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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.

Panda

Webmasters using “thin” or poor quality content may have seen a drop in traffic this week, as Google has announced that the release of the latest version of its Panda Update.

According to a post on Google+, the “slow rollout” began early this week and will continue into next week before being complete.

While those trying to do the bare minimum to improve rankings may have reason for concern, the new update could also be a relief to many who say they were improperly affected by previous updates as this update is intended to be more precise. As the announcement says:

Based on user (and webmaster!) feedback, we’ve been able to discover a few more signals to help Panda identify low-quality content more precisely. This results in a greater diversity of high-quality small- and medium-sized sites ranking higher, which is nice.

Those who were affected by previous updates may also welcome the latest release, as it means anyone who has made the right changes since the last update finally have a chance to bounce back.

television

Yesterday morning, Bill Slawski from SEO By The Sea discovered that Google has been granted a patent which suggests they are working on a method to use information about what is showing on television in your area as a ranking signal in search results.

The patents follow Google’s trend of trying to individualize search results based on personal tastes and location, and in some ways it has already been in use within Google Now. However if the method used in the patent is implemented TV schedules could have a much larger impact on your results.

The specific patent is named System and method for enhancing user search results by determining a television program currently being displayed in proximity to an electronic device. It was filed on June 30, 2011.

Here is the abstract for the patent:

A computer implemented method for using search queries related to television programs. A server receives a user’s search query from an electronic device. The server then determines, in accordance with the search query and television program related information for television programs available at a location associated with the electronic device during a specific time window, a television program currently being displayed in proximity to the electronic device, wherein the television program related information includes program descriptions for a plurality of television programs being broadcast for the associated location.

Basically, the patent would allow Google to make note of what you are watching and instantly include that information within their ranking algorith. Presumably, this would make it easier to search for products shown during commercials or for more information about the show. As explained in the patent:

Someone watching a TV program with a segment about a particular model of Porsche might execute a search query for “Porsche” or “sports cars” instead of the designation of the particular model that was the subject of the segment….

Given that the Porsche model in question is a “911 Turbo,” and that the user executed a search query for “Porsche,” the server can return information about one or more of :

1) the “911 Turbo” model (e.g., a link to information on the Porsche.com website about the “911 Turbo”),

2) information about the TV program that is currently airing with that segment, and

3) suggestions of similar programming that is currently airing or airing in the future and that is available to the user.

In this way, implementations provide enhanced search results to viewers of live TV that are relevant to the content of TV programs that they are watching or are likely to be interested in watching.

The patent also provides a diagram which explains how the patent wold work:

google-tv-process-diagram

Ultimately, it is up to Google whether you can expect to see this idea included in future search algorithms. As Google has said before, just because they have patented something doesn’t mean they will definitely be using it. But, Search Engine Land also pointed out Google Now is able to do a very similar task.

If you opt in, Google Now is already capable of listening for information about what you’re watching and updates TV cards accordingly.