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The Google Algorithms – a refresh for 2016

by: Tim Richardson

on: 19th January, 2016

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Google algorithms, what they are and do

Google is always striving to bring you the best search results, and takes various aspects of websites into account, when deciding which should display for searches, these are decided by Google’s algorithms, created with looking at different aspects of websites and then deciding which is most suitable for searches, we are going to be looking at the main ones, seeing what they do and how to stay on their good side.

This blog was inspired by something that happened to me not too long ago, I was asked to name all the Google search algorithms I knew, and the only ones I could think of were Penguin, and Panda, the reason for this was the only algorithm updates I ever heard about, were these two, and because we don’t really hear about the other ones very often, and we have just started a new year, I thought it would be good to have a Google Algorithms refresh for 2016, lets get started:

Panda – Introduced in February 2011

panda-google-algorithmIcons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC BY 3.0

What it does
The main focus is on website content, particularly devaluing websites with low quality and unhelpful content.

Low-quality content could define as content with little to no benefit to users, like duplicate content over your own website and if it is copy pasted straight from other websites, where you have content that says nothing new and just regurgitates what others websites already say in a better way.

The most basic way of explaining it, if someone can find a better version of the content or will need to go elsewhere to find what they are looking for, it is probably low quality.

How to optimise
You always need to make sure your content brings unique, helpful value, if you sell products, using a manufacturer description, for instance, is going to get you nowhere. When you find pages with low-quality content and either redirect it to a better page or rewrite it.

Some of the topics you cover with your content will exist in some form or another elsewhere, when creating or improving existing content, to help push yourself ahead of the competition, you can go into more detail than others, put a different spin on how you look at the topic, give your content an engaging tone that resonates with people, or better still a combination of these.

Moz did a very good piece about optimising and ranking for Panda and how to recover from it.

Payday – Introduced June 2011

payday-google-algorithmIcons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC BY 3.0

What it does
The Payday Algorithm’s purpose, is to clean up the search results from heavily spammed queries, like ‘payday loans’ and pornographic searches.

This was due to people spamming websites to reach the top of search results with ‘black hat’ techniques, look at the graph below and see the changes in website rankings for the term ‘payday loans’ within a month period.

payday-loan-rankings
Image source: http://www.click.co.uk/blog/google-update-algorithm-target-payday-loans-spammy-queries/

The payday algorithm was designed to people using exploiting this.

How to optimise
As long as you don’t use dodgy techniques to get your website to the top, like buying or acquiring links from spammy websites, you should be fine.

Top Heavy – Introduced in January 2012.

What it does
This is designed to devalue websites with lots of intrusive and distracting adverts at the top of the page.

One of the core aspects Google takes into account is user experience, having invasive ads and pop-ups being the first thing you see is not very user friendly, it pushes down the content you to want to see, and takes a greater effort to navigate through the ads get to it, which does not make a good user experience.

How to optimise
This should hopefully be fairly straight forward, either remove any pop-ups that have no relevance to your website, and either, really slim down ads at the top of your website, or remove them altogether.

Penguin – Introduced in April 2012

penguin-google-algorithm
Icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC BY 3.0

What it does
The Penguin algorithm is primarily about evaluating the external links pointing to your website.

It is designed to reward websites that have relevant high-quality backlinks, from trusted and reputable sources, and devalue paid links, links from poor quality and spam websites.

We saw a major update in 2016 that now means this algorithm runs in real time, meaning when you acquire a good link or disavow a bad one, you will be able to see the results a lot quicker.

How to optimise
Any links you have acquired, make sure they are from reputable websites and that the links are relevant to where they link to.

Do not pay for links or get links from spammy sites. You can see links you have using tools like Moz open site explorer or AhrefsIf there is any on there you do not recognise or don’t seem like they will be relevant, have a look at the website, if it looks like it is low quality and could be hurting how your website is perceived, submit a ‘disavow link’ to Google.

Pirate – Introduced August 2012.

pirate-google-algorithm
Icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC BY 3.0

What it does
Pirate is targeted at punishing websites that have lots of copyright infringements submitted against them through Google’s DMCA system.

How to optimise
This one is fairly straight forward, do not infringe on other people’s copyrighted material, if you have done this you can either ask the webmaster for permission to use it, or remove it from your website.

EMD (Exact Domain Match) – Introduced September 2012.

What it does
This is designed at devaluing poor quality website from ranking well because of its domain matching search queries.

 e.g. let us say I have the web domain www.websitedesign.co.uk, with poor or no content, this would stop my website from ranking highly because my domain matched the query ‘website design’.

How to optimise
This links back to content again if you have a domain that matches a common query, make sure you have quality content to back it up.

Hummingbird – Introduced September 2013.

hummingbird-google-algorithm
Icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC BY 3.0

What it does
This is designed to understand ‘conversational search’ more, by understanding the meaning behind searches and taking the whole query into account, rather than just certain words.

e.g. the search “when do the clocks go back?”, Google will understand that “when” means you are looking for a time or date, and “clocks go back” will be in reference to daylight savings, and will return results accordingly.

This is achieved using something called the Google knowledge graph (this briefly, is used to better understand people, places, things and their relationship to each other).

How to optimise
This one is a little more tricky and ties in with content, make sure that your content is rich, unique and focused, showing you have a true understanding of what you are writing about.

Pigeon – Introduced July 2014.

pigeon-google-algorithm
Icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC BY 3.0

What it does
This takes the searchers location into account more when displaying results, it will also take into account if a place used in a search.

e.g. if I use Telford in a search, like ‘Telford web design’, even if I am not in or around Telford, it will take the fact that I have used ‘Telford’ in the search into account, and display results for that location.

This is going beyond town/city locations, with people using mobile phones to perform a lot of searches, their physical locations (as long as you allow location-based services turned on), this can display different results depending on things like the street you are on.

How to optimise
Make sure you are on Google places, that have your location(s) on your website easy to find, and make it easier for Google to find where you are based. You could also see which directory sites rank when you perform searches relating to your website and list yourselves on them.

Mobile Friendly – Introduced April 2015.

mobile-friendly-mobilegeddon-google-algorithm
Icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC BY 3.0

What it does
Also referred to as ‘Mobilegeddon’, this is a major step to differentiating desktop and mobile search results.

With mobile devices now used more for web browsing than desktops, this is designed to show different results on the mobile search results, to the desktopS, and rewarding websites that are mobile-friendly.

How to optimise
The fix for this is fairly straight forward, have your website be mobile friendly, you can check this on Google’s mobile-friendly test tool. If you don’t believe you need a mobile friendly website, you might want to check out another blog I wrote recently.

Rankbrain – First heard of  October 2015, but Google says it has been using it for some time.

google-rankbrain
Icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC BY 3.0

What it does
This is not so much an algorithm as a learning AI, this is said to handle and help with the Hummingbird algorithm, and find the best results for searches that Google has never seen before (estimated at 15% a month).

How to optimise
There is not really a way to optimise for this as it is designed for long tail, unseen searches, all you can really do is make sure your content is useful and high quality.

Hopefully now, you are aware of all the major Google search algorithms, and can start looking at your website and make sure you are doing what it needed to stay on the right side of Google search results, and should hopefully bring people up to date with the Google Search Algorithms, and give some idea of what they do to those people who don’t.

A good place to keep updated is at Moz’s algorithm timeline, to see what changes were made and when.
If you ever need any help with any SEO or website improvements, you can always contact us or call 01952 897 444.

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