This was a big year for Google, which made a number of changes to its algorithm to produce better search results. Some of these changes were aimed to address large technology trends, such as growth in mobile use, while others were to provide better search results through a superior understanding of user context and semantics.
Let’s review four of the more prominent updates during 2015:
• Mobilegeddon: Arguably the largest change was the complete overhaul of how Google ranks mobile sites, separating it out from desktop. Mobile searches have been increasing over the years, and, in 2015, they overtook the number of desktop searches. The algorithm change was to ensure better results for the largest segment of searchers.
• Quality Signals Shift: Google confirmed the shift in ranks was due to a quality update (known at the time as the “phantom update”) that was focused around a “cleaner” site with stronger quality signals. Many people saw fluctuations in their editorial due to the lack of supporting content. This change was part of Google’s ongoing effort to ensure users get quality content. It penalizes pages that may have one page optimized for specific keywords without support from rest of the site or external links.
• Panda 4.2: This change was part of another ongoing Google effort to clean up spammy link farms and bad link profiles. The first Panda update, in 2011, was targeted at content farms that were dominating search results. When first rolled out, it impacted 12% of the results. The ongoing updates are a part of the evolution and, according to Google, this latest change impacted 2% to 3% of English language searches.
• Rankbrain Rollout: Google launched the “RankBrain” AI, which revealed that machine learning had been a part of the algorithm for months, contributing to the third-most influential ranking factor. RankBrain was not really an algorithm update; it uses machine learning to improve underlying search intent for search queries through advanced understanding of language semantics. People use searches differently, and a significant number of search queries are completely new. This algorithm is aimed to enable better results.
One algorithm change on the horizon (it was originaly planned for late this year) is a Penguin 4.0 update that is expected to bring real-time changes in assessing backlink signals. This implies that webmasters don’t have to wait around for “algorithm updates” or “manual data refreshes” to see results of the improvements to their link profiles.
As Google continues on its search journey, we recommend the following in 2016:
- Creating rich content with semantic value. “Keyword” focus has diminishing returns.
- Provide context to your content through the overall site content, through links, and through social signals.
- Multimedia search will continue to increase in importance. Optimize your images and videos.
- Optimize your apps for search. Mobile usage—and, therefore, app usage--is moving higher. In-app crawling will assume importance and will need marketers attention.