, manipulative SEO practices.

This history of Google Algorithm Updates

In the early days, algorithm changes were few and far between. The first update of note was in 2003, known as “Florida”. It penalised keyword stuffing and wreaked havoc with the search results at the time. In 2005, “Jagger” took aim at low quality links, including link farms and reciprocal links.

In 2011, “Panda” became one of the most significant Google Algorithm updates, affecting up to 12% of search results.  Thin content, too many ads and low-quality sites were the primary focus.

2012 saw another major update with “Penguin” focusing on spamming. “Hummingbird” gained all the attention in 2013, with changes to semantic search.

In 2014, “Pigeon” turned the local-SEO results on their head, changing the way local cues were interpreted by the search engine.

RankBrain was released in 2015, revealing that machine learning was now one of the most influential ranking factors.

In 2018 we saw a Core Update called “Medic”, which had massive impact, but affected sites in the health and wellness niche a lot more than other niches.

The “BERT” update in 2019 saw Google upgrade their algorithm and underlying hardware to support a new natural language processing (NLP) model, to better interpret natural language searches and understand context.

Over the past few years, we have seen a transition to core updates being rolled out for months at a time, rather than short sharp changes.

All of Google’s algorithm updates have had the intention of making their search results better, whether it’s by improving search relevance, combating spam, enhancing user experience.

Why is this important to Business Owners?

As a business owner, you should have a website. And if you have a website, your visibility is in the hands of Google. Hence, algorithm updates can have a significant impact on the visibility and ranking of websites in search engine results pages (SERPs), and hence strongly increase or decrease the number of people coming to your website. One small tweak to their ranking process could see you disappear off page 1 and lose all your traffic!

Hence, there are two main considerations here:

  • Your marketing strategy shouldn’t rely 100% on organic search.
  • You (or a digital marketing agency on your behalf) should be actively monitoring Google Algorithm changes and ensuring your website (and SEO strategy) is in line with the best practices and the latest data.

Preparing for Algorithm Updates

Website owners (and digital marketers) can prepare for algorithm updates, to soften any negative impacts that may be felt, and to put themselves in a position to benefit when the updates occur.

Following best SEO practices, creating high-quality content, and staying informed about industry trends are the 3 most important ways to ride the waves that are Google changes.

Case Study:

Our SEO agency was getting some fantastic traction for a client in the renovations space. We increased their monthly organic traffic from around 30 visits to almost 800 in just 2 years. Then a big algorithm update hit, and their rankings for a number of keywords dropped, resulting in their monthly traffic falling to around 600, then 500, then 300. This had a flow on effect to their leads, and despite it being largely out of our control, the client was looking at pulling the plug on the campaign.

renovation seo client

Thankfully due to our initial success, and transparency around what was happening – as well as what we had planned to rectify it – the client decided to keep his campaign going. Within a couple of months, we had got their rankings moving back up, and monthly traffic increased to 500 visits again. A few months later, with further tweaks and subsequent ranking increases, their traffic increased to over 900 visitors/month, more than they were receiving prior to the algorithm updates, and 30x higher than when the campaign initially started!

Some Insightful Quotes from Industry Experts

“It’s important to look beyond rankings and rather ensure a website is usable for everyone.”

Ruth Everett, Technical SEO Analyst at DeepCrawl

We love this quote as it highlights the importance of providing an optimal user experience. Cowboys may be able to use questionable tactics to get a site ranking on page 1, but if the site isn’t relevant or has poor usability, it won’t rank high for long!

“Ensure you’re writing content the way that you’d explain it to someone over the phone.”

Carolyn Lyden, Lead SEO at Search Hermit

Keywords are important for ranking success, but they should never be used at the expense of quality, natural sounding content. Over-optimisation can actually hurt rankings and even if you make page 1, your information may not resonate with readers and you won’t convert. If readers love your content, it’s likely Google will too.

“A good SEO professional not only understands the searcher but the competitive landscape as well.”

Ryan Jones, SEO Group Director at Razorfish

It can be enticing to rank for a keyword that is relevant to your business and gets high search volumes. But if you don’t assess the competition, you could be wasting time and money trying to get onto page 1 of Google for a phrase that is dominated by big corporations. Assessing the competition of keywords against your current authority gives you an understanding of the feasibility of ranking well, and what’s required. Targeting lower competition keywords that are still relevant and searched can be a smart tactic, especially for smaller businesses.

In summary, search engine algorithms operate dynamically, and thus the need for ongoing adaptation is paramount. Staying informed and proactive in your SEO efforts will maximise the chances of ongoing ranking success and allow you to bounce back when Google decides to turn things upside down!