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Inside Google Search Updates

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Many search marketers have fixated on Panda and Penguin updates from Google this year. There have literally been hundreds of articles and blog posts written about Google’s Panda updates alone.

Yet when analyzing Google's pervasive search quality highlight posts on its official Inside Search blog, algorithmic tweaks for Panda and Penguin represent less than 3 percent of the changes Google has made to its core search functionality since the first of the year.

Granted, Panda and Penguin may have affected more conspicuous changes in Google search results, but actual algorithmic updates of the spam filters have actually been few and far between. According to Google, the Panda algorithm has been tweaked six times since its release, and Penguin has been adjusted only once.

In order to be able to make these kinds of statements, we had to analyze all of Google’s Inside Search blog posts made since the first of the year, which includes updates actually made in December 2011, and try to classify the Google product, service, or function that was attuned. The posts analyzed were:

While our classifications are non-scientific, organizing the information in such a manner provided some interesting insights into Google’s priorities for search in 2012. It also gave us a good idea about what was most broken.

When analyzing the quantity of tweaks and improvements made to Google search functionality based on details culled and classified from the Inside Search blog, Google is actually exerting more effort on query freshness, better short answers, and non-English language improvements, than culling link spam.

As a matter of fact, Google’s four other spam initiatives beyond Panda and Penguin addressed two instances of site quality adjustments, keyword stuffing and hacked page detection. Consequently, spam updates didn't make the top 10 list of Google search updates.

Google Top 10 Search Updates

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Google has addressed temporal, or what could be classified as time-sensitive algorithmic adjustments, all through the year. Freshness factors not only repaired equations that sort and filter through older, aged results, but also nearly live results from major sporting events.

Google made an Olympic effort to be the go-to resource for timely information. When you absolutely, positively, have to know right now – go to Google. You will very likely find what you seek prominently displayed in web search results, be it NASCAR, NBA, NFL, soccer or Formula 1 racing results.

Naturally this enhanced freshness functionality is also a piece of Google’s social media trending equations. As Google+ continues to gain traction, Google is well attuned for filtering through the noise to find the signals that can be localized and served up in any number of Google web properties.

Second only to volume of freshness factor updates in Google so far this year, is the search engine’s desire to provide users with the best possible short answers to questions about anything and everything. Google’s focus on cuing relevant data triggers has improved its processing of more complex calculations, as well as conversion data and figuring out why cats have whiskers.

While we don’t want to ignore language handling improvements Google has made for international and language-specific search queries this year, it is interesting that tweaks to its relevancy algorithms follows closely behind freshness, answers, and language updates.

Naturally the relevancy updates are of keen interest to search engine marketers. So far this year, search relevancy revisions have included query interpretations, redefining more authoritative results, expanding domain diversity, determining official pages, defining high-quality content, and domain clustering.

There is a natural balance between purging poor quality content with Panda filters and amplifying the resonance of the signals sent from high-quality, trusted content providers has certainly helped enterprises and big brands eliminate a lot of noise, but it has been done at the expense of some legitimate partners and affiliates. We can expect this pendulum to continue to swing in the near term Google as it continues to strive toward filling its top results with what it deems to be high-quality content.

Google’s autocomplete algorithm allows the search engine to complete your thoughts for you while you are still typing. It has also been the butt of jokes and suggestive oddities that leave searchers wondering about the state of humanity more so than the state of search.

Autocomplete remains fun to play with, even though Google is taking strides to make it more predictable and less ludicrous. Autocomplete functionality has certainly impacted long-tail search. Although just how much remains a bit elusive since non-secure referral data is distorted by the volume of branded and navigational terms.

Image, mobile, and local search have received nearly equal algorithmic attention this year. While there is certainly a great deal of cross-over for local and mobile search updates from Google, its work on improving image search results is notable. Image search presents many different layers of contextual challenges. Improving relevancy signals for image-based search will likely remain a core focus for some time, especially if Google continues to redefine what high-quality visual content is all about.

If we eliminate user interface updates as non-search results related changes, then sitelinks and snippets round out the top 10 list of Google’s provisional algorithmic updates made this year. We have all noticed most of the different variations of sitelink and snippet display options Google has been testing this year.

From mega sitelinks to rich snippet testing, Google continues to vary its top search results. Sitelinks have certainly changed the way people search, so much so that rankings have been rendered a muted metric. And Google’s search snippet improvements have all but eliminated bland boilerplate descriptions, making costly site architecture adjustments less urgent for larger websites.

The one constant we can always count on in the search marketing industry is change. Based on our top 10 analysis of Google updates made through July, the search engine is certainly living up to industry expectations this year.

It’s important to remember that some of the biggest changes in Google search results were not named all named after animals. As a matter of fact, some major changes in Google search algorithms have been named after nothing at all.


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