Understanding Google’s algorithm changes and how to prosper in 2014

Google’s 3 major algo changes you need to understand

Target HummingbirdThe whole SEO community felt major shockwaves during the course of 2013. It was a year like no other. It seemed as though new, hard hitting algo releases were being unveiled at brake neck speed with little or no time to take stock or react. Google had officially taken the gloves off!

The famous array of seemingly innocent sounding zoo animals in Google’s codenamed updates and search engine changes had us all quaking in our boots – literally! Panda, Penguin and the new Hummingbird semantic search update had us scratching our heads, wondering how to adapt to the changes to not only grow but simply maintain acquired Google ranks. And that was just half the battle.

Most SEO’s didn’t know when or where the next changes were due so for the most part, it was hard to react when any immediate knee-jerk reactions could cause even more damage further down the track. As the saying goes, it was simply best to just sit tight and wait for the worst to blow over. And those in the know did exactly just that.

So exactly what had changed with Google?

Now that the majority of these updates have settled down and the ‘dancing’ has reduced to a mere shuffle here or there, the majority of SEO’s are now in the process of really understanding and analysing what these algo and page rank changes did, and what they were essentially for.

Although Google has a tendency to keep their cards close to their chest, it is for certain that any major updates are released to make improvements and weed out the bad. What they regarded as bad however is down to your own interpretation. What we can now surmise is exactly the impact these algorithm changes had and who they affect.

So what did these algo updates do and who did they affect?

Panda

By far the longest running algo update and has had several smaller, incremental updates since its first introduction in February 2011. Last year it was updated again and it’s core purpose is to weed out websites that contain low quality ‘duplicate’ content.

Google has been in fairness, very forthright in declaring that they want to make searching a useful experience when using Google. There’s nothing worse than searching for something only to find the first result is a website crammed full of copied content or is simply a gateway or satellite website aimed purely at redirecting you to another worthless site; just to grab your dollars.

If you’ve been a culprit of this tactic, watch out as your site will no doubt go into free fall and frankly, you deserve it. Google aims to reward websites that actually contain original, informative content that is relevant and useful to searchers. Anything other than that is just a waste of everybody’s time so kudos to Google for trying to do this.

What this does unfortunately mean is that the ‘big boys’ get the lions share on the SERPs whilst the smaller run, hobbyist sites will see a drop even though they have great content in bulk. Volume unfortunately wins in these situations every time.

Penguin

Our next cute and cuddly friend follows in the same footsteps of Panda however, this algo update focuses more on the on-page factors of your website to ensure the source code and content is not over-optimised; and follows Google’s infamous Webmaster Guidelines.

A very common trick by many SEO’s in the past was to overuse the ‘headings’ tags and stuff keywords onto their web pages to manipulate the search results. In fact, if there was a way to stuff keywords into various parts of the source code, some SEO’s would go the whole hog.

Okay, so it worked in the past but not anymore! Anything remotely ‘spammy’ would get clobbered and the most recent Penguin 2.0 and 2.1 releases not only hammered various sites for doing this, it also analysed the quality of the websites back links and took down some major players in the market.

If your back link profile looked in the slightest bit unnatural or clearly intended to manipulate the search results, you will have seen a drop in ranks and traffic. Gone are the days where volume and diversity in back links will push your ranks up. Google only wants you to have ‘natural’ links that are sourced from relevant, trustworthy and authoritative sources – not easy in today’s world but this is the challenge they have laid down.

Hummingbird

Mostly regarded as the least sinister of Google’s 2013 updates, this tropical bird update was more about improving and refreshing Google’s ‘page rank’ system plus improving the search engine’s ability to understand longer phrased keyword searches and return better, more relevant results.

The biggest reason behind this change is the major shift towards smart, mobile devices that now use voice based commands to carry out tasks, including searches. Naturally, a user will use more conversational, question-based queries as opposed to one to two worded keyword based searches mostly used in the past on desktop computers so to deal with this major change in user habits, Google rolled out Hummingbird to handle this development better.

Whilst this update doesn’t greatly affect your website’s ability to rank better or worse, it does show that keyword research and target search terms need to be expanded and rethought out to cater for this changing trend.

Everyone is in Google’s crosshairs!

Whether your website was affected positively, negatively or neither by recent changes unveiled in 2013, do no think that you are safe from any future updates. Google’s planned changes are just the beginning of a search engine revolution and whilst they claim to be only going after the bad guys, most commonly labelled the ‘black hat” SEO’s; think again.

Link building is no longer a process that can be done with haphazard regularity or recklessness. It takes planning and lengthy research to find and source trusted link sources that will ensure you stay well out of the way of Google’s dreaded crosshairs.

If 2013 was the year of the algorithm change, 2014 should be the year of the attitude adjustment. 2013 changed the nature of link building like never before. Numerous old fashioned methods are not only ineffective, they can self-destruct.

There are numerous doom and gloom merchants preaching the “end of link building”, but upon a deeper, more considered analysis, all this means is we simply have to adapt and revise our methods. Nothing has changed if you built links the right way in the first place.

Those preaching the end are most likely the spammers who just got burned and have no way out of the mess they are in. We say great – because it means us quality, reputable link builders get to clean up their mess and make the web a better place with less spam.

Quality and authority is the key to success

So if it hasn’t dawned on you by now, the key to successful link building in 2014 and beyond is simply down to quality all round.

This means your onsite content needs to be regularly updated with informative, original and useful articles, news and blogs. It means your website needs to be devised for human consumption, not deliberately designed to fool search engines into ranking you higher. It means that any links you build need to be from trusted sources, with high page rank, authority and trust.

Are these things difficult to achieve? To a degree yes but in the main, no. They do require time and planning and with Google’s latest changes making the process tougher and narrowed, it just means that we have to get our houses in order and produce the best possible end product we can.

There’s no point feeling like Google is out to get us as this is not the case. They are simply raising the bar and saying loud and clear: “If you build a quality website, you will be rewarded!”

So if you need us to help with your link building plans or you’re one of the unfortunate ones to feel the wrath of last years updates, get in touch with us and we’ll get to work on putting your website on the right path.

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