2012 Google Algorithm Updates: Part 1

Google Algorithm Updates for 2012

Google had a busy year in 2012 with about 33 groups of major updates released to its proprietary search algorithm and other parts of its platform. With the flurry of updates keeping search engine marketers and SEO’s on their toes, it can be difficult to keep up on all the changes. That’s why we have compiled them all here for you to see in a 2 part post. So sit back and buckle up, the scenery changes quickly.

The Venice Update
On February 27, 2012, Google launched the Venice update which was one notable change of 40 that occurred to the algorithm in this month. The specific wording of the algorithm modification was “This improvement improves the triggering of Local Universal results by relying more on the ranking of our main search results as a signal.” This means that location based signals (such as the location setting in a Google account, a user’s IP address and other signals) are playing a larger role in the results that Google delivers to its users.

The Rest of the February 2012 Updates
Along with the Venice update, there were numerous other changes to the algorithm for February. Among some of the more exciting updates were the international launch of shopping rich snippets which allowed users to more easily identify sites that have relevant product information along with featured reviews and ratings, better support for English spelling correction especially for rare queries and a Panda update that made the previous version more sensitive to changes on the internet.  SEOMoz provides some great visual examples of how the Venice Update impacted localized results.

Panda 3.3 and 3.4
Panda The Panda update is noted as having an unusually long lifespan for an algorithm update. At the end of February (Panda 3.3) and March (Panda 3.4), Google released minor updates to the famed Panda change. What was notable about 3.4 was that the company announced its update via Twitter. Google’s Tweet below indicates the scope of searches that will be impacted. An update (Panda 3.5) made later in April was also of small significance.


March Batch of Updates
In April of 2012, Google released a batch of updates for the month of March. Among them were improvements to the handling of symbols for indexing, autocomplete improvements for equation related queries, better results for navigational type queries (searches where people are looking for a specific website), and more relevant image search results. A really cool part of this update was that when Google put out its monthly blog post featuring the latest updates, they also included an uncut video showing a search quality meeting. It gives great insight into how these decisions are made; very cool!

My Domain is NOT parked
On April 16, 2012, the search giant rolled out an update that fixed an issue with domains mistakenly being recognized as parked when they were not. When a domain is seen as parked by a search engine, it is devalued in the SERP’s because there is no real content for users to see.  Search Engine Land covers the topic here.

And Then There was a Penguin

Penguin This is starting to sound like some strange dream. On April 24, 2012, Google rolled out the Penguin update to combat web spam. This was a highly anticipated update and one that changed the way many websites optimize their content and structure today. Google’s post was titled “Another Way to Reward High-Quality Sites” and the update targeted sites that were blatantly engaging in webspam tactics to deceive both users and Google.

A screen shot from Google’s post highlights a site that may appear legitimate at first glance but that is obviously using tactics that create a poor user experience.  Notice in the screen shot how the anchor text in the links has nothing to do with the overall theme of the article.

Example of Link Spam

There were also 52 other updates in April including an increase in the company’s “base” index and numerous updates to sitelinks. The last update that was rolled out in April was Panda 3.6 which, like the other updates to Panda, had a relatively small impact on overall searches.

The Other 52 Updates for April 2012

Some of the notable improvements made to Google’s algorithm in April of 2012 include: More domain diversity which delivered users a wider spectrum of separate websites in SERP’s, more improvements to local navigational searches, and better search query interpretation. The improved interpretation actually better predicts the intention of user queries based on their previous searches. Another important part about his batch of updates was one that increased the size of Google’s base index. The base index is the database which is used to match a user’s query. Google points out that updates to their indexes are not always mentioned in their monthly update blog posts.  Click here for the  full list of updates in April.

The Knowledge Graph

Google takes a step toward building the next generation of search with the Knowledge Graph. On May 16, 2012, the company began rolling out the project. Instead of focusing on strings of characters and words, Google began to deliver results based on objects and their relationship to other things in the world. The graph currently contains more than 500 million objects and more than 3.5 billion facts about the relationships among those objects. The knowledge graph is truly one of the most exciting and unique updates of 2012.

Penguin 1.1
On May 25, 2012 Google rolled out the first data update for Penguin.

39 Updates for May 2012
This batch of updates (posted in June), featured an updated search app for iPhone, better detection of pages that have been hacked and improved detection of link schemes. The link scheme detection is a notable improvement as this is one  of the most widely used ways of increasing the popularity of a website. It also reaffirms that this is a strong signal that Google looks at to determine the value of any particular website.

That does it for the first half of 2012. Check out the rest of the updates for the year as well as the most recent changes to Google’s algorithm in the second part of this post.

Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.

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