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Decoding Google's Search Algorithm Update

Decoding Google's Search Algorithm Update

Monday December 03, 2018,

5 min Read

Google’s search engine algorithm, as we know it, is essentially a black-box phenomenon. The SEO community has time and again been shaken up by updates with no real clue about how to approach it, but to simply wait and watch.

In this article, I will address three main things:

●     Why are search engine algorithm updates so frequent?

●     What are the 5 major updates in the past?

●     How to respond to such updates?

So, let’s begin with the first question at hand. The simple answer to why search engine algorithm updates appear quite frequently would be because Google wants to ensure the best search experience for its user. In the words of Google’s VP of Engineering Ben Gomes, “Our goal is to get you the exact answer you’re searching for faster.” The other reason could be the SEO community itself. Owing to the fact that Google acts as the most effective platform for many businesses, tons of money is spent to improve their search engine ranking. This, more often than not, makes them resort to black hat techniques. Hence, it is obvious that Google updates the algorithm often to stay ahead of the curve.

There have been many updates in the past. Some of them have created alarming repercussions resulting in the Google Dance while some are relatively less alarming, owing to minor tweaks. So, for the sake of simplicity, I shall address the major updates and their impact on Google search.

Source: Click Here


Date: February 24, 2011

Impacts websites with duplicate, plagiarised or thin content, keyword stuffing, and cloaking.

Google penalised websites which were found guilty of the above felony. Through Panda, Google assigns a quality score to a website which in-turn plays a key role in the ranking of the website.


Date: April 24, 2012

Impacts websites with spammy links and anchor-text abuse.

Google uses backlinks as a reference from one website to another. With time, this activity was abused by websites. Hence, this was Google’s crackdown on such websites.

Websites with a sudden spike in backlinks or a large number of backlinks from one website were punished in this update.


Date: August 22, 2013

Impacts websites which relied on heavy keyword stuffing and low-quality content.

Google penalized websites which relied on keyword stuffing to rank for queries. Through this update, Google moved in the direction of intent vs query. Hummingbird update helped Google understand the intent of the user for the search as compared to the search query. This update made it possible for pages to rank for a keyword even if the keyword is not excessively present on the page since it caters to the intent of the user. This can be achieved by creating good content around a topic, using synonyms, latent semantic indexing, and co-occurring terms.


Date: September 1, 2016

Google has been working on improving local search results post-2014, and the Possum update was a continuation of such efforts. The Possum update ensured that results for a search query were in-sync with the user’s location. For example: If you are based in Bandra, Mumbai and search for “salons near me”, the results that will appear would rank in accordance to the distance from your location.

  1. Updates in 2018: Here, I haven’t mentioned any names as these updates haven’t been named.
  2. March 9, 2018: This update was more concerned with the relevance of a website. There were many instances where websites having high relevance for keywords improved their ranking and traffic while some saw a drop in ranking for keywords and were replaced by bigger websites.
  3. August 1, 2018: This update impacted both organic traffic and local results. In this case, since the update is recent I shall limit myself to websites where I have observed the impact. The websites which were impacted the most were YMYL (Your Money, Your Life) websites. The SERP shuffle was based on how well these websites demonstrate E-A-T i.e. Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust. Here, the websites that could somehow showcase their expertise in the subject were awarded higher search ranking.

In case you want to know more about these updates, you can get in touch with me.

Now, coming to the final section of the article on how you should respond to such updates. In my opinion, initially, you should let the dust settle and not panic about the traffic you are losing. In most cases, I have noticed that once the update is complete there is an improvement in the traffic and you can see the graph getting normal again unless your website directly violates the update criteria. The steps that you should follow post an update are as follows:

●     Review Technical Parameters: These parameters are the easiest for Google to detect and hence you start here. You should begin with a site-wide audit on all the technical parameters and optimize your website.

●     Competition Analysis: Analyze the SERP for all the keywords that have taken a hit. When you look at the SERP post the update, you will be able to observe a movement in websites that did not rank earlier. You should study their content in depth and perform a content gap analysis. Make a list of all the things done by them and not by you. Once, you have completed the analysis, you will have a list of actionable and you are good to go.

●     Create Good Content: Google has always maintained that content takes precedence over everything in SEO. You should be completely focused on creating good content, always keeping the user in mind and not the Google bot.

In the advent of a series of Google updates, I believe having patience is the key. If you observe a drop in traffic for your website, read on the internet and talk to industry experts about the magnitude of the update. The easiest way out of any update is creating good content as Google maintains that CONTENT IS KING.