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Google Algorithm Updates

Google is constantly changing its algorithm, which determines what search results are returned when users enter a search phrase into its search engine. Conservative estimates place the number of updates at 600 per year. Most of these changes are minor and don’t result in noticeable changes for the user or webmasters. However, there have been several major updates over the last few months that have altered the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page) and the results themselves. Below is a run-down:

2016 Google Algorithm changes

Penguin 4.0 – September 23rd, 2016

2 years after the last Penguin update, Google has released the new Penguin 4.0. This is will be the last ever release of the Penguin algorithm as its now updating in real-time. This means that you can fix your site after a penalty quicker, but also be hit quicker by its spam filters.

Mobile-friendly 2 — May 12, 2016

Just over a year since the original “mobile friendly” update, Google rolled out another ranking boost to benefit mobile-friendly sites in mobile search results. Since the majority of sites we track are already mobile-friendly, it’s likely the impact of the latest update was small.

Unnamed Major Update — May 10, 2016

MozCast and other Google algorithm trackers showed a rare week-long flux of algorithm activity. Google has since not confirmed this update, and no explanation is currently available.

Adwords – February 2016

19th February 2016 saw ads not only show at the top and bottom of the search results pages. This will mean the organic space is even more precious and will, therefore, lead to an even bigger focus on SEO. For Paid Search advertisers this alteration will certainly drive up CPCs as the competition for the top slots increases.

The reasoning behind this change is because Google has calculated that the Right Hand Side ads create a poor click-through rate compared to the ad’s appearing just at the top and bottom of the SERP.

Google Core Quality Rank – January 2016

The beginning of 2016 saw Google update the Core Quality Rank algorithm. Affecting both desktop and mobile search. This update caused fluctuations to occur in both desktop and mobile search results. Google kept quiet on whether or not this was an update that had occurred but during a livestream on January 12th 2016  John Mueller from Google gave confirmation of this update and issued a statement confirming that ‘Google Panda is now part of Google’s Core Ranking Algorithm. The Panda algorithm measures the quality of the site based on Google’s guidelines and adjusts rankings prior to this quality score.

2015 Google Algorithm Updates 

HTTPs Update – December 2015

December 2015 saw Google announced that they would be indexing HTTPS (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure) pages by default as user security is a priority for them. Sites using HTTPS will be rewarded for using it with an improved Google rank.

With this update comes the issue of two URLs from the same domain that seem to be sharing content. There is a set of criteria that the algorithm follows to decide on whether the HTTPS or HTTP page will be served.

RankBrain — October 26, 2015

October 26th, Google revealed that machine learning had been a part of the algorithm for months, contributing to the 3rd most influential ranking factor. Note: This is an announcement date – we believe the actual launch was closer to spring 2015.

Panda 4.2 Update – July 2015

This Panda 4.2 update was the first refresh of the Google Panda quality content policing since September 2014. The update affects spammy link farms and sites with low-quality content. Any sites affected by the previous updates 4.1 should welcome this update if they have corrected the issues regarding low-quality content and spammy links meaning they shouldn’t be penalised by this update.

This update impacted around 2% -3% of English queries and did affect both desktop and mobile search results.

Google Mobilegeddon (Mobile Friendly) – April 2015

The Mobile Friendly update added website mobile friendliness as a ranking signal that affected mobile searches across the globe and across all languages. Weeks leading up to Google Mobile-Friendly Ranking algorithm update, the term ‘Mobilegeddon’ swept the web. Not only did ranking signal impact search results, but provided better and more relevant data for users.

Google announced that this update would roll out gradually beginning at the end of April 2015 and would be fully rolled out after several weeks.

 2014 Google Algorithm Updates

HTTPS/SSL Update – 6th August, 2014

There has been constant speculation that Google would be introducing ranking boosts for secure sites. A secure website has an HTTPS/SSL certificate and you will often see a lock symbol in your web browser if a website has a secure connection.

Google have stressed that the ranking boost but would be small at first but if it proved popular it could be increased in the future. Watch this space.

Pigeon – 24th July, 2014

Google sent shockwaves through the local SEO world with the Pigeon update that dramatically altered local search results. Google intended the new algorithm to provide more useful, relevant and accurate local search results that are tied more closely to traditional web search ranking signals.

The fallout from this update is that it is more important than ever to ensure that your website is listed correctly on all the major local and industry directories. It is important that your citations are formatted in exactly the same way; any inconsistencies could have negative consequences.

Payday Loan 2.0 16th May and Pay Day Loan 3.0 28th June -2014

This algorithm update is called ‘Payday Loan’ because it targets “very spammy queries”. Terms like ‘payday loan’ and ‘casino’ are often associated with spam, which is low-quality content with little or no use to the user, because of the amount of money within the industry there are enormous amounts of money to be made for websites who are high up in the search rankings. The payday loan industry is estimated to be worth £1.8 billion pounds in the UK alone.

Pay Day Loan 1.0 was released in June 2013 and affected between 0.3% and 4% of searches globally and the latest two updates, 2.0 and 3.0, have affected only 0.2% of English queries.

In terms of how this update will affect the average website owner – it won’t. However, it’s good to remember that Google is always looking to clean up the search results so it’s important to follow best practice guidance.

Panda 4.0 – 19th May, 2014

The first Panda algorithm update was released in February 2011. The update targeted “low-quality sites” with thin content and returned websites with better quality, and deeper content, at the top of the search results instead.

This update affected 7.5% of English language queries. PR Newswire, a large press release distribution company, was severely hit with a drop of 63% in the search results. Many experts are linking the drop in search results as a sign that the press releases that are being distributed are of poor quality in terms of their content.

The best way to check if your website has been affected is by visiting your Google Analytics site. Look at your visitor levels immediately before and after May 19th and if there is a significant decrease you will need to look at your website and ask yourself “does my website have thin content?”

Authorship Photo Drop – 28th June and Authorship Removed 28th August – 2014

If you have worked with SEO agencies there is a very good chance that they have been telling you to link your blog with your Google + account. If you do so, the author’s photo will appear within the search results. Well, on the 28th June Google dropped author’s photos from the search results and the authorship markup completely.

The idea behind authorship was linking content to its author with the thinking that the search results would be impacted based on the credibility/reputation of the author. Unfortunately for Google, this experiment hasn’t worked but it is another reminder that Google is constantly updating its products for the betterment of the end user. As search marketers we need to be constantly on our toes and ensuring that we’re aware of what is happening within the industry.

If you would like to find out how Barques could help you with your SEO efforts, with a FREE SEO health check, then please get in touch with a member of the team today.