What is an Algorithm Update?

Every now and then, content creators and SEO specialists become impassioned by algorithm updates, which generally happen a few times a year. Algorithm updates can significantly affect websites and how they rank on search engine results pages (SERPS). But what do algorithm updates actually mean?

Google defines an algorithm update as the addition of a new ranking signal to their algorithm. In other words, it is a tweak in the way Google determines its rankings. Algorithm updates can be minor and go unnoticed, while others are noticeable core algorithm updates. However, these small changes can make a huge difference to website owners who rely on SERPs to generate leads. Google algorithm updates happen almost daily.

Referring to it in the singular is inaccurate because this complex search engine has been in near-constant change since it was first established. Fortunately for SEO professionals, some of these updates are relatively minor and cause no harm to web pages. Not all updates involve changes to page rankings. Google also updates its index as it crawls the web for content, making new results available to users. Most index updates are automated, but they are occasionally tied to a specific part of the algorithm.

What is a Core Algorithm Update?

what is an algorithm update?

Core algorithm updates are significant adjustments that power the Google search engine. These changes always spark widespread speculation and forum discussions. Google releases official statements before rolling out core algorithm updates either a day before or when they roll out the algorithm. It is easy to understand why Google rolls out these updates.

If you are in charge of the world’s most popular search engine, you must ensure it responds to changes in how content creators write, post and how users read and consume content. The problem is that these updates are like dropping a fishnet out in the middle of an ocean. You do not have a clear cut of the content you want to catch and that which you wish to leave. This means that bystanders can get caught in the net when the core algorithms turn up. Almost every core algorithm comes with stories of brands whose rankings change drastically overnight. This is also a primary reason why these updates tend to make SEO specialists stressed.

How Can You Tell a Core Algorithm Has Happened?

what is an algorithm update?

Unlike minor updates, core algorithm updates always get a lot of attention. Google may decide to announce them in advance, on the day, or keep it to themselves. The more significant the update, the bigger the publicity and the more it will affect the SEO community. If you wish to know what is changing, follow the Google Search Liaison account on Twitter and follow blogs like Hubspot and Searchmetrics. Google may also publish guidance on who the core algorithm updates will affect and the consequences. At other times, they will go silent and wait to see if anyone will notice. These strategies make it challenging to keep up or predict what changes are coming and when.

Practising regular and thorough SEO auditing is the only sure way to minimise the damage of core algorithm updates. Suppose any significant changes happen to the SEO rankings of your web pages. In that case, you can quickly see what is affected, identify the trends and take positive steps to control the damage. As such, the type of content you create for your website makes a huge difference.

The Most Important Google Algorithm That Still Matters Today

A few of the many Google algorithm updates significantly changed the SEO world and still affect how websites appear in search results today. These updates forever became a defining moment in search engines.

The Florida Update

On November 16, 2003, Google rolled out its first algorithm update, which changed the search engine forever. This update took search results by storm and affected retail sites the most. The Florida update hit rankings for businesses like hotels and clothing websites with significant search volumes for high commercial terms. The worst part is that it hit these businesses right in the middle of the shopping season. These businesses websites had one thing in common; they all used keyword strategies that we now call spam. All these websites used keyword stuffing and their rankings dropped once this update was rolled out. The Florida algorithm eliminated spammy tactics by penalising websites that used keyword stuffing, invisible texts and hidden links.

Jagger Update

In September and October of 2005, Google rolled out their next big algorithm update that affected newer websites. This update made people believe that Google favoured more established websites. However, Google did not favour any prominent brand. The update tackled black-hat SEO tactics of the time. All websites affected by the Jagger update had backlinks with irrelevant anchor text, backlinks from spammy-looking pages and sudden peaks in backlink profiles. The Jagger update penalised websites that bought a number of backlinks and had duplicate content across multiple domains.

The Caffeine Update

On June 8, 2010, Google released the Caffeine update, which was so significant that SEO professionals took months before testing and releasing it. This update was all about recency and speed. However, it did not affect most websites straight away because it was more of an indexing change and not an algorithm change. It changed the way Google crawled and indexed websites. Google was now able to discover and rank fresh content in seconds. The Caffeine update enabled Google to offer 50% fresher results to users. This update was about providing the most up-to-date information by changing how Google found and stored data from websites.

what is an algorithm update?

The Panda Update

While the previous Caffeine update brought about positive changes, it also had some negative impacts. Caffeine brought speed to Google algorithm that paved the way for poor-quality and content farms. In 2011, Google released the Panda update to tackle the problem. The Panda update aimed at combating the decrease in search quality. However, instead of affecting individual pages, Panda affected the whole website. Websites with low backlink profiles and duplicate content were the most affected. This was also when Google first considered user metrics by penalising sites with bounce rates and repetition across pages and several on-site ads.

Penguin Update

In 2012, Google released an extension of the Panda update. The Penguin update attempted to tackle webspam by penalising websites that tried to manipulate rankings by building links through black-hat tactics. Black-hat link building includes getting multiple backlinks from anywhere regardless of whether the linking is relevant or high-quality. The update penalised these websites, improving the quality of search results.

The other updates that followed Penguin included the Hummingbird, Mobilegeddon, RankBrain, Medic, BERT, Google January, Google May and Google December Updates. All these core updates paved the way for quality content and improved user experience. Today, every Google user can rest assured knowing that Google will help with almost any query. 

Algorithm Updates Are Not the End of SEO Specialists

Whenever Google announces or rolls out an update, a general panic spreads through the SEO world. Website owners and SEO managers hold their breath while Google analyses the websites. There is then a sigh of relief when they survive the algorithm update unscathed. After Google releases its algorithm, you will see a series of articles advising that you can dissect what Google changed and win in the new paradigm. Some people also think that the Google algorithm is a mystical secret recipe designed to rob websites of their ranking. Others say that the objective of SEO specialists and webmasters is to trick this complex search engine and come out on the winning side of every update. However, this is all misplaced. The reality is, algorithms are not your enemy. Algorithms help in creating a better, more accurate user experience and quality websites.

Google is Only Trying to Help

what is an algorithm update?

Google Algorithm is trying to help ensure that users get pleasurable, high-quality and relevant results for their queries. The company is not a wizard and its system is not meant to rob websites of their rankings. Similar to how bugs are reported and fixed in a software program, search engines must look for what is not working and find a solution. The best thing about Google is that its updates are based on real scenarios.

Like any other software, it releases updates with big leaps forward to its services and product. Google’s objective is to have an evolving product that will continue pleasing and retaining its users. If Google stops rolling out updates, it will be overrun by spammers. A search engine with several spammy results will soon seize functionality. As such, Google remains relevant by updating its algorithm. Instead of getting worried about algorithms, SEO specialists should focus on improving the user experience. There is no algorithm wizard and only those who apply the best SEO practices will benefit from Google updates.

When Google rolls out an update, you will see some sort of impact on your traffic, ranking and impressions. When this happens, you must make the most out of the update. This is where SEO specialists like Marketing Sweet come in to help you get out in front of these obstacles and equip your website for anything.

Scroll to Top