Keeping Up with Google Search Algorithms: What You Need to Know

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Every year or so, SEOs and website managers look out for big changes to Google’s ranking algorithm. Even though they have never been perfect, these updates have been fundamental in helping users find the best possible results for their queries. Some of these changes are so tiny that users hardly ever notice them, but some are so powerful they can significantly impact your presence in the SERPs.

Staying on top of those updates and adjusting strategy accordingly is one of the most important—and difficult—jobs faced by SEO strategists. Here’s what you need to know about keeping up with Google.

Recent Algorithm Updates

First, let’s have a look at some of the most prominent updates that Google had made in recent years and what flaws they addressed to get a sense of what Google tries to accomplish with its algorithm updates.

Panda

Released: February 24, 2011

Problems Addressed: Plagiarized, duplicate or weak content, keyword stuffing, user-generated spam

Penguin

Released: April 24, 2012

Problems Addressed: Sites with irrelevant or spammy links, ‘over-optimization’ of anchor text

Hummingbird

Released: August 22, 2013

Problems Addressed: Low-quality content, keyword stuffing

Pigeon

Released: July 24, 2014

Problems Addressed: Weak on- and off-page SEO

Mobile

Released: April 21, 2015

Problems Addressed: Not having a mobile version of a web page, poor mobile usability

RankBrain

Released: October 26, 2015

Problems Addressed: RankBrain did not address specific website issues, but implemented machine learning and AI into the algorithm

Fred

Released: March 8, 2017

Problems Addressed: Thin, affiliate-heavy or ad-centered content

Why You Should Track Google Updates

If you’re an SEO expert, it is your duty to stay on top of any changes that directly impact your SEO strategy and tactics.

Failing to track these algorithm changes and updates can negatively affect the following:

  • Organic search traffic
  • Search engine ranking
  • Return on investment
  • Conversions
  • Revenue

Some people mistakenly assume that algorithms are punishments implemented by Google. In truth, however, algorithms are Google’s way of rewarding websites for providing relevant and helpful content as well as an quality user experience.

Search optimization is like a double-edged sword: there is both a winner and a loser—and if you have more than one site to manage, you could end up being both. Put simply, Google wishes to provide the most relevant search for a user’s query, and not every website can acquire the top ranking.

But even so, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to keep track of every algorithm change that Google makes. While there is typically one large update announced each year, Google actually updates its search algorithms hundreds of times a year—which means the algorithm changes, on average, more than once per day.

With so many changes happening almost constantly, how can SEOs keep track of them all?

How to Track Google Algorithm Updates

There are many online tools and resources that can help you keep track of Google algorithm updates, including popular sites like Moz and SEMrush. But for me, the most effective method of keeping track of algorithm changes has always been Twitter.

The benefits of Twitter include an industry-focused community discussion involving deep dive analyses that may not get shared as quickly across other channels.

A few years ago, Matt Cutts was pretty much the ideal person for informing the SEO community about any changes Google brought to search. Since he resigned last year as Google’s head of search quality, no one else has been able to fill his shoes, leaving a hole in the industry’s collective knowledge about algorithm changes.

Still, some Google experts are active and will inform you about any changes via their Twitter accounts.

John Mueller (@JohnMu)

John Mueller is a Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google and one of their key SEO evangelists. His Twitter feed contains tons of actionable insights to improve your site. He’s also active on Google’s Webmaster Channel on Youtube.

Barry Schwartz (@rustybrick)

If there’s anyone who’s at the top of Google algorithm news and updates, it’s Barry Schwartz. A self-proclaimed “search geek,” Schwarz founded Search Engine Roundtable and discusses search almost constantly on his Twitter.

Marie Haynes (@Marie_Haynes)

Marie Haynes is a search engine marketing consultant who not only provides valuable insights and info on her Twitter channel but also publishes search-related blog posts and case studies on her blog.

Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe)

Glenn Gabe is another search enthusiast and marketing consultant who shares data whenever he notices changes in Google’s algorithm. His Twitter account and his blog are updated regularly.

If Twitter isn’t your thing, sites like Moz, Search Engine Journal, and Search Engine Land offer regular updates about algorithm updates on their blogs.

Moz Blog

If you’re looking for quick and easy solutions for your SEO and online marketing tactics and strategies, then you can never go wrong with Moz, especially with all the effective and insightful tutorials, tips, and guides.

Search Engine Journal

Search Engine Journal is another amazing guide on anything regarding Google algorithms including their names, dates, and impact—from 2003 to today.

In fact, SEJ has an entire page dedicated to algorithm updates and changes that includes algorithm update, published date, and a brief description of its impact.

Search Engine Land

Search Engine Land is the brainchild of search industry veterans Danny Sullivan and Chris Sherman and is known for its in-depth news coverage and analysis of Google algorithm updates.

Helpful Tools for Adjusting Your SEO Strategy

With all these changes coming to Google every day, it can be difficult to keep up with them and adjust our strategies accordingly. Luckily, there are plenty of tools at our disposal. Here are some of my favorites.

Moz

Moz is the go-to leader on how to simplify SEO through, education, software, and community. It also offers free SEO learning tools and guides, including an in-depth keyword explorer and an on-page metrics analyzer.

One especially cool free tool Moz offers is Mozcast, which monitors the “weather” of the Google algorithm. With a subscription to Moz Pro, you can use the tool to monitor the stability of your SERP rankings and the changes to your site’s visitors and engagement.

Ahrefs

Ahrefs has versatile tools to not only help your website acquire more search traffic, research your competitors, and monitor your niche. It includes a blog with helpful resources and several free tools, but the real benefits come with a subscription. With a broken link checker, keyword generator, rank tracker, backlink checker, and more, Ahrefs can help you keep track of everything your site needs to succeed on the SERPs, no matter what changes come to the algorithm.

SEMrush

SEMrush is yet another fan favorite of the SEO community. With free webinars, e-books, and SEO courses, SEMrush offers many free ways to learn how to analyze your rankings, make changes based on the algorithm, and find new opportunities.

One of the most appealing features of a SEMrush subscription is the Domain vs. Domain analysis, which allows you to directly compare your site to your competitors. This tool can help you understand your site’s data and traffic, as well as your competitors’, through analytic reports.

Google

While Google is notoriously tight-lipped about algorithm updates, the Google Webmaster Central Blog is a solid resource for official news about the algorithm and how updates may affect a website’s rank within the SERPs. The Webmaster Guidelines for quality and content offer helpful tips and guidelines that your site needs to follow in order to stay in the Google index.

You can also use the free Test My Site app to see if your website is mobile-friendly, which is essential for determining SERP ranking.

What You Should Do After an Algorithm Update

No matter how prepared you think you are for an algorithm update, there are some things you should consider every time an update occurs.

  • Ensure that changes to your website’s ranking are due to the algorithm change and not something else, like a technical SEO issue or a change you made to your content.
  • Start collecting data.
  • Look up sources on how you can gather credible insights and research what SEO experts are saying at the moment.
  • Tweak your SEO tactics and strategy as soon as possible.

Summary

It isn’t necessary—or efficient—to monitor each and every change that occurs in Google’s algorithm, but as long as you keep track of all the major updates, you’ll be able to make the right adjustments and increase organic traffic to your site.

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About Author

Dwayne Hogan has been developing SEO strategies for local and national brands for well over a decade. As SEO Lead at Clearlink, he is integral to the development of the SEO channel and provides oversight of ongoing SEO strategies across multiple web properties.