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2012 Google Algorithm Updates: Part 2

Google updates its algorithm hundreds of times in a year. Here are the rest of the updates for 2012 ending with some of the most recent changes to date.

Multiple Panda UpdatesPanda 3.7, 3.8 and 3.9

An update (Panda 3.7) was applied to the Panda change on June 8, 2012 affecting less than 1% of queries. Later that same month on the 25th, Google rolled out another refresh update (Panda 3.8 data only) but no algorithm change. On July 24, 2012, one month after the first Panda update, Google rolled out a new change (Panda 3.9) that affected about 1% of queries.

 

Unnatural Link Warnings
On July 19, 2012, the company sent out unnatural link warnings through web master tools in another effort to combat link spam. The company also announced that these new warnings may not represent a serious problem. Search Engine Round Table provides an overview of the update.

Massive Changes
In one of the larger releases for the year, Google posted over 80 changes to the algorithm for June/July. Notable in this batch was Google’s improvement of “when is” and “what is” queries. The change allowed for better understanding of queries that ask questions like when is Halloween? Other improvements include better understanding of queries about weather, improved display of business information for mobile, and improvements for autocomplete that gives users more accurate information based on their home country.

DMCA Takedown
On August 10, 2012, Google released an update that penalized sites with repeated copyright violations.

SERP Change
In a more radical change to their user interface, Google rolled out an update that would decrease the amount of results that appear in SERP’s. On August 14, 2012, only 7 results could be seen in a Google SERP as opposed to the previous 10. The update had a much larger effect on overall searches at about 18%. This update indirectly created much more competition for the coveted first page of Google making it slightly more difficult to reach that spot. This post on 7-result SERP’s from SEOMoz gives a comprehensive overview on the subject.

20th Panda and EMD (Exact Match Domain) Update
On September 27, 2012, Google rolled out a rather large Panda update that affected about 2.4% of queries. In that same update came a lot of changes concerning exact match domains or EMD’s. A huge swath of websites that utilized EMD’s were devalued largely because of other poor ranking signals and not because the site used an EMD.

Penguin Update Number 3 and Page Layout Number 2
In October of 2012, Google introduced another Penguin update. The company reported that changes would be significant but when the time came, they rolled out a minor update that only affected less than 1% of queries. Also in October, a second page layout update was introduced but it was unclear how significant a change would happen. The original update was targeted at websites that had too many ads above the fold in the header of their pages.

Panda #21
In November of 2012, Google put out yet another update to Panda. This one officially impacted 1.1% of queries and was not seen as a significant change.

This list is essentially a summary of major and minor updates that Google has applied to its algorithm over 2012. There are hundreds of updates that go on throughout any given year that are not necessarily promoted to the public. Google makes changes to its algorithm in some form on almost a daily basis. It can also be difficult to gauge the performance of a website in search at any given time because of the way Google rolls out its updates. First the company tests changes on a subset of real users before rolling out a change across the entire user base. Therefore behavior of a website in search cannot always be predicted and sites may sometimes behave oddly.

Google is always thinking of its users when it is planning a change and it recommends to SEO’s that they do the same. Many of these updates mentioned may have little to no significance if webmasters are creating great content and designing for the people consuming that content instead of for search engines.

2012 Google Algorithm Updates: Part 1

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
PandaThe 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

PenguinThis 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.

Give Bad Links The Boot — Google’s Disavow Links Tool Released

Google Disavow Links InterfaceIf you’ve done any kind of link building you know that as soon as a link has been established to your site, it is nearly impossible to get it taken down. Of course when the link is beneficial, everything is great. When the link is causing us to lose PageRank and position in SERP’s, it can be like an annoying splinter just deep enough in our figure that it cannot be removed; so we learn to deal with it. Contacting web masters to take down spammy links on your website can often feel the same way. After all, these people have no real incentive to help you out and in many cases they may not even care about your needs. Finally there is a ray of hope for this supremely frustrating scenario and it comes in the form of the disavow links tool provided by Google.

Matt Cutts announced the new tool at PubCon in a keynote speech and covers the tool in a Google blog post here. Although it may be common knowledge by now, Google uses links among hundreds of signals to determine the popularity and importance of a website. Its proprietary measurement known as PageRank measures the authority of a web page, the PageRank of the source, the location of the link on a page and dozens of other factors to in turn rank the importance of the page the link is leading to. Until now, webmasters were stuck with the sole tactic of contacting other webmasters in order to get links removed from their site. The disavow tool now gives webmasters a weapon that they can draw on when all else has failed.

About The Tool
It is important to note that Google isn’t touting this as a replacement for contacting web masters to take down spammy links. In Mr. Cutt’s post, it is still recommended that web masters contact whoever they are able in order to remove links in the traditional manner. In fact this is still the best way to promote a positive image for your site and have a truly clean backlink profile. The tool comes in when an individual has exhausted all other avenues and cannot get a link off of his/her site. By creating a plain text file with one URL per line where the links that you would like Google to ignore are listed; you can request that the search engine ignore these signals on your website. Notice that the name of the tool is disavow meaning to not support. This means Google is ignoring the link and not actually removing it from another person’s site. If you cannot get people to take links down, using the tool will benefit you as far as Google search results but you may not be in the clear with the dozens of other search engines that are out there.

Key Takeaways

Most sites will not have to use the tool: In several points of Mr. Cutt’s post, he mentions that the majority of website will not have to use this tool. In fact, it is even said that if you aren’t sure how the tool is used then you probably shouldn’t (and don’t) need to use it. For novice users, it can be easy to mistakenly add links that do not need to be disavowed. Although this process can be undone, it can take several weeks to get the process to work and several more to undo it if you make a mistake.

The disavow document is a suggestion, not a directive: Google mentions that the disavow tool is powerful for webmasters because they will take into account what is in the file however it is not an absolute solution. Google reserves the right to ignore information in the file if they so choose however for most users, suggestions will be implemented.

The tool should be used in select scenarios: So if you are a webmaster and you just heard about this tool from this post or perhaps somewhere else, there is probably not a need for you to rush to your webmaster tools account and start uploading links. In fact, unless you have been actively involved in link building activities, chances are you do not need to use this tool. If you have been engaged in link building activities on your own such as creating external web 2.0 properties under pseudo names, buying links from paid services, participating in link exchanges or actively engaging in any other link building activities that could be perceived as deceptive to users or against Google’s quality guidelines; you may want to take a look at your backlink profile. Other reasons one may need to use the tool are if you have received a message from Webmaster tools notifying you of unnatural link activity or if there are links you have been trying to remove manually and cannot.

Granularity is important: Just like in SEO, the difference between example.com and www.example.com is important. The document users submit to Google in order to have links on their site disavowed also supports a fairly granular level of detail. If you want a link removed that is found on example.com, submitting www.example.com will not be good enough.

Webmasters who have been toiling to find a way to remove detrimental links from their website at last have a solution; even if it is only for one major search engine. If you want more information on how the tool works, you can read about it in Google’s help center.

You can also check out this video featuring Matt Cutts.

Will you be using the disavow links tool? What tactics were you using before the tool’s release to get detrimental links off of your website?

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