Was October 2014 the Most Active Month of Search Engine Updates Ever?
Sayonara October! You brought a whirlwind of non-stop changes from the search engine big 3, Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Like a college student that procrastinated for weeks and now must pull an all-nighter to hammer out a term paper before the 8:00 am deadline the next day, I can only assume the search engine teams were trying to get everything rolled out before the upcoming holiday season, starting with Black Friday. While I appreciate you doing it before the holiday season, and not during (though that remains to be seen), I must admit I’m quite happy to see an end to this hyper active month of change and am hoping we can all catch our breath now in November. Though the constant updating without specific dates and details gave me the perfect facial expression to go with my Al Bundy costume on Halloween.
Before we kick off a productive November, let’s review some of the major updates Google made recently.
Panda 4.1 (#27) — September 23, 2014
A significant Panda update, impacting 3-5% of search queries, was announced by Google. They said it would be completed within a week or so, so the exact timing is unclear. Google claimed the update should result in a greater diversity of high-quality small and medium sized site ranking higher, though we’re not seeing this to be the case across every vertical. While not confirmed by Google, the SEO community also noticed a refresh of Panda 4.1 on Oct 12. Sites that took significant action to have better quality content saw increases in search traffic. This update makes it more important to ensure your site does not have thin, duplicate content with too much keyword stuffing. A focus should be placed on creating well written useful content.
“In The News” Box — October 1, 2014
Google updated their News-box results to include articles from more sites beyond just news sites. Their goal is to present as diverse a range of voices as possible to give searchers the best answers to their questions. News-box results could now include blog posts, press releases, social media posts, and more. It also resulted in more news results showing up in search results. This update creates opportunities for smaller sites to gain visibility that was previously reserved for traditional news sites. Creating useful content in a timely matter, especially related to trending topics, could prove to be a more valuable source of organic search traffic than before.
Penguin 3.0 — October 17, 2014
We waited over a year for another Penguin update, with the last one, Penguin 2.1, occurring on Oct 4, 2013. Initially, this update appeared to be less significant than expected with less than 1% of English search queries affected and the SEO community expressed doubts about this being a full update, but rather just a refresh of the previous update. While it at first appeared the update was completed by Oct 20th, we were then told the update would continue rolling out over the next several weeks. More effects of this update were seen over the final two weeks of October, especially on Oct 22nd. There was also a large spike in search result changes on Oct 31st (Happy Halloween!). This update makes it more important to monitor which sites are linking to yours and to disavow the potentially harmful ones. Negative SEO is now becoming easier to implement and thus more common. This is when a competitor tries to build harmful links to your site, causing it to fall in search results. We are taking measures to monitor this type of activity and combat it as quickly as we can. We have also noticed that we need to be more careful with redirecting old domains to a sit’s primary domain. If an old domain has harmful links pointing to it, and you 301 redirect that domain to your site then it can be seen as a “spammy” tactic and hurt your site. This makes it crucial to keep a list of all other domains your company owns and evaluate them to ensure they will not hurt your business.
Pirate 2.0 — October 21, 2014
The original DMCA/”Pirate” update occurred over 2 years ago, and this October Google finally launched another update to combat software and digital media piracy. Unless your site is violating copyright laws, you probably do not need to worry about this update effecting your site, as it was targeted at a small group of websites.
Pigeon — July 24, 2014
In July, Google rolled out an update that dramatically changed some local search results and how they determine whether to show local results and which sites should be shown based on new ranking parameters for distance and location. While the Pigeon update first occurred in late July, we have been noticing more changes to local search results over the past 2-3 weeks. Some search results that previously included local results now seem to be showing only national results, and vice versa. When the search results change whether they show more or less local/national results this can change which URLs are being shown for either. We’ve seen sites lose traffic from out-of-state searchers, but gain traffic from in-state searchers, and vice versa. With these changes and presumably more on the way, it is very important to have a complete Google+ profile with a verified location, posts, and reviews. If your business has a brick-and-mortar location and relies on foot traffic for sales, it is crucial to focus on your Google+ My Business page just as much as your website. If your business is exclusively online, you may notice drops in search traffic from locations far from your headquarters, with some search results favoring businesses closer to the searcher.
Hopefully the updates will slow down and the SERPs will settle in to place over the next few weeks so we can all have a happy holiday season. I’ll be updating this post soon with a recap of the updates Bing and Yahoo! have made as well, but please let us know in the comments if you’ve seen any changes in your search results and what seems to be working or not working now compared to before. While we now have a better understanding of the changes and how to move forward successfully, there’s always more to learn.
Thanks for reading!