Google Is Fickle: Search Algorithm Changes & How to Adapt

Posted on: April 4, 2012

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Have you seen your Google rankings fluctuate recently and wondered why? Maybe you were one of the 12% of websites impacted by Google’s Panda Update in February 2011. And what about BING? It seems like BING rankings change every day, sometimes increasing drastically, sometimes dropping just as suddenly. How can you as a business owner possibly keep up?!

Surviving Online – Adapt or Die

As internet marketing experts, we keep a constant pulse on the search engine landscape, not only monitoring and tracking sudden and frequent algorithm changes, but adapting to them. This is the only way to thrive online. Consider it modern business’s ode to the survivalists – adapt or never be found in search engines and let business die. It seems harsh, but once you understand the changes these algorithms are undergoing and why, it is easier to adjust for long-term success.

It All Began With a Panda

Most algorithm updates are intended to present more relevant, timely information to searchers. The panda update of 2011, that some websites are still fighting to recover from, was intended to stop rewarding poor SEO practices and present more reputable content to searchers. This meant punishing practices like keyword stuffing and bulk link buying, keeping people from getting ahead by cutting corners. Because of this, Google began rewarding real content: articles and blogs and natural link building.

Every algorithm change Google has made since they introduced Panda just over a year ago has been to this end – to encourage natural SEO practices and to reward content freshness and overall industry authority. Google is making search more relevant for the user and fairer for websites.

Localization – Algorithm Changes for the Underdog

Additionally, in the past year Google has been pushing for more localization, more organic search results that are physically in your neighborhood. This gives smaller, local businesses the chance to be seen as a local authority, as a proximal alternative to broader, national results. As a result, you will see your community computer parts retailer appear in search alongside giants like Fryes and Amazon. Similarly, your business has a chance to be ranked on the same page as or above your industry’s big guns. In many ways it is the greatest underdog story of our time.

February 40 – The Most Recent Batch of Google Updates

Most recently, Google made 40 changes to their search algorithm in February alone! I know, 40 seems like an incredibly large number of changes. Luckily, most of these are minor tweaks, and many are only relevant to foreign language translation and Google’s international search engines. Unless you have been concerned with spelling corrections in Korean or have been dissatisfied with the results for the weather in Turkey, a large handful of these 40 changes do not pertain to or effect your website in any way.

You should keep in mind that, while Panda was a very drastic algorithm update, the changes that have been made since are minor tweaks to the equation for the most part. The most important changes to note from the February update can be grouped into 2 categories: Freshness and Localization

Freshness: Fresh fruits, vegetables and meats always taste better and are healthier, right? Google feels the same way about search results; they are just better when they are more relevant and fresh. The new algorithm changes now surface fresh content more quickly than before. The best way to keep content fresh is to have a blog on your website that is updated frequently with new posts, and as a rule of thumb, it is helpful to rewrite page content every 6 months.

Think of it like going to the farmer’s market vs. going to the grocery store. Both are better than dried fruits and frozen veggies, but the produce at the farmer’s market is just plain better, because it is fresher. Similarly, Google has made an update to provide more recent photos at the top of image searches faster than before. This picture of a farmer’s market was probably taken today. You might still be able to purchase those peppers if you live in San Francisco!

Localization: The new Google is all about staying local. Even if you do choose the grocery store over the farmer’s market, you won’t want to drive across town to do your shopping. It is a beautiful day in your search neighborhood, because the new algorithm changes not only allow Google to more accurately identify the city you are searching from, but also provides more relevant local results that coincide with organic ranking factors. In other words, the more you SEO (without cutting corners, or Panda will make you pay), the higher you will rank for local searches as well as broad keywords.

For the full list of 40 algorithm changes, you can read Google’s official blog post here, though it does not have as many cartoon references as this post.

BING’s Survivalist Game – Why Rankings Are Erratic

You may have noticed that while your Google rankings fluctuate, your BING rankings are downright manic – up one day, down the next. To understand the reasoning, you have to understand BING itself. BING tried to create a niche in the search market as an alternative to Google, but quite frankly, they have become too different, like the little brother that just wants to rebel and be nothing like his older brother. What BING seems to be realizing, however, is that being completely different from Google is not the way to win. Google still holds more than 60% of the search engine market share, while BING has leveled out at only 15%. This means that Google has more than four times as many searchers as BING.

In response, BING is trying to play catch up, trying to adapt their algorithm at the same rapid rate Google is, but like the younger brother, they just don’t have as much experience. Until BING perfects its general algorithm, the way Google has, while maintaining the uniqueness it was built upon, your rankings may suffer. The fact remains, fewer people are BING users, and you shouldn’t concern yourself too much if you BING rankings fluctuate. It is happening to everyone.

As long as you keep up with your good SEO tactics, things will eventually sort themselves out, because BING has to compete with Google to survive in the adapt or die internet landscape.

What Does it All Mean?

The moral of this story, the story of Panda and Google’s capricious ways and BING’s desperate need to catch up, is natural link building, frequent content updates and maintaining a local focus by using localized keywords and optimizing your Google Places and BING Maps listings will pay off no matter what small search algorithm changes may occur. And occur they will since the search landscape changes almost daily. Ultimately, by keeping these things in mind, future rankings changes should prove to be positive for your website.

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