I think that April has become with no doubt the number one month for Google updates. In the future I’m sure that everyone that works in the Internet marketing field will look after what is going to happen during the 4th month of the year.
Google Panda Update
Yeah, after the 2011 April update named Google Panda, which has insanely changed the future of the Internet, this last month April 2012 has seen some of the most incredible variations inside Google SERPs (aka Search Engine Results Page) like the new Google Penguin update.
Let’s face it, with the Panda algorithm update Google has started (well…has already been following this trend for a long time) telling people to create great, unique and compelling content. Content for which you would love to be associated, non spammy, in-depth, rich of features, media and much more.
But that wasn’t enough. Actually it was only the beginning: Panda has struck back again and again with minor and major updates (at the moment we’re at Panda 3.6).
Personally I haven’t experienced any casualties until a so called minor-update around the 13th of October (Google Panda October Update), which by many people is actually considered a rather major one. And the site that was hit didn’t have any bad backlink profile, was full of good content (yes), unique content (yes), rich/long content (yes&no)…and it got hit badly.
The verdict: Panda has hit this website due to a decent amount of thin content, original, but anyway thin.
The problem: all the scrapers rised well above the website right on the first page of Google.
Ok, now, that clearly states a big issue. It’s rather obvious that if a website (scraper, feed aggregator, etc) ranks above the original source the algorithm isn’t working well.
Anyway, time passed by, some actions have been taken and that website has seen a slow rise in the SERPs.
Google April 2012 Updates
Getting back to the latest April 2012 updates of which Google released a rather detailed overview, we can see that the following big actions have been taken (I’ve added a brief explanation and some considerations next to each):
- Fix of results with (too) many category pages
- Fix to some domain related queries
- Country identification for webpages – now, this one is interesting since it should identify a language and a location also for a singular web page and not only at a domain, subdomain or directory level (very important update for multilingual websites)
- More domain diversity – not sure about how this is implemented, since I still see some queries dominated with 7 results from one domain
- Improvements to local navigational searches – signs of Google Local getting more important as days pass by
- Improvements to how search terms are scored in ranking – another interesting change since Google gives big importance to keyword positions (such as keyword proximity)
- Smoother ranking changes for fresh results – new, fresh content should rank better than older one
- No freshness boost for low-quality content – a sort of penalty in case your content is detected as low quality, it will not rank well even if it’s fresh and new (watch out in case you’re on Google News!)
- Better query interpretation – this improvement once more enhances the fact that Google looks carefully at user behavior and how/what a user searches for better understanding his query (example: if a user has been searching for “doors”, “wooden doors”, “large doors” and after he starts searching for “windows” probably that user is looking for real windows and not for the famous Microsoft operating system).
- More concise and/or informative titles – Google has been replacing titles for awhile and with this fix they should show a shorter, more relevant title in search results, so if you want to show you’re own title I suggest you to follow this strategy too.
- Fewer auto-complete predictions – in order to avoid possible low-quality results they have reduced the number of times auto-complete is enabled. So watch out if an auto-complete doesn’t appear it doesn’t mean people don’t search for it!
- Sub-sitelinks in expanded sitelinks – this is a new entry. Sitelinks are those links that sometimes appear on search results pages where under a certain result there are some links which point to areas of that website. Well, now Google has introduced also sub-sitelinks where they show deeper sections of websites.
- Sitelinks data refresh - sitelinks are now updated more frequently (on the order of weeks)
- Keyword stuffing detection improved – I still see some results that fall in the keyword stuffing area and that are ranking pretty well
- More authoritative results - this is the last one but probably should be the first one in matter of importance since it goes back to where I was talking about the low level of some results (i.e. scrapers ranking above the original source).
Google Penguin Update
Nobody knows exactly which of these are the factors that relate to the Penguin update but I agree with Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Journal where he states that these could be in the list:
- Anchor text bug fix
- Keyword stuffing classifier improvement
- More authoritative results
- Improvement in a freshness signal
- No freshness boost for low-quality content
- Improvements to how search terms are scored in ranking
I must say that I’ve seen the no freshness boost for low-quality content already in action during the months of February and March, but for the rest they’re part of the Google Penguin update for sure.