Over the past ten years, we've seen a number of updates from Google to its search algorithms. The search engine has continuously improved to give the user the best possible results.
It is always interesting and funny (not to say tragic) to see how companies and SEO professionals deal with these updates. It is always an avalanche of analysis on specialized websites, impact predictions and desperate SEOs planning the next excuse that they will give customers because of their wrong optimization strategies.
- Top updates from Google
- What is the problem with “SEO professionals”?
- "It was the fault of the update!"
- Google updates: a holistic approach
Before explaining my point of view, I will give a brief summary, to the reader who may not follow this topic, of the main updates from Google in the last ten years. Feel free to skip this part if you want.
Top updates from Google
2011 - Panda
Panda was the first major Google update of today. This update attempted to clean up search results by removing sites created exclusively to be ranked. Two types of sites were affected: affiliate sites (which existed to link to other pages) and sites with very little content. It was the beginning of the end of websites ranked with low quality content.
Panda update focus: most relevant content to the user.
2012 - Venice
The Venice update was a milestone in understanding local searches by users. After this update, the search results on Google started to include pages based on the location of the person who performed the search.
Focus of the Venice update: local searches.
2012 - Penguin
The Google Penguin update analyzed the links that sites received from other sites and whether they were genuine or if they were purchased to deceive search engines. Penguin tried to discourage the purchase, exchange or artificial creation of links. If it found artificial links, Google would attribute a negative value to the site in question, instead of the positive value of the link it would have received previously.
Penguin has permanently changed the construction of web links. Rather than getting paid, low-quality backlinks, the sites had to work on building a successful link building strategy targeting relevant links.
Focus of the Penguin update: relevant link building.
2013 - Hummingbird
The Hummingbird update introduced the basics of voice search. It made the searcher much more attentive to each word of the search, ensuring that the entire sentence is taken into account and not just isolated terms. This update was essential to better understand the user's search and provide answers instead of a list of results.
Focus of the Hummingbird update: valuing contents written in a natural way and not just super-optimized content for a few words.
2014 - HTTPS / SSL
Seeking to enhance the security aspect, Google decided to reward sites with HTTPS implementation, which make the connection between site and user more secure. Much questioned if it really had a direct impact on the results, this update helped to advance other technologies such as the HTTP2 protocol, contributing to a better performance of the sites.
Focus of the HTTPS / SSL update: enhancement of sites that offer a safer experience for visitors.
2015 - Mobile Update
The famous “Mobilegeddon”. At the time, 50% of searches were already done from mobile devices. Mobile Update gave mobile-friendly sites a ranking advantage in Google's mobile search results. Despite its dramatic nickname, the update did not instantly compromise the ranking of most sites. However, it was a major change that announced the increasing importance of the cell phone.
Focus of the Mobile update: mobile-optimized pages.
2015 - RankBrain
RankBrain is a state-of-the-art algorithm that uses machine learning to handle searches. He can make assumptions about words he doesn't know, find words with similar meanings, and then offer relevant results.
Its launch marks another big step for Google to better decipher the meaning behind the searches, serving better results. In March 2016, Google revealed that RankBrain was one of the three most important ranking factors. Unlike other factors, you cannot “optimize for RankBrain” in the traditional sense, unless you write quality content.
RankBrain update focus: valuing quality content.
2018 - Speed Update (Mobile)
Recognizing the users' need for fast information delivery, Google implemented this update that made page speed a ranking factor for mobile searches, as was already the case with desktop searches. The update affected (negatively) mainly sites with a slow mobile version.
Focus of the Speed Update: valuing quick pages for mobile devices.
2018 - Medic
This wide updating of the algorithm caused a great stir leading to some changes in the ranking. Although many medical sites have been hit with lower ratings, the update was not just targeted at these. The objectives of this update are not very clear. It may have been an attempt to better match the results with the search intent, or perhaps it was intended to protect the well-being of users from dishonest information.
Focus of the Medic update: valuing true / honest content and more aligned with the search intention.
2019 - BERT
Google's BERT update has been heralded as the “biggest change in the past five years”. It is a machine learning algorithm that uses a neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP). The name BERT is short for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers.
BERT can discover the full context of a word by looking at the words that come before and after it. That is, it uses the context and relationships of all words in a sentence, instead of one by one.
Focus of the BERT update: improved interpretation of a survey and the intention behind it.
2021 - Google Page Experience
The update planned for 2021 and already announced by Google (not necessarily with this name) should change the search results. THE Google Page Experience aims to provide better positioning for sites with better performance.
Focus of the Google Page Experience update: valuing user experience (speed, interaction time, layout, etc.).
I left out some updates like Possum (2016) and Fred (2017) but they were also important.
Let us move on to my point of view.
What is the problem with “SEO professionals”?
I recently came across an article with the following title “The main updates to the Google algorithm and how to use it to your advantage“. Knowing the behavior of most professionals in the area, I decided to look for some more “pearls”. There it goes: “Google algorithm: understand how it works and learn how to rank in 2020“, “Google algorithm post-update action plan“…
Is that serious ?! Look at the focus of the updates!
There needs to be an update or someone (in this case Google) telling you, content producers and SEO professionals, to focus on: natural, relevant, honest and quality content; relevant link building; security for users; mobile-optimized pages and user experience?
I think not. The above factors must be the constant search of any SEO professional. Making the internet a better place by bringing a better experience for users, that should be the focus.
I have professional colleagues who play piloting SEO projects, in the same way that product managers play piloting agile methodology projects (I already commented on these in another article).
These same professional colleagues keep ** in hand with every Google update and lose nights of sleep by “measuring” impacts and devising “strategies” to improve ranking. It makes no sense!
Read too: "10 pros and cons of being an SEO professional“
"It was the fault of the update!"
Many SEOs blame Google updates for their losses and try to figure out what specific ranking factors need to work. This is the wrong way to think about the problem.
If your SEO strategy is vulnerable to an update or algorithm that seeks to benefit the user then your SEO strategy is bad.
Is it possible that a Google update is responsible for a drop in the positioning of your pages? Of course yes. But again, if this happens, rethink your strategy, don't blame Google.
Don't hate the player hate the game.
If your company lost positions and you think it was the fault of an update, make sure you have all the events and updates on the site properly recorded or you will not be able to really understand what the impact of the update was.
Doesn't your company have SEO professionals? Never hire one that justifies increases or decreases in positioning / traffic due to updates from Google. If you already have one that does this, consider replacing it.
Google updates: a holistic approach
Think of the SEO journey in your company or your client as something natural and rewarding. Take a holistic approach to SEO, focusing on the various aspects involved. Think about how the visitor will find your pages in the search, how they will be received on the site and delight you with the performance of the page (speed, visual, content).
Worry about offering a quality product, that talks to your target audience. This way, you won't have to worry every time an update to the search engines occurs. You will be protected from a fragile strategy that can bring your business to ruin.
Focus on your website!
Keep reading: "10 Important Items for On-Page SEO“