The end of 2015 saw significant updates across a handful of Google’s various algorithm iterations. Google makes upwards of 500 algorithm updates per year, but some have a more widespread impact across the web than others. If you saw your traffic drop in Q4, it may very well be linked to one of these pesky little guys. Let’s take a look at Google’s algorithm zoo.
Panda 4.2 (Rollout: July 2015 – Present)
Description: Aimed at furthering Google’s goal of devaluing content farms and sites that don’t create original content. This includes sites which scrape content from other sources and those which utilize duplicate content.
“I’m content, how’s yours?”
Impact: While not as major of a rollout as its predecessors, this is a continued reminder that sites with poor quality content, or a lack of content, will continue to be pushed down in the rankings. The best way to avoid penalty here is to ensure site pages have rich, descriptive content that provides some value to the user and is related to the subject matter of the page. One should also beware of thin or a lack of content.
Penguin (Rollout: Nov – Dec 2015)
Description: Google’s method for penalizing sites which utilize links deemed spammy (meaning they link to sites or pages with low quality content). This most recent Penguin update occurred in late 2015 and is the first of the Penguin updates to rollout with real-time capabilities.
“Feed me links… must be spammy!”
Impact: A site’s linking profile is a very strong indicator of its worth to the search engine crawlers, and sites with poor outbound links will suffer the most. It’s important to also consistently monitor your site’s inbound links because if link farms target your site, it will have an impact on the visitor quality and hurt metrics and sales conversions. These spammy inbound links can be essentially removed from a site’s ranking considerations by implementing a disavow strategy.
The good news about this latest update is that because it updates in real time, any improvements made to a site will be detected relatively quickly and reflected in the search results metrics without much delay.
Rankbrain (Full rollout completed early Fall 2015)
Description: An A.I. learning system which interprets queries and based on its historical database makes well-educated guesses about the root of an ambiguous search term to lead a user to the results they desire. This is an increasingly popular method being used by Google in combination with their other overall search algorithm components for delivering search results.
“Doctor said it’s benign.”
Impact: Rankbrain is essentially Google’s latest attempt to replicate the human thought process. The most important thing to know is that this represents a slow shift away from more rigid keywords and more toward conceptual SEO. This means that while keywords are still a very important part of optimization, it’s also important for site owners to think about what concept they want to convey throughout their site.
Moving forward, sites which do the best to convey their “concept” through their optimization and content will likely see an uptick in their performance metrics by capturing this additional traffic.
Phantom 3 (Rollout: November 19th, 2015)
Description: Shrouded in mystery (hence the name), this update went unannounced by Google and is not part of the Panda, Penguin or the Rankbrain rollouts. It seems to have been an update to Google’s core algorithm and is intended to target sites of low quality.
“…inside your mind.”
Impact: While “sites of low quality” is somewhat of a blanket statement, there were some indicators from private studies about which types of sites/pages were impacted. Pages with a large number of links, even links to other on-site pages of quality, were penalized.
Infinite scrolling, while beneficial to the user, has in part created this issue because some webmasters will tend to jam a large amount of links onto a single page. The user finds themselves lost in the scroll and ultimately doesn’t find the link/page/item they are looking for. Segmenting products by type is the preferred method for ecommerce sites, and creating separate pages based on subject is preferred for most other sites to avoid being dinged by The Phantom.
For more information on Google updates, check out this timeline on algorithm changes since 2003.