With the release of Hummingbird and Matt Cutt’s replacement as head of web spam, Google has become less and less transparent.
Best practices, such as creating great content, building high-quality backlinks, and improving on-site SEO may no longer be enough. The new age of digital marketing will be shaped by innovative branding, mobile, and user-friendly approaches based on what we have been seeing lately in the SERPs.
It may start becoming more complicated to rank organically, but these new changes can give us insight into what direction Google is going.
A recent Ascend2 study revealed that the most challenging obstacles to SEO success are changing search algorithms (40%) and budget constraints (38%), so focusing on the right things and keeping up to date is more important than ever.
In order to help you solve at least one of these obstacles, we have put together a collection of Google algorithm updates & changes.
But first, some perspective:
Google’s Latest Algorithm Updates & Changes
Because Google is a business, first and foremost, its primary goal is to make money (which would also explain the 4 AdWords Ads update). But in Google’s defense, its engineers have also been working really hard to improve search results and user experience.
The search engine is now using an AI machine called RankBrain to interpret queries, Panda has become part of Google’s core ranking algorithm (1), and the real-time version of the Penguin will be released in the foreseeable future (2).
This is not all.
Google has made many changes in 2015 and 2016. The Mobile Update, also known as Mobilegeddon, was released approximately one year ago to improve the experience of mobile searches, and the “Quality” update, originally dubbed “Phantom 2” changed the way that quality is assessed.
As you can see, we are entering a new age of online search, where old-school SEO practices are no longer sufficient.
The ultimate key to building a sustainable online business is staying ahead of Google, and making changes in advance. Below is a list of Algorithm Updates & Boosts (some confirmed, some unconfirmed) that you should look out for.
1. Google’s Mobile Friendly Algorithm to be Updated this May (Confirmed)
Continuing its crusade to make the web a friendlier place for tablet & smart-phone users, Google has announced a major update for its “Mobile Friendly” algorithm. Don’t expect another Mobilgeddon, though.
The update will start rolling out in May and it will probably take weeks, or months, to complete. Since it is a page-by-page signal, the impacts of the update will also be slow to show-up. I suspect this roll-out to be similar to that of Panda 4.2.
According to the Google, the impact of the mobile-friendliness signal will increase and it will become a major ranking factor.
2. We’re Still Waiting for the Real-time Penguin Algorithm Refresh (Confirmed)
Last October, during the SMX East Conference, Google’s Gary Illyes announced that the real-time version of the Penguin algorithm would be released by the end of the year.
The “real-time” feature implies that the effects of Penguin will happen faster than in the past (e.g. websites with spammy link profiles will be pushed out of SERPs in real-time). The update was delayed due to holidays, and its release date has yet to be confirmed.
This slow release is probably due to Gary’s ambition to perfect the Penguin. On a positive note, he has confirmed that the refresh will happen “this quarter” so you can expect the Penguin to be live in a matter of weeks.
What does this mean for SEOs?
For websites that have improved their link profiles in the last 15 weeks, it finally means escape from Penguin prison. For sites with shady links, the new update is a harbinger of bad news.
What you need to do: If you are worried about your link-profile, I suggest conducting a full backlink analysis profile, disavowing shady scraper links, paying attention to redirects, and creating high-quality links.
3. RankBrain Confirmed as Google’s Third Most Important Ranking Signal (Confirmed)
Not an algorithm update per-se, but vital news for SEOs: Andrey Lipattsev, Google’s Search Quality Senior Strategies, revealed that the RankBrain Algorithm has become the search engine’s third most important ranking factor.
All we know about RankBrain is the fact that it’s an artificial intelligence system, which uses machine learning, to help Google sort through results. According to SearchEngineLand, RankBrain is now part of Hummingbird’s search algorithm.
At the moment, the top 3 ranking factors are Links, Content, and RankBrain. We do not know which of them is more important. For more information about ranking factors please check out Moz’s comprehensive study.
4. Update for Google’s Smartphone User-Agent, April 18 (Confirmed)
According to a recent announcement on the Google Webmaster Blog, the user-agent for the smart-phone Googlebot crawler will be updated on April 18, 2016.
“As technology on the web changes, we periodically update the user-agents we use for Googlebot. Next month, we will be updating the smartphone user-agent of Googlebot.”
The new Googlebot smart-phone user agent will look like this:
Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; Android 6.0.1; Nexus 5X Build/MMB29P) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/41.0.2272.96 Mobile Safari/537.36 (compatible; Googlebot/2.1; +http://www.google.com/bot.html)
What is the reason for this change?
Google wants to provide a renderer that can better understand pages with new web technologies. As a result, the Apple iPhone & Safari string was replaced with Android & Chrome. This update will have no effect on 99% of web-sites.
4. Algorithm Predictions for 2016
Based on Google’s latest updates and statements, we have a good idea of how 2016 will look like, in terms of Algorithm updates. Here are some interesting predictions:
4.1. Algorithm Change Predictions Based on Google Patents
Azfar Hisham put together 14 interesting predictions based on recently released patents. I will simply list some of the most exciting ones. If you’re interested in reading more, check out his post:
- Adapting Text Ads to Mobile Devices
- Customizing Content Based on User Speed
- Reputation Scores for Users and Improved Search Results
- Ranking Sites by Email Interaction & Time Spent Viewing Content
- More Personalized Search Results
- Better Classification for Different Types of Queries
- Improved Detection for New Businesses with Unrecognized Query Terms
4.2. Google will Fact Check Articles
Google has been working on a technology that can automatically fact-check web content for several years now. The algorithm is almost ready.
Even if it doesn’t arrive this year, it will surely be released by 2017 or 2018. Furthermore, such an algorithm will need a gradual roll-out because fact-checking isn’t always black and white (information can be accurate under some contexts, and not others)
4.3. Google’s Quality Standards Will Increase
The minimum word-count for “good” articles keeps going up. In 2010, 500 words was considered great. In 2012, that value increased to 750. Then 1000. Now, the only articles I see in SERP’s top 10 are 2000+ words long.
If top result sites can tell us anything, it’s that the search engine loves detailed content. I am confident that this trend will continue throughout 2016.
Nevertheless, thousands of words don’t necessarily equal quality. Many top SEOs and digital marketers have shared thought-provoking articles on the topic of length. The general consensus is that articles should be as long as they need to be to prove a point.
Do you need 2,000 words to resolve a visitor’s problems? If the answer is yes, then you’d better start writing.
However, if the problem could be explained in 500 words, and longer content would affect user-experience, you should stick to short-form articles.
Don’t create long-form articles for the sake of producing content.
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What predictions do you have for this year?