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Google’s Algorithm Changes So Far This Year (2018 Edition)

2018 has been a rollercoaster of a year for Google. We’ve seen big sites go overboard and small fish rise to the top (erm, in a non-dead way…). In our last post, we talked a ton about 7 ways to put out killer content that ranks, so, we thought we’d dive into Google algorithm updates in 2018 to show you why you should be putting energy towards high-quality original content.

Let’s take this oppor-tuna-ty to see how Google’s algorithm has changed in 2018. Sure, some of this may be a little technical, but we’re going to try to cut out all of the fancy acronyms and overused tech buzzwords. Trust us; this post will have you hooked!

March 7th, 2018 (The Brackets Update)

Let’s get one thing straight, we didn’t get to name this update. The credit for “Brackets” goes to Glenn Gabe over at GSQI. We would have picked something way better, like “The Betta Update” or “The ClickBait Update.”

This Google Algorithm update was one of the “nothing to see here” updates that Google is famous for. SEO experts were seeing shifts about a week before the update was officially announced, and Google made sure to clarify that the update was broad, not specific. Essentially, we saw another quality-emphasized update. Google wants to see unique, quality content, and websites that weren’t delivering took a ranking hit.

We can’t give you any specifics, because Google didn’t release any. But, we can tell you that the update seemed to be 99.9% quality oriented. For anyone familiar with SEM, this update isn’t surprising. There seems to a slew of these “broad” updates every year, and almost all of them are content focused.

The Brackets Update Takeaways

  • You need to be leveraging unique content if you want to stay ahead of the pack.
  • Google is dead set on releasing these broad updates yearly, and we’ll probably see another one pop-up before the year is done.

Tip: For any of you who are having issues penetrating high SERP, check out Google’s official guide on creating quality content. Be warned; it’s dense.

March 26th, 2018 (Mobile First Indexing)

It’s finally here! It seems like Google had been talking about mobile-first indexing before smartphones were invented. Ok, so really they had been toying around with the idea for 2 years, but it seemed like forever.

Google’s index is essentially its collection of web pages. So, all of the web pages that Googlebot crawls through, it indexes. Until now, Googlebot has been indexing pages through desktop crawling, which means that it was only taking into account pages that it found on desktop versions of sites. Of course, not all websites have the same content on desktop and mobile (don’t be like these websites!) Unfortunately for Google; mobile searches overtook desktop searches back in 2016 (and are dominating them in 2018.) So, this was leading to some obvious inconsistencies for all of us who use mobile search.

Now, Google is indexing via mobile. This does not mean that Google is using two indexes; it still only uses one. Now, the index is mobile-based.

The Mobile First Indexing Takeaways

  • Make sure that your mobile site matches your desktop version. Don’t publish different content to each.
  • Mobile is Google’s primary focus, which means that it should be on your radar. We aren’t saying to ditch the desktop. Just like investing, your SEO strategy needs a blended portfolio, or your risk is far too high.

June 14th, 2018 (Goodbye Video Thumbnails)

We could all sense this coming from a-mile-away. Google dropped support to video thumbnails and uses the carousel to rank content now. Of course, the carousel is a mobile-first feature, which further emphasizes Google’s love for mobile this year. Here’s where it gets a little fishy. If you’re an eCommerce site, you need to be paying careful attention to your ranking strategy.

Since Google removes anything in the carousel from the organic search results, anyone whose primary purpose is to sell product may get a negative impact due to this change. If you have a video popped up on a product page, make sure that it’s the correct one. If the thumbnail ends up looking nothing like your product and you get into the carousel, you’re going to get destroyed on ranking.

For example, let’s say that I sell pens. I have a huge page of pens that are all grouped together. I put out a video of my most expensive golden pen. People search for black pens, which I also sell. I used to be on the top 10 Google results page as an organic link (the blue links.) Now, my video is in the carousel, so Google removes me from its organic search. Suddenly, the person searching for black pens is seeing a video of a golden pen and completely skips my page.

This update may not seem significant, but it’s important to pay attention to small details like this. If you feel like you had a ranking hit (or sales have slowed down) since this time period, reach out to us. We’ll get you right back on track.

The Goodbye Video Thumbnails Takeaways

  • Webmasters need to pay careful attention to where and how they’re positioning video creatives; missteps can lead to colossal ranking hits.
  • Google really wants everyone to know that they love mobile. Make sure that you have a mobile-friendly site and start optimizing your creatives for mobile consumers.

July 24th, 2018 (HTTPS)

If you weren’t using an HTTPS website on July 24th, 2018, you were a fish-out-of-water. Starting this year, all sites that didn’t have HTTPS were displayed as unsafe on Google Chrome. We can burst through this one quick. If you aren’t using HTTPS, stop what reading this blog post right now, and go fix it. You can’t rank, and visitors aren’t going to visit your website.

The HTTPS Takeaways

  • You website has to be HTTPS secured. Period.

August 1st, 2018 (The Medic Update)

Google Medic was first discovered by a bunch of health and wellness webmasters who noticed some(fin) wrong with their rankings. Moz started to see some crazy ranking fluxes during this time period, and these rank changes seemed to disproportionately impact health and wellness websites.

This update was another quality-related rank change. Essentially, Google is starting to penalize websites based on their authority. Google’s asking “what authority do you have to make medical claims” and using that as a basis for ranking. For businesses, this means that peer-reviewed studies and consistent linking are a necessity. It’s not enough to say that Octopus Creative is the best agency on the planet, you have to prove it.

The Medic Update Takeaways

  • Make sure that you’re backing up any claims that you’re putting out.
  • If you’re in the health and wellness niche, make sure that you’re not making any claims that could be perceived as fraudulent.

The Other Google Algorithm 2018 Updates

There were a few other updates this year, but they were either A) small or B) had unknown impacts. Here they are:

  • July 21, 2018: Search Engine Round Table shows some significant inconsistencies and ranking shifts. Update unknown.
  • July 9th, 2018: Google announced that mobile speed would play a role in ranking factor. So far, it’s only penalizing super-slow sites. We expect it to start putting more emphasis on speed in the future.
  • May 23rd, 2018: Moz and Search Engine Round Table show some strange ranking patterns. Update unconfirmed.
  • May 13th, 2018: Google reduces snippet length to the previous 150-160 characters (thankfully!)
  • April 17th, 2018: Google confirms a core update after Moz and Search Engine Land find strange ranking temperatures. No one knows why, but most think it’s related to quality.
  • February 20th, 2018: Moz predicts algorithm update, Google denies it.

Conclusion

Google’s algorithm is a living breathing AI that will continue to evolve and adapt to the way that people intent searches. Quality remains a pressing issue for Google, and most changes reflect a distinct craving for quality content. Some strange situations might pop-up due to the Carousel and Medic update, which is why it’s important for SEO companies to be hyper-vigilant about staying consistent with Google.

If you’re running a business and all of this seems like way too much for you to have to think about, we get it. You have a company to run and a brand to build! Let us step up and use our SEO skills to reel you in clients and throw some bait at the bottom of your funnel. Also, don’t worry, just because our brand is an octopus doesn’t mean we’re from Finland, we’re located right here in Canada! (sorry, we had to)