When Google launched its Panda and Penguin updates, it’s fair to say it ruffled more than a few feathers in the search industry. However, this isn’t anything new - Google updates its search algorithm hundreds of times each year. Many of these are just tweaks: but every so often, Google changes something big. Here, ClickThrough copywriter Jack Adams looks at five more Google search updates that had a significant impact.
Pandas, penguins, ice cream sandwiches and donuts... a dream set-up for a children’s birthday party.
But if you’re familiar with the world of Internet marketing, technology, or just Google in general, you’ll know it has a well-documented knack of christening its algorithms and mobile operating systems with slightly, er, quirky titles.
In the case of the former, Google picked ironically cute names – both Panda and Penguin induced nervous states in the search industry.
Panda and Penguin were freed from captivity – well, probably a Google algorithm development lab somewhere in Palo Alto, California – to influence the SERPs (search engine results page), in 2011 and 2012 respectively. And both had an absolutely huge impact in the world of SEO and content marketing.
Though its namesake is widely considered to be passive and peaceful, Google’s Panda algorithm seeks to penalise sites featuring duplicate and poor quality content. It also tackles sites with a larger percentage of ads than actual content, and ‘content farm’ sites responsible for churning out huge amounts of poor quality copy.
Meanwhile, the Penguin update, unleashed just over a year later, was aimed at rewarding the rankings of higher quality sites, by punishing those that resort to stuffing their content to the brim with keywords or irrelevant links. Keyword stuffing doesn’t relate to filling content with lots of keywords – it pertains to nonsense keywords stuffed into irrelevant sentences. Like this: “The red dog jumped over the credit rating blue house.”
Penguin also zeroed in on ‘unnatural link profiles’ – with punishments for sites that had clearly bought backlinks to dupe Google into thinking they were credible.
Though they have probably been the most talked-about Google updates, Penguin and Panda are just two of many huge changes the search engine has made over the years. Here are five more algorithms that had an impact when they were thrown out onto the Google search landscape, without a cute animal name in sight.
Florida: In the early days, Google’s algorithm updates weren’t named after animals. They were, in fact, named after large American cities – one of the earliest was dubbed Boston, having been announced at the SES event, held in Beantown.
Florida, implemented back in November 2003, is widely seen as being responsible for ushering in a change in search engine optimisation tactics.
The feeling was, Florida made site owners become fascinated with keywords – adding more and more to pages until they no longer resembled readable content and instead appeared as wordy lists – useless to everyone.
That said, over a relatively short period of time, and after a few refreshes, Florida started to have the effect desired by Google. It had a significant impact on the rankings of sites relying heavily on spammy tactics, leading many guilty site owners to develop a misdirected sense of rage and entitlement towards the search engine giant.
Austin: Named in recognition of the wrestler Stone Cold Stev… no I’m kidding; it was presumably following the common theme, and named after Texas’ capital city.
Whilst the Florida update was somewhat successful in dishing out punishment to the rankings of spammy sites, many dodgy tactics were still being employed to get round it.
The Google Austin update was implemented at the start of 2004 and effectively looked to finish off the early legwork done by Florida.
It looked to punish sites with slyly keyword stuffed Meta tags, invisible text and free for all pages (FFAs) – sites featuring large amounts of links to low quality websites, where pages could be added by anyone and everyone.
Jagger: Dubbed by Brett Tabke, a co-founder of the search engine and webmaster discussion site WebmasterWorld, the Jagger updates were unveiled in October 2005. By this point, naming Google updates after cities had been completely done away with, as evidenced by the earlier Big Daddy.
Rolled out over a couple of months, Jagger was aimed at low-quality links.
Sites featuring poor reciprocal links (links on two sites linking back to each other, implemented with a prior agreement between webmasters), link farms (a whole group of sites linking back to each other) and paid links saw their search ranking suffer within Google as a result.
Brand Update: The Brand Update is one of Google’s more recent changes. Slightly different to previous Google updates, it didn’t seek to punish the rankings of sites directly; it instead sought to allow web sites to appear more than just once or twice – without indented results – in its SERPs.
And it was hugely significant, as it allowed brands to dominate the upper echelons on the Google search rankings - as evidenced in this piece on the update by Search Engine Land.
DCMA Penalty Update: A strike against sites continually flouting copyright regulations, the DCMA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) Penalty Update came into effect during the latter half of last year.
Seen by many as something of an olive branch to the film and music industries, Google announced that sites consistently offering pirated material – music, films, software, games etc. – would see their rankings severely docked.