Posts

Keeping up with all of Google’s ranking algorithms and systems can be a lot. It seems like every time you turn around, the search engine has pushed out some new ranking system that brands need to be aware of if they want to reach users on the largest search engine around. 

Making matters even more complicated, Google also occasionally retires older systems as they become obsolete or redundant over the years.

Thankfully, Google has released a comprehensive guide to its many different ranking systems so you can be sure you are optimized for the most important ranking signals without investing resources into systems that are out of use. 

Ranking Systems Vs. Ranking Updates

Along with information about each ranking system and how it influences your standings on Google Search, the guide clarifies the language between ranking updates and ranking systems.

These terms have been used somewhat interchangeably but Google is finally drawing a clear line between the two.

According to the guide, a ranking system is something that is constantly operating behind the scenes – such as RankBrain or the helpful content system.

On the other hand, a ranking update is a one-time change to the ranking systems. For example, Google regularly rolls out updates to its spam detection systems.

Active Google Ranking Systems

Here are Google’s currently active ranking systems in alphabetical order:

  • BERT: BERT (or Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) is an AI system that allows Google to understand how combinations of words may change meanings and intent
  • Crisis Information Systems: This is a system Google has in place to handle important information during times of crisis – both personal and public. For example, the system helps intervene when users search for content related to potentially dangerous personal crises, such as suicide, sexual assault, or poison ingestion.
  • Deduplication Systems: This is used to help Google avoid delivering search results with duplicate or nearly identical content.
  • Exact Match Domain System: A system is used to balance the importance of ranking brands highly for searches containing their exact business name without giving too much credit to sites with domain names that exactly match broader queries.
  • Freshness Systems: Google’s freshness systems work to show newer content more prominently for queries where it would be expected.
  • Helpful Content System: The relatively new Helpful Content System guarantees that users see original content written with their needs in mind, rather than content crafted specifically to rank well.
  • Link Analysis Systems and PageRank: These systems determine what content is about and what pages may be most helpful for specific queries based on how pages across the web are linked together.
  • Local News Systems: Google uses this to highlight information from local news sources when they will be the best resource for a query.
  • Neural Matching: This lets Google understand representations of concepts in queries and match them with the most relevant pages.
  • Original Content Systems: Google’s Original Content Systems help identify the original source of content and highlight them above those who simply cite it.
  • Removal-Based Demotion Systems: The system responsible for demoting or removing content with a high volume of content removal requests.
  • Page Experience System: The Page Experience System is designed to assess which sites will provide the best user experience.
  • Passage Ranking System: Passage ranking is an AI system used to identify specific sections of content which may be most relevant for search.
  • Product Reviews System: As part of Google’s shopping tools in search, Google uses the Product Reviews System to reward highly reviewed products and to showcase reviews that contain the most insightful or relevant information.
  • RankBrain: RankBrain is an AI system crucial to the search engine’s ability to understand how words and concepts are related and return more relevant content – even when all the exact words in a search may not be present.
  • Reliable Information Systems: These are a number of systems that ensure Google’s search results prioritize information from reliable sources.
  • Site Diversity System: The Site Diversity System prevents Google from showing more than two specific pages from the same domain in the top results for a query.
  • Spam Detection Systems: The Spam Detection Systems identify content and behaviors which violate Google’s spam policies and deal with them appropriately by demoting or delisting them.

Retired Google Ranking Systems

  • Hummingbird: Originally rolled out in 2013, Hummingbird was a broad overhaul to Google’s ranking systems. Since then, Google’s recent systems have evolved past the need for this system.
  • Mobile-Friendly Ranking System: This system rewarded sites that were optimized to render well on mobile devices. Since then, it has been absorbed into the Page Experience System.
  • Page Speed System: Initially a standalone system that highlighted sites that loaded quickly on mobile devices, this system has since been incorporated into the Page Experience System.
  • The Panda System: Panda was released in 2011 with the purpose of surfacing high-quality, original content. Since 2015, it has been part of Google’s core ranking systems.
  • The Penguin System: The “cousin” to Panda, Penguin demoted websites that used spammy linkbuilding strategies to rank abnormally well. It has been part of the core ranking systems since 2016.
  • Secure Sites System: Originally, it gave a small boost to sites that adopted HTTPS security protocols when it was less commonly used across the web. Though HTTPS sites are much more common these days, the system is still in use as part of Google’s Page Experience System.

Google says it is going to be radically updating its search engine by integrating its new “MUM” algorithm into its systems. 

This will allow Google’s search engines to better understand topics, find better answers and sources, and provide more intuitive ways to explore ideas.

Accompanying these new search systems, Google is going to be redesigning its search pages with new features that provide new ways to discover information and conduct searches that are more visual.

What is the MUM Algorithm?

Introduced earlier this year, the Multitask Unified Model algorithm, or MUM, allowed Google to better find information using images and across multiple languages. 

The main purpose of the algorithm is to improve Google’s ability to search with images and other types of visual content, rather than just text.

Three Ways MUM Is Changing Search

While it is hard to know exactly how transformative the introduction of the MUM algorithm will be before it arrives, Google did highlight three key features which will be coming with the change.

  1. “Things to know”
  2. Topic Zoom
  3. Visual Topic Exploration

Google’s “Things to Know”

Using predictive models, Google’s search engine will soon intuit the most likely steps you will take after an initial search and deliver websites that will facilitate those actions.

To help illustrate this process, the announcement uses the example of a user searching for “acrylic painting”.

According to the search engine’s data, there are more than 350 topics associated with that specific keyword phrase.

Using this knowledge, the “things to know” feature will then identify the most relevant or popular “paths” users are likely to take to further explore that topic and find content relating to that.

Topic Exploration

The next feature piggybacks on the last by making it easy to dive into related topics or find more in-depth information.

Using the feature, users can quickly broaden the topic they are looking at to find more general information, or zoom in to more detailed resources.

Visual Exploration

The last update enabled by MUM is actually already live on the search engine, providing a new way to visually explore topics.

Specifically, the visual search results page will appear for searches where a user is “looking for inspiration.”

As Google explains it:

“This new visual results page is designed for searches that are looking for inspiration, like ‘Halloween decorating ideas’ or ‘indoor vertical garden ideas,’ and you can try it today.”


It is likely that these new features are just the start of Google’s introduction of the MUM algorithm to revamp how it does search. Since its start, the search engine has struggled to understand visual content, but MUM finally provides a path to not only understand but deliver visual content across the entire Google platform.

Google Logo

With Google’s extensive personalization of search results for users, it has gotten harder and harder to tell when a major shakeup happens thanks to changes to Google’s algorithms. That hasn’t stopped people from guessing a major algorithm shift has occurred when they notice significant changes to how sites are performing across the board.

This happened last week when many major authorities in SEO speculated Google unleashed a major algorithm update. Of course, Google won’t confirm that any major changes happened, but Webmaster Trends Analyst for Google, John Mueller, did take the time to remind everyone “we make changes almost every day.”

Google’s Gary Illyes took the stance even further, tweeting “we have 3 updates in a day average. I think it’s pretty safe to assume there was one recently…”

The truth is, the days of the major Google algorithms like Penguin and Panda upending the search world overnight are largely over. Instead, Google has shifted to a model of constant evolution, tweaking and changing things perpetually.

When there is a new important algorithm, such as recent mobile-friendliness algorithms, the company tends to warn businesses ahead of time. Even then, these recent algorithm updates have been benign, only affecting a small number of websites.

The best plan isn’t to be on constant watch for unannounced shifts, and react. Instead, take a proactive stance by making sure your site follows all of Google’s latest best practices and provides value to searchers. If you do that, you should make it through any changes Google throws at you any time soon.

Google is launching a new set of algorithm changes intended to remove hacked sites that spew spam from the search engines. According to the company, the changes will affect approximately 5% of queries and has already begun rolling out.

Google says it is cracking down on hacked spam to protect both searchers and site owners, but the move could have consequences for legitimate site owners unaware their site has been hacked. These sites are dangerous to those who visit them as they can lead to malware downloads, marketing of illegal goods, or completely redirecting people to unintended, low-quality sites.

For queries with a particularly large amount of hacked spam present in the SERPs, Google says you may see an overall reduction in the amount of results shown. According to the announcement, this is because Google is working to make sure users only see the most relevant results for their queries.

In some particular searches, as much as a quarter of the search results have been removed.

Google has said these changes will be part of an ongoing effort to continuously refine its algorithms to improve SERPs and cut out bad content.

The recently announced Google Panda algorithm update raised eyebrows for several reasons. Of course, any Google algorithm news is worthy of attention, but this specific update was unique in several ways that had SEOs and webmasters wondering what the deal was. Finally, Google has given some insight into why Panda 4.2 is so different from past algorithm updates.

There’s still not much information about why there was such a long lull between algorithm updates – over 10 months – but, Google’s John Mueller did recently provide some answers as to why the algorithm update is rolling out significantly slower than normal.

In a Google Hangout session between Mueller and webmasters, John explained the rollout is taking several months instead of the usual few days or weeks due to “technical reasons.” He also explicitly said the long rollout isn’t specifically intend to “confuse people” as some have suggested.

Both the SEM Post and Search Engine Roundtable transcribed Mueller’s comments on Panda:

This [Panda rollout] is actually pretty much a similar update to before. For technical reasons we are rolling it out a bit slower. It is not that we are trying to confuse people with this. It is really just for technical reasons.

So, it is not that we are crawling slowly. We are crawling and indexing normal, and we are using that content as well to recognize higher quality and lower quality sites. But we are rolling out this information in a little bit more slower way. Mostly for technical reasons.

It is not like we are making this process slower by design, it is really an internal issue on our side.

Webmasters have expressed frustration with the long rollout because it is taking much longer than normal to see results from the algorithm, and Mueller’s comments only provide a small window into how the algorithm is functioning.

Here is the video, from the start of the conversation:

 Panda

Google has confirmed it has released a Google Panda refresh over the weekend, over 10 months after the last update to the algorithm.

The latest refresh is unique from past updates as it went virtually unnoticed by webmasters until it was announced by Barry Schwartz. This is because it is being rolled out far slower than in the past. Previous updates were rolled out usually over a period of a few days or at most a couple weeks, but Google says this latest update could potentially take months to fully roll out, even on a site-by-site basis. However, as it is a site-wide algorithm, it will not be on a page-by-page basis.

Google was not willing to provide any information about why the rollout is being done so slowly.

Unfortunately, the slow rollout does not mean you can expect to make any last minute changes to save your site. It is too late to change your fate with Panda 4.2, although it’s always good to make any improvements you know are needed.

Schwartz also noted his personal SEO news site, which was penalized by Panda 4.1, does show an increase in organic traffic since the update. That means others who were hit by the last update may see small improvements as well.

The Panda refresh is expected to impact approximately 2-3% of queries, meaning it is a relatively small update.

While the refresh may be good news to webmasters who were impacted by 4.1, most people are less pleased – particularly by the slow rollout.

It may be months before we know the impact of the refresh thanks to the slow implementation, but, considering there hasn’t been an update since October of last year, it was past time for it to happen.

Google Mobile

Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm is completely rolled out, but webpages may still see some small changes in the coming days as the search engine continues to index more pages according to Gary Illyes.

Illyes, a prominent Web Trends Analyst at Google, confirmed the news on Twitter this morning by saying “the algo is rolled out” when Barry Schwartz, News Editor for Search Engine Land, asked him on Twitter “is the Google Mobile algorithm fully rolled out?”

The algorithm is the most talked about shake-up from Google since the implementation of the Penguin and Panda algorithms, but the lion’s share of panic appears to be unwarranted as the majority of webmasters saw little to no changes in the wake of the latest rollout.

While Gary Illyes did confirm the algorithm is fully rolled out, he added one concession:

Not all pages were reindexed yet so they don’t have the new scores. Yet.

Also, there were a load of sites that became MF recently, so the actual number of sites affected decreased considerably.

Even with that caveat, the likelihood of significant changes coming in the next few days is unlikely.

Gary Illyes at SMX West Photo Credit: Steve Boymel

Gary Illyes at SMX West
Photo Credit: Steve Boymel

After months of hints, Google officially announced they would be including mobile-friendliness as a ranking factor in their search engine results last week. Now we are getting more information about how the mobile-friendliness signal will be implemented when it goes into effect next month.

Google’s Gary Illyes answered several questions about the new ranking signal at SMX West, where he explained the ranking factor would operate in real time and works on a page-by-page basis.

The conversation started when Gary was asked if there was a deadline for when webmasters need to have their sites updates to avoid being negatively affected by the launch of the signal. According to his response, the algorithm will operate in real time, so you could theoretically update any time you want and expect to start benefiting from the signal immediately.

Most likely, the signal won’t actually operate in real time for webmasters, but will reflect the version indexed by Google. That means sites that don’t get indexed very often may want to ensure their sites are updated soon, while sites that are crawled and indexed daily can address the issue when they see fit.

Google has not clarified, but all sites will still get the most benefit from having their webpages ready before the April 21st launch.

Gary also stated the algorithm will operate on a page-by-page basis, so you will need to ensure every important individual page is updated.

This is important for many webmasters who have sub-sections or unique areas of their page that would be difficult to make mobile-friendly. If you have pages that aren’t intended for mobile users, you don’t have to worry about them impacting your other pages.

If you have many pages that aren’t easily usable for mobile visitors, you might want to reconsider your strategy overall as more traffic is coming from smartphones and tablets every day. The new ranking algorithm is a big statement from Google about the importance of mobile in the current state of the internet, and you can expect to continue to struggle if you resist the changing tides.

Google has been aggressive about encouraging webmasters to make their sites more mobile-friendly, and it appears they will only become more strict in 2015. Google has started sending mass notifications to webmasters whose websites are not appropriately optimized for mobile.

The notifications, titled “fix mobile usability issues found on…” informs webmasters that their sites have mobile usability errors on all pages and thus will be “displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users.”

The notifications are popping up in Google Webmaster Tools and via email. Perhaps more interesting, Google is also sending the notifications to sites that are blatantly not mobile friendly. Typically these sites already know they are not mobile-friendly, but Google is sending alerts warning these webmasters nonetheless.

This is the latest sign that Google is almost certainly going to be amping up the role mobile optimization plays in search, and many believe there may be an outright “mobile ranking algorithm” in the close future.

The increased importance of mobile to Google is little surprise as mobile gradually overtakes desktop traffic. Google wants to ensure they are directing users to sites that will fit their needs wherever they are, and sites who aren’t mobile-friendly simply don’t deliver.

Here is a copy of the notification being sent out:

google-mobile-seo-errors-1421674683

Image source: Lin Padgham

Image source: Lin Padgham

If you thought Google might be slowing down on updating their most well-known search algorithms, the past month may have been a bit of a shocker for you. First, Google rolled out the latest update to their Panda algorithm in late September, and less than a month later they have released the first update to their Penguin algorithm in over a year.

If Penguin and Panda aren’t familiar terms to you, they are the names of two major algorithms which determine what Google’s search results will look like for a given search. They help evaluate websites and reward those who are following guidelines while punishing those who bend or break the rules.

While the Panda algorithm mostly relates to the content directly on webpages, Penguin aims to take down those who try to cheat Google by creating unnatural backlinks to try to gain higher rankings. Both often these algorithms penalize webmasters and the businesses who run these pages when there was no malicious intent.

Unfortunately, with the complex system that makes up Google’s search algorithms and their ever-changing guidelines and many business owners have been shocked to discover their site is no longer appearing in the search results after an algorithm update.

While site owners can frequently bounce back after these penalties, they can also destroy any momentum you had and lose you potential customers. That’s why it is always important to have someone who is consistently up-to-date on all of Google’s latest policy changes to make sure your site is staying within the rules.