Let's face it, how we approach search engine optimization (SEO) today differs from how it was done ten years ago. One key reason is that search engine algorithms have been refined to better serve user needs.
While many algorithm updates are subtle and largely invisible to users, at least once a year, Google rolls out a major one that drastically changes how sites are indexed and shown in search engine results pages (SERPs). These critical Google updates are usually disclosed before their release to give website owners time to adapt.
In this article, we'll go over the history of search and how it has changed with each major update to Google's algorithm.
Although Google's history predates 2011, the Panda update in 2011 marked the beginning of the modern era of search engine optimization. With this update, Google aimed to penalize sites solely focused on search engine rankings.
Panda was released to help Google fulfill its promise to provide users with high-quality results. This update included a new ranking signal that punished keyword stuffing and content farms. By weeding out thin, spammy, and otherwise low-quality content from the top search results, it helped improve search results overall.
The Penguin update aimed to penalize spammy websites and those who employed unethical link-building strategies. It examined the origin of a website's backlinks to determine if they were organic or had been purchased to artificially boost a site's ranking because people used to pay for links as a quick way to move up in search results. This update effectively ended this practice by removing the value of links obtained by low-effort strategies like link farms and private blog networks.
The Google Hummingbird algorithm update had a substantial impact on how the search engine functioned. Because of this change, Google can better comprehend search intent. It helped the search engine correctly interpret the context of user searches and website data, leading to improved results.
Since this Google update was expected to drastically alter search engine rankings, the industry used the term "Mobilegeddon" to describe it. In 2015, mobile devices accounted for more than half of all Google search inquiries, so it makes sense that this change was made. With this update, Google prioritized mobile-friendly sites in its mobile search rankings.
With the Possum update, local search results improved a lot. Before this update, it was complicated for businesses to rank for keywords related to a specific location if they were based on the outskirts of that city. This update addressed these types of challenges. Furthermore, it raised the significance of the searcher's physical location and the sensitivity to differences in local terms.
The Medic update appeared to greatly impact medical websites and other sites where people could make decisions that could change their lives, like finance, law, and education. Google has implied that the update included the E.A.T. (expertise, authority, trust) signals detailed in the Quality Rater Guidelines, although this has not yet been confirmed.
With this update, Google can better analyze search queries, analyze text, and recognize entities and their relationships using natural language processing technologies. It is the pinnacle of Google's efforts to shift away from relying just on keywords to improve search results and query processing.
Featured Snippets (2020)
As part of this update, duplicate URLs on SERPs that were also shown as featured snippets were removed. Google decided that featured snippets should be counted as part of the top ten links shown in SERPs. Because of this, if your website had been awarded the featured snippet for a particular query and was simultaneously ranking in the second position with one of the regular blue links, your URL would be deleted from the second listing.
Page Experience Update (2021)
The Page Experience update, which rolled out gradually through 2021, offers a new ranking signal that accounts for metrics evaluating the actual user experience regarding loading speed, interaction, and visual stability. For website owners, this means that Google will consider their overall page experience more thoroughly.
It's clear that Google has made great strides forward since the 2010s. During the first part of the decade, its most significant updates targeted eliminating spammy results and penalizing sites that tried to game the system. Over time, however, algorithm updates have expanded the relevance of search results to the specific needs of desktop, mobile, and local users.
If you're struggling to make sense of Google updates and navigate through the best digital marketing practices and SEO, Connection Model can help. Contact us today.
Written By: David Carpenter