There’s really nothing new about the ever-changing landscape of SEO. In fact, Google implements changes in its own search algorithm up to 600 times a year, with at least one or more changes every day. This has left a lot of SEO professionals always on the lookout for those changes and learning more about them to incorporate in their own SEO strategies. However, due to these changes, what seems like a viable SEO strategy today may no longer work tomorrow.

Keeping up with all these changes can be really hard, but it’s also necessary in order to draw consistent traffic toward your website. Let’s have a look at what those major changes are, what updates Google has made to its algorithm, and how SEO agencies can prepare for more future updates.

Biggest Google Algorithm Updates that Took the SEO World by Storm

1. RankBrain

RankBrain was announced back in October 2015, making headlines during its emergence. It’s considered Google’s machine-learning element for its core algorithm. Compared to other Google algorithm updates that focus on relevance or authority evaluations, RankBrain is more of an enhancement to the Hummingbird update. 

However, instead of simply being an update to Google’s algorithm, it’s a system that’s fully capable of learning to update itself as time goes by. It’s specifically designed to learn language phrasing, making it better at digging into the search queries that are made by users. What’s even more interesting is that RankBrain was able to outsmart Google’s search engineers by scoring 80% in an experimented that’s conducted by Google.

This particular update is quite useful for around 15% of the never-before-searched queries faced by Google on a daily basis.

2. Mobile-Friendly Update

As the name implies, the mobile-friendly update was rolled out in an attempt to prioritize websites that are optimized for mobile search while penalizing those that don’t have a mobile-friendly design.

Released in 2015, the update – which was also called Mobilegeddon – caused the entire SEO community to go crazy, exaggerating the effects of this update to be more apocalyptic in nature. However, during that time, a lot of websites are already mobile-friendly, and even those that don’t can easily do so with the use of several tools at their disposal.

Overall, the mobile-friendly update ensures that a website’s content can be easily read without having to zoom in to see the content. It also means that all content can lead appropriately on all devices, with every link, button, and feature easily accessible using your fingertips.

Another mobile-friendly update was also released in 2016, though it mostly focused on reinforcing the concepts that the first mobile update released. Then in 2018, Google included mobile page speed as one of its ranking factors for mobile search results.

3. Pigeon

Google’s Pigeon update was introduced to update local ranking signals and provide users with better “near me” results in their local organic searches. Released in 2014, the Pigeon update brought both local and national search together. After that, national authority signals become one of the major factors for ranking in the local results.

The Pigeon update was considered a rare move for Google, considering it’s a partial response from local review pages like Yelp that don’t get enough visibility in the search results. Regardless, it proved to be a major help for local businesses.

4. Hummingbird

Hummingbird can be considered a particularly interesting update that brought a major overhaul to Google’s core algorithm. In fact, it has changed the way Google search works even up to this day. It was released back in August 2013 and has paved the way for semantic search in an effort to decipher a user’s search intent instead of mapping out individual keywords.

Though this only features a small difference, it actually weakened old strategies that heavily focused on keywords while providing power to naturally-written content that involves contextual relevance signals. Apart from that, the Hummingbird has also resulted in an increase of voice searches that are performed by users.

According to Google, this update alone has affected around 90% of all the searches around the world.

5. Penguin

Penguin was a major update rolled out by Google back in 2012. Aptly called the “webspam algorithm update”, It consists of a series of updates that aim to target manipulative link building practices as well as link spam, otherwise known as “blackhat” SEO.

With Penguin, it became possible to make valuable search results a lot more visible than before by penalizing websites that have low-quality content. Though a lot of sites tried to clean up their links, they’re still caught by the Penguin penalty for months, causing their rankings to drop significantly.

Apart from cracking down on those websites that use blackhat SEO practices, the update also improved Google’s ability to detect “natural” backlinks compared to spammy ones. Due to this, around 3% of all search queries have been affected.

After the first Penguin update, Google then set to roll out 3 different updates to further reinforce the changes brought on by Penguin. The Penguin 2.0, which was released in May 2013, didn’t reveal any specific details, but most experts speculate that this focused more on page-level factors. The succeeding update, Penguin 3.0, was released in October 2014 and introduced minor changes with very little impact.

Lastly, the Penguin 4,0 which was released in September 2016 focused on devaluing bad links and reversing some of the penalties brought about by the previous Penguin updates.

6. Panda

Like the Penguin update, Panda also includes a series of updates, except that it focused on quality content. Due to this major update which was released in February 2011, a lot of inexpert material in Google’s search results have suffered from penalties. The update particularly focused on the low-quality content produced by the so-called “content farms”. The websites who have experienced a drop in the rankings were forced to improve the quality of their content in order to get back to their previous rank.

The reason why this update was rolled out is pretty simple. Google wants to give its users access to the best content possible online. Therefore, it places emphasis on sites that have “high-quality” content, placing them in higher rankings as opposed to those with low-quality content.

More specifically, the update targeted various content farms that were designed to produce “fluff” content in an attempt to increase rankings. Apart from that, the update also penalized sites that have spun content, content that are stuffed with keywords, and those that are unnaturally written.

How SEO Has Changed in the Last 10 Years

Apart from the updates in Google’s algorithm, there have also been tons of changes that happened in the world of SEO for the past 10 years. Some of these changes are as follows:

1. Rise of Content

As the emphasis on keywords deteriorated, brands have been focusing on producing high-quality content in order to improve their rankings. In recent years, Google has rolled out Panda and Penguin updates which killed off the practice of keyword stuffing and offered rewards to sites that produce useful, high-quality, and informative content.

This means that sites that have poor-quality content suffer from penalties on their ranking. At the same time, sites that have duplicate or spun content are de-ranked and even de-indexed. The same applied to websites that inserted keywords several times in web pages, despite being unrelated, in order to increase their rankings.

With all these practices being penalized, great and high-quality content became the norm. For search engines, these websites tend to be more authoritative and relevant, thereby causing their rankings to increase in the search engine results pages.

2. Local SEO

Local SEO has changed significantly with the introduction of the Pigeon update. This particular update is a major gamechanger for local business owners as it allowed their businesses to gain more visibility in the local search results. This simply means that local searchers became more and more common, not to mention they become more location-specific.

Apart from that, mobile devices have also played a role in bringing brands a lot closer to their customers. This has given optimized websites more edge when it comes to local searches.

3. The Death of Link Schemes

Google defines link schemes as any links designed to manipulate a site’s ranking on the search results. Though this might sound ambiguous, the simples explanation is that link schemes are any attempts to influence a website’s ranking using links.

Around the 2000s, Google has already been working hard in dealing with blackhat and spam-based practices. However, it was in 2012 when they have a major crackdown on all those practices with the Penguin update. Due to the update, the only way you can earn the authority you need to rank your website is by valuable link building and natural link attraction practices.

By 2013, Google also considered link building practices that were once called “white hat” also “black hat” strategies.

4. Mobile Prioritization

Around 2014, mobile traffic has managed to exceed desktop traffic. This has prompted Google to emphasize the importance of mobile optimization to accommodate users who mainly search using their mobile devices.

With the rise of mobile devices, marketers also started thinking about SEO strategies that will fit with the guidelines set by Google. However, though it’s not really required, it’s vital to optimize your website for mobile search due to the massive benefits it offers. Apart from that, Google is penalizing websites that don’t offer their own mobile-friendly version and generate errors for their mobile users.

5. Importance of Page Speed

Back in 2018, mobile page speed has become one of the major factors used by Google for ranking mobile search. However, it was back in 2011 when Google announced that page speed can have an impact on the search rankings.

Even though there’s no clear explanation of the correlation between search ranking and speed metrics, it actually took off eventually, though it did take some time. And by 2018, mobile page speed has been used by Google for ranking mobile search results. However, despite that, a large number of websites still failed to fix their loading speed and the overall optimization of their mobile site versions.

6. Changes in Keyword Placement and Density

Keywords were the pillar that search engines break down in order to rank a website. Back in the day, if a website doesn’t have a specific keyword, then it would not show up in the search results. However, changes in SEO, particularly with Google’s algorithm, keywords experienced a so-called “soft” death. This happened right after the Hummingbird update rolled out.

With Hummingbird and the introduction of semantic searches, Google considers matching keywords to have very little value than it was before. Even though proper keyword placement and density is still relevant, their impact is not as big as it used to.

7. The Importance of Web Security

The 2014 update by Google appeared to include web security as part of its ranking factors, specifically favoring HTTPS websites. HTTPS was actually started to have some correlation with higher search rankings on the search results, thereby placing an emphasis on web security.

As it turns out, however, web security can be a traffic enabler, especially for an emotional user who places trust on a website with HTTPS. This, in turn, can help fuel any SEO efforts. This simply means that even though it doesn’t really have an impact on your ranking, it can affect your user experience and bounce rate which, in turn, can affect your rankings.

How Can SEO Agencies Watch Out for More Google Algorithm Updates

It’s quite rare for Google to announce algorithm updates, and when an announcement does come, it’s only because others have already discovered them. Fortunately, there are ways you can employ in order to watch out for any Google algorithm updates so you can be prepared for any changes, minor or major.

They’re as follows:

1. Have a “seismograph” in place on your website

One of the ways you can watch out for any possible algorithm update from Google is to use analytics software. With the help of such software, you’ll be able to detect any fluctuations in the search traffic of your website.

There are a number of tools you can use for this, one of which is Google’s very own Google Analytics.

2. Watch the SERP weather reports

Apart from analytics software, you can also use tons of other tools and websites for monitoring changes in Google’s algorithms. Some of these useful tools and websites are as follows:

  • CognitiveSEO Signals – this is a powerful tool capable of monitoring up to 100,000 keywords on a single day. It works by tracking any ranking fluctuations in local, mobile, and desktop searches.
  • Algoroo – this tool can track up to 17,000 keywords on both mobile and desktop results with a flux metric known as “roo”. Basically, the higher the roo value, the higher the volatility. On the other hand, a low roo value simply means there are no significant changes in a day.
  • MozCast – a popular tool used for tracking changes in the SERPs, MozCast displays changes in a weather reporting style. It provides a “temperature” representing the turbulence of Google’s algorithm every 24 hours. If it shows a hotter temperature report, it simply means that Google’s rankings are fluctuating a lot.
  • Rank Ranger Rank Risk Index Tool – RankRanger can monitor 10,000 domains and keywords every day in order to identify fluctuations in both mobile and desktop results.
  • SEMRush Sensor – considered one of the most popular algorithm tracking tools out there, SEMRush Sensor displays changes in both mobile and desktop results which are then broken down into 20 categories.
  • Accuranker “Grump” Rating – this tool monitors Google’s “mood” and highlights any fluctuations in its algorithm.
  • Panguin Tool – this is a free tool that allows you to check if a Google algorithm update has any impact on your organic sessions.

3. Follow industry resources

There are a lot of industry resources you can follow in order to get an inside scoop on the latest news and updates regarding Google’s algorithm. You might want to check out the following links:

Is SEO Still Relevant?

Despite the many changes to the SEO industry and the major overhauls on Google’s algorithm, SEO still matters a lot, and it’s even becoming more important now than ever. Needless to say, it remains a major component of a successful marketing effort.

The reason why some people tend to question its importance and relevance is due to the fact that major algorithm changes emphasize making high-quality content, causing some marketers to think that as long as they write quality content, SEO is no longer necessary.

Even though high-quality content is excellent for creating customer trust and user interaction, it will remain invisible in the search results. SEO is the driving force that causes users to find it in the first place. To answer the question, SEO still remains relevant up to this day, especially when done right.

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