If you own a business and you’re serious about its growth, then where your website is positioned in Google is vitally important. We all know that right?
Having a great looking and a professionally done website is important but if no one can find it, then it’s not doing you much good is it?.
Google is the boss of the Internet with over 60% of all searches going through their search engine.
So as a business owner, it makes sense to try and get some of it as part of your overall marketing strategy. How you do that is via Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Many small business owners who have attempted doing their own SEO often become quite frustrated with Google. Just mentioning SEO to them causes a range of emotions – one of which is frustration. They try one tactic and it works one day but doesn’t the next.
“…… but Google keeps changing their algorithms!”
Yup… they do.
Google is constantly growing and developing as a search engine. This means their algorithm is getting better at filtering out the chaff from the wheat.
If you are interested, below I will give you a bit of a rundown on all of the major algorithm changes that have occurred recently. As bland as that may seem to read, there is actually a very important lesson to be had.
If you get it – you’ll never have to worry about any future algo updates ever again. In fact, you’ll end up embracing them! If you’re in a rush, allow me to summarize the gist of it all for you.
Way back in the dark ages of the Internet, Google ranked web pages based on the Keywords listed on each page. If you wanted to rank for let’s say, “Dog Training”, the websites that contained this keyword ranked higher than those that didn’t.
Google then discovered, like we did, that you could trick your way to the top of the search engine by stuffing as many of these keywords on your page as you could. It actually did work!
But then they made another change and stopped placing so much emphasis on the keywords on a page. Instead, they then focused on the links pointing to a website for their ranking signals.
So when another website had a link pointing to your site that said “dog training”, Google would read that link and more importantly, the keyword in that link (‘Anchor Text’), and say… ‘well if the link says dog training, then your website must be about dog training’
It was like casting votes in an election.
The more links that pointed to you and said ‘dog training’, Google considered them like “votes” in a popularity contest. The more you had the higher you ranked. The more you had that said your keyword eg Dog Training, the higher you ranked for that search query.
Guess what happened?
Website owners went out and spammed the crap out of as many other sites with links containing the keywords they wanted to rank for.
And it worked like gangbusters!
Websites, whether or not they offered value to their visitors, ranked exceptionally well in direct proportion to how many anchor text links they had.
Bang…. another major algorithm update.
The carnage from this one was huge – many businesses died overnight. Google was ruthless about it too. Just mention the words “Panda” or “Penguin” to some and it’ll still cause them to bust out in a sweat.
Many more algorithm changes occurred and continue to occur (more on them below), but just take a minute to consider the underlying theme of all these algorithm changes.
Google is no doubt excellent at providing you and I with the best information when we search online – that’s why it grew to become the most dominant search engine.
Do you think they achieved this reputation by accident? And do you reckon they want to keep it? Absolutely!!
Google is the boss of the Internet because they developed the best technology (algorithms) to sift through the billions of websites to try and show you the best ones. Other search engines died off because they couldn’t deliver the same quality search results.
Internet users gravitated to using Google because it gave them the best user experience. If you, me or the guy next door wanted to know something, do something, or go somewhere on the Internet, we expect Google to give us the BEST result, don’t we?
If a search engine couldn’t perform that basic (or what we now think is basic) function then we ain’t gonna be happy.
Google constantly updates their algorithm to ensure it constantly finds and delivers the best content for us.
So don’t be afraid or concerned about Googles Algorithm changes or updates. They do it to ensure WE all get the best possible user experience when we use their search engine. It’s actually a good thing to keep those spammy websites at bay – I know I was getting tired of seeing them…
If you are interested to learn more about Googles algorithms, you can continue reading below. I go over a brief history of some of the major algorithm updates and their implications for modern day SEO.
Here is the key message you need to take away from all of this.
For your digital marketing strategy, focus more on creating content that genuinely HELPS your target market, rather than on any tricks to improve your ranking in Google.
By doing this, not only will you increase your perceived Authority and Expertise online, but also the Trust your target audience will have in you and your business.
Here’s the rub… By giving your potential clients an outstanding user experience you are actually giving Google exactly want they are looking for.
And if you do a better job of it than your competitors are, then Google will take great pleasure in showing you on page one.
Okay, so are you ready for a lesson in Google Algorithm history? If you’re anything like my daughter and hear the word “history”, you’d run for the hills! But if you are curious, read on for a snapshot of some of the main points…
Florida Update 2003
The famous (or infamous, depending on how you look at it) is the godfather of all the major updates. This was back during the very early days of the Internet where keyword stuffing and shady tactics were hammered for the first time.
Remember all those websites with the same keyword repeated hundreds of times at the bottom of a page?
Those really old 1990s SEO tricks were exactly the tactics that Google wanted to eliminate in an effort to get rid of keyword stuffed crap, obvious spammy content, and people concentrating a lot more on gaming the system than actually providing high-quality content relevant to their search.
This would lead to a series of frequent adjustments.
Google moved from monthly updates to the beginning of a more fluid system that would be able to adapt and adjust in a more fluid way.
While Google was a long way from becoming the search engine giant that it is today, this was the beginning of finding a true algorithmic way of helping to pull up the most relevant results. This was a massive overhaul of search engine results that moved millions of results up or down.
Florida was the first mass turnover of its kind.
Jagger Update 2005
Many people figured out that a major part of Google’s leg up on SEO was the use of backlinks and the keywords that are anchored in them, to push one website above another.
While this led to better results than anyone else could consistently produce at that time, people had started to spam websites with massive numbers of links.
The 2005 Jagger update was the first of several that aimed at getting rid of that. The Jagger series of updates specifically took target at websites bolstered up by hundreds of low-quality or spammy backlinks. Quid quo pro or “reciprocal” links between sites, link farms (sites designed just to put out links), and especially paid links were targeted.
There were at least three major stages of Jagger, and many link manipulators who went for black hat SEO saw their sites get hammered.
Universal Search 2007
This was a massive update that had the heaviest impact because of a forward eye to multi-media and different types of sites.
This was the first time Google took the traditional plain 10 website listings and mixed them up with news stories, related videos, images, local results, and more. This was the first time a search result could bring up a lot more than just basic text listings, which brought a lot of attention to the search engine.
Everyone is now used to seeing YouTube videos, local map results, or news stories.
This all started with the Universal Search and it also led to updates that focused on the timeliness of the story (if news related), video SEO, and the beginning of how geographic searches would eventually work.
This changed a lot of how SEO worked and opened up questions on how other forms of niche SEO could now work.
Vince Update 2009
Vince was and still is, considered a bit of a controversial SEO update and there are still many disagreements over what exactly Vince was and to what extent it affected search results.
This was a major update that especially seemed to change the top results in a lot of searches, especially those related to retail or business.
Matt Cutts of Google called Vince a relatively minor change, but many webmasters and SEO experts disagreed, pointing out to a massive number of changes that specifically seemed to strongly favor big brand names or big established websites.
This was the time when many showed screenshots of search results that displayed 10 Amazon results and nothing else! Often they would show for terms that weren’t even necessarily commercial in nature.
While it’s hard to say to the extent that Vince changed things, many SEOs of the time felt like this actually had a very major and profound impact.
Many believe that this was a precursor to Google wanting to find a way to empirically measure things like “Trust” or “Authority” and to eventually make those a major part of the algorithm (which they are today).
Introducing Localized Results aka “Google Places”
While Google Maps existed before this and there were large area searches that would bring up maps, this is when Google made a very distinctive switch over to matching as many town, county, or city searches as possible with an actual Google map dotted with results.
This was a major SEO shake-up to major websites that were solely information based. Now a search would bring up the map and many of the search results to follow were the top-rated dots on the map.
This focus on localized results would set the stage for how they would treat all of these searches from then on.
May Day 2010
May Day was not only a massive update in its own right, but it would also foreshadow the infamous Google Panda update that soon followed.
This seemed to especially target longtail keyword traffic and especially thin sites with really generic or basic information propped up by a lot of various related keywords and backlinks that did the same.
A recurring pattern began to appear.
Google really wanted to target and penalize websites that focused more on keyword manipulation, tricks and hacks as opposed to actually making great content. They’ve long said that “Content is King” and the May Day update was a strong push to try to continue to march in that direction.
Creating ten pages of thin content around ten related longtail keywords, and ranking them with longtail keyword anchor text from thin backlinks was a common SEO strategy that the May Day update looked to stomp out.
Panda was the first of massive modern upheaval updates.
Originally called The Farmer or The Panda update, eventually, the update would stick with the name Panda. There were at least four major Panda updates in addition to a lot of smaller monthly updates and adjustments as Google kept making changes to attempt to correct and perfect this algorithm.
This was a huge algorithm update!
This one hit a lot of websites hard, affecting a full 12% of all search results (even Google confirmed that number) and many SEOs believed that number was actually underestimated.
Many businesses went out of business because of this update!
Websites would not only drop a little bit, but many major sites pretty much dropped off the face of the Earth completely. This update rarely made minor adjustments in results but caused huge upheavals in all those results that were affected.
Panda focused on cracking down on a wide variety of issues including:
– Sites with thin on page content
– Content farms (this led to the death of most article directories)
– Websites with high ad-to-content ratios
– Websites ad heavy at the top
– Websites with “inferior” content of any kind
– Websites with questionable material of any kind
This was not only a major first step to Google rolling out their modern algorithm but it was also seen as a strong response to a major problem.
There were a massive number of sites that were using content written by foreign writers. It was obvious that English was their second language. Also, websites propped up due to massive backlink spamming and had thin content that added little to no value to their users were also hit hard.
In addition, cutting out article directories, web 2.0 websites, and many other “content farms” also took away the power of those backlinks which affected search results even more.
It was another algorithm change that had taken a strong hand to over-optimization. In other words, this update was specifically designed to go after webspam.
They looked for a wide number of red flags that included stuffing keywords, seeing if every post had the same % of keyword stuffing, questionable backlinks, how interlinking was done, and more.
This was said to affect 3.1% of all search results, but many agree that this number is again conservative, especially once you bring in the multiple updates that would follow to further build on this month to month, just as Panda did (and continued to do).
The Caffeine Update
Around the same time as Penguin, the Caffeine update was brought out adding a clear SEO bonus for websites or blogs that were updated on a consistent basis.
This hit news-related queries especially hard.
Even regular blogs and websites noticed drops if there were no updates over long periods of time. Whereas there were positive ranking changes to websites that updated frequently.
There are arguments over how much of Caffeine is still in effect, but the idea behind it is still a part of the modern way Google ranks sites.
Mobilegeddon: A False Flag?
Mobilegeddon was a promised update where Google made clear that having a mobile-friendly website would not only be a boost to rankings but that not having a mobile-friendly site would result in a massive penalty.
However, whether or not the update really moved rankings all that much is still part of a massive debate with some arguing that there was virtually no change at all.
Still, Google made it clear they want websites to be mobile friendly and it makes sense if you’re a webmaster to give them what they want.
Meet RankBrain (2015)
One of the largest parts of Google’s algorithm was a machine-learning software program that Google has continued to develop.
This was the first sign of them developing their software to the point where they could judge nebulous things such as “quality,” “trust,” “authority,” or “reader-friendliness.” This was a major announcement and one that really focused on how close Google was getting to their goal of making good content king.
Showing up in spring of 2017, Fred was one last strong swipe at low-value content, and sites that were clearly focusing on revenue without giving value to the reader.
Pinning down the number of search results affected by this update has been much more difficult.
This update reinforces the fact that truly high-quality content that is useful, informational, and delivers on the searcher’s needs is what Google is going to reward – and they are getting better at finding it than ever.
The Past Points To The Future
While the practical SEO importance of many of these early changes has long since faded away, by studying them you can clearly see the pattern Google has created.
Google is clearly showing that the usefulness and quality of content matters the most.
Add in some smart SEO with always giving Google what they want, and you can stay ahead of the curve and get the results you truly want.