Here at OutrankLabs, http://outranklabs.com we’re always attuned to the latest happening with Google’s algorithm and their impact on search engine optimization.
Google updates used to be the defining milestones of SEO. For a period of several years, it seemed Google would unleash a massive update every few months that would send our rankings and strategies into disarray. The Panda and Penguin updates were landmarks here, followed by a number of new iterations for each of those major algorithm changes; each time, search rankings would become volatile and search marketers would need to find new ways to achieve their goals, at least in some respects.
But lately, Google’s pace of development appears to have slowed down. The company has switched to more gradual rollouts, making smaller algorithmic changes and unleashing them bit by bit, so they’re hardly noticeable. They’ve also made fewer changes in general, presumably because they already have a solid foundation for search in place. With that being said, Google is still making changes and improvements, so how exactly has Google changed in the past year, and what effects has this had on SEO?
First up, there’s Google RankBrain, a modifying machine learning algorithm that works in conjunction with the Hummingbird update, which was released in 2013 to improve how Google interpreted user queries. With it, Google attempted to understand the semantics behind a user’s query, rather than simply breaking it down into decipherable keywords and phrases. RankBrain exists to handle particularly complex or poorly phrased user queries (which, as you can imagine, are common). As a machine learning algorithm, it attempts to learn from user queries and gradually update Google’s abilities to understand what users are really asking for. This didn’t have a massive bearing on search results, and doesn’t have much impact on SEO—other than the fact that Google’s interpretation of long-tail keyword phrases is becoming more sophisticated.
Back in February of this year, Google made some major changes to its AdWords layout. The company completely did away with the traditional ad layout reserved to the right-hand side. Instead, for most commercial searches, it introduced a block of four ads to appear at the top of search results. Ordinarily, organic search results and paid advertisements are two completely separate realms; one has no impact on the other. However, this change had some significant impact on the click-through rates for various keyword terms, especially highly competitive ones, throwing a wrench into some organizations’ ranking strategies and forcing them to seek more niche opportunities.
There was a bit of measurable, strange activity in Google search results back in January. Multiple tracking tools seemed to note far higher-than-usual volatility in search rankings, and after some prodding, Google admitted that this was some kind of core algorithm update. However, we don’t have any details about exactly what this algorithm update changed.
Further volatility was noted in May, when search optimizers noticed nearly a week of volatiles changes. However, this time, Google didn’t admit to any kind of update, leaving most optimizers more confused than when they started. No discernable features or qualities of this update provided any clues as to its content.
Over the past year, Google has stepped up its efforts in favoring apps as possible replacements for traditional websites. It had already introduced app deep linking and the provision of apps in search results, but back in November, Google released an “app streaming” update that allowed users to view app-specific content in apps they hadn’t even downloaded yet. Though this update was reserved for only certain types of apps, it’s a clear indication that Google is pushing the future of apps forward, and you can likely expect to see more app-friendly results and changes in the future.
New Mobile Friendly Standards
Google released the original Mobilegeddon update more than a year ago, back in April of 2015, with its main purpose being to reward sites that it considers mobile-friendly and penalize any sites that still haven’t updated to the new standards. It followed up this update more recently, with a second mobile-friendly update back in May of this year. This update didn’t bring any revolutionary or devastating consequences, but did reinforce Google’s preferential treatment toward mobile-friendly apps.
What Comes Next?
Google hasn’t come out with any significant updates since the second mobile-friendly update in May, and most of its updates are small, gradual, hardly noticeable rollouts. So what can we expect to come next from the search engine giant? More mobile-friendly updates are probably in the pipeline, even after the two that have already been released, and I’d be willing to bet we’ll see more app-friendly updates in the coming months as well. Beyond that, we’ll probably see basic content or link quality updates, some layout changes every now and then, and other minor shifts in volatility thanks to RankBrain and other subtle movers and shakers. The days of big-ticket, game-changing Google updates may be finally behind us.