Google's algorithm has gone through many changes over the years. Many of the updates were quite disruptive in the SEO community when they first rolled out, especially because Google tends to announce changes retroactively, if they announce them at all.
But as time goes by, we've become accustomed to the changes and even grown to love some of them. Here's a list of the top five algorithm changes that we think has made Google a better search product in the long run, both for marketers and for users, although it might not have felt like it in the moment.
The infamous Mobilegeddon update of 2015 shook up the mobile search game considerably. Google created a standard called mobile responsiveness for web design. Sites that are mobile responsive automatically adapt to small screens by using images that resize themselves properly, fonts that are clear on mobile browsers, appropriate column widths and meet similar other criteria.
As of that April 2015 update, sites that meet the standard are boosted to the top of the SERP over every site that does not. That seemed huge at the time, but it has contributed to far better web design. Too many sites got away with bad design that looked terrible on mobile devices, and now sites like that have trouble getting traffic. It really isn't hard to make your site responsive, and it gives mobile users such a massively improved experience that the change altered the whole Internet for the better.
Later in 2015, Google made an unannounced change to the way it displayed search results for local search. Previously, there was a stack of seven local businesses at the top of the results, complete with contact information and other data. Through 2015 Google experimented with reducing that to 3 businesses, and in August changed all search results to only show three local businesses. Again, this was a very mobile-friendly change: the last four businesses did not display on the first page of a mobile search. But the core idea was still an improvement.
It forced local companies to compete for those three spots, which improved the quality of their web design and their products. Getting into the "snack pack" is now a real challenge. That's perfect for Google's users. Google is not Yelp: it is not for browsing many competitors. Google should deliver the best results in a clear format, and the three pack is much easier to use than the seven pack.
For those of you who don't know, Penguin is the name Google uses for one of their algorithms. Anyway, in late 2014 Google made a major change to Penguin called Everflux. The idea was simple: previously, Google had gathered site ranking data in occasional updates. Everflux changed Penguin to update itself and its rankings continually. Before, developers and designers could count on some time going by before any changes they made had an effect on the page's rankings. After the update, changes would alter rankings immediately. This pushed a sense of urgency on designers and SEO experts that was not present before. It seemed onerous at the time, but it led to great things like A/B testing and many contemporary tools, features, and concepts that today we take for granted.
The Pigeon Update
Another 2014 update, the Pigeon Update was a wide-ranging set of changes that set the stage for the way local search works now. Pigeon is the name for the Google algorithm that deals with local search, and this early 2014 update was the first time it went live. It made many factors important that we now use in local SEO, like appearing in local listings and maintaining detailed, accurate information in many different locations to boost authority. This added a lot of complexity and difficulty to local search compared to how it worked before the update, but the end result really does prioritize businesses that are connected to the local community.
That, combined with the snack pack changes, made local search harder to game and produced better results. Local businesses now can outperform national chains, giving them more business if they can demonstrate quality.
The Freshness Update
All the way back in 2011, Google released an update that rewarded fresh content. At the time, the change affected 35 percent of all search queries, which is a very large figure for an individual update. This update, and the philosophy that it represents, led to the environment of today, where every company has a blog and fresh content is a primary means of marketing. Content marketing is far better for the consumer than the black-hat SEO that came before it. This is because to carry out a successful content marketing campaign, a company needs to source organic and good-quality content to attract visitors. In other words, the content from marketing is genuinely useful to consumers and is up to date with current developments.
This system also defines a medium – the blog – which acts as a repository of knowledge and a way to pull in potential leads. This simplifies the marketing process.
These five updates shook things up when they first appeared, but the intervening time has shown that they created a better search product as well as a superior environment for SEO work.
Have you learned to love these updates? Let me know in the comments!