Staying up-to-date with the changes made to the Google search engine is the only effective way to do SEO. Knowing how organic search changes from one day to the next is the only way to understand how your website fits into it, and knowing is half the battle.
These are the updates Google made to the different parts of its search algorithm in 2014, at least the ones they told us about. In truth Google makes hundreds of updates every day but it’s usually only the big ones that make us stand up and take notice.
The Panda algorithm began in 2011 as a way for Google to weed out low-quality content from search results. There have been several updates since, as Google continues to redefine what constitutes good content based on user interaction.
Feb 6: Page Layout 3
On February 6, 2014 Google rolled out a refresh to the page layout algorithm that has become known as Page Layout 3.0. There was minimal impact for search results, but this serves as a reminder of how Google relates the layout of a website to a positive user experience.
May 19: Panda 4.0
This update came right on the heels of the Payday Loan 2.0 update and the combination of the two caused a lot of changes in the search engine result pages (SERPs). It is hard to say what was targeted specifically for this release, but when there is a new algorithm released it usually means that Google has identified a new exploitation of their quality content guidelines.
September 23: Panda 4.1
After the highly-impactful 4.0 update, some webmasters were able to recover as Panda 4.1 began to roll out in September. The goal of this update was to give the SERPs more diversity by allowing small-to-medium-sized businesses more chances to rank higher.
October 25: Thin Content Update
This was a very quiet change that some webmasters noticed, where Google reclassified ‘thin’ content and many websites took a hit for having duplicate content, poor text/html ratios and technical/crawl issues.
The Penguin algorithm is the Google initiative to eliminate spam from the SERPs. As webmasters gain rankings by exploiting links, Google becomes more stringent on the definition of a quality link.
May 16: Payday Loan 2.0
The Payday Loan algorithm got its name from search queries that were notorious for returning spammy results. Technically, this spam algorithm is separate from Penguin but the ripple effect can impact a website’s Penguin standing.
June 12: Payday Loan 3.0
When Payday Loan 3.0 was released, Google’s Matt Cutts explained that while the 2.0 version targeted spammy websites, the new version was specifically targeting spammy queries.
October 17: Penguin 3.0
This was a big one. Websites hit by Penguin 2.0 had to wait more than a year for any improvements they made to take effect. This new breed of Penguin seems to have more live-environment updates happening as well, which may help streamline any penalty removal efforts.
November 27 - December 6: Penguin 3.1 to 3.4 (ish)
Google confirmed that there were updates for Penguin over the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend but stated that those changes were still a part of the new algorithm released in October. Continuing into December, the fluctuations for the Penguin algorithm were very unpredictable during the holiday season.
Though noticeable changes concerning Penguin have died down since, updates are reportedly still ongoing. Google has stated that there won’t really be an endpoint to the activity because Penguin has shifted to the continuous update model that Panda adopted in 2013.
This is a new algorithm introduced in July of 2014 that concerns local business listings and how they appear in both search results and map results. In an effort to further connect Google My Business pages to their websites, Google updated the listing algorithm to use traditional search signals as ranking factors.
Google never actually named this change, but the SEO community has been referring to it as the Pigeon algorithm, and it seems to have stuck.
The change has received mixed reviews as to its effectiveness, but it has become increasingly clear that it is here to stay. This means that optimization efforts for business listings will need to be more closely related to the content of the website moving forward.
Other Google Updates
August 6: SSL Update
At a conference earlier in the year, Matt Cutts mentioned his personal desire to have a more secure Internet, and 3 months later it was added to the algorithm. Google added SSL certificates as a ranking factor in the search algorithm in an effort to encourage webmasters to make the upgrade.
August 28: Authorship Removal
Google made the surprise decision to remove authorship images and associations from search engine results. After three years of optimization efforts from publishers this came as a shock and a let-down for the blog community, because they felt those images helped to establish trust and recognition.
November 19: Mobile-Friendly Labels
We have been hearing from Google over the past several years how the world is shifting to a mobile online environment and now they’re making a bigger push for everyone to pay attention. Google added a mobile-friendly testing tool to their developer website and began using ‘Mobile-Friendly’ labels for search engine results.
The number of changes that occur to the search environment over time is what makes search engine optimization so difficult. Watching things closely and taking note will keep your website ahead of the game and increase its ability to compete in search.
About Nicole Castelblanco
Nicole Castelblanco is Manager, Research & Analytics at Liquid. She leads the department in the planning, implementation and management of online lead generation programs which include paid and organic search, display, social media, email marketing and analytics.