January 13, 2015

Oh Google, will you ever stop updating your algorithms and driving webmasters crazy? Each year, Google makes changes to its algorithms to ensure fairness in its web search results. The California-based company wants to keep its search results pages (SERPs) fair for both businesses and customers. When people conduct web searches, they want relevant results that answer their queries. Likewise, businesses want their products and services to land high in search results for high-value consumers. Google has been updating its algorithms more frequently since 2010, but how often does it change algorithms?

The Simple Answer

There is a short, straight-forward answer to the question of Google’s algorithm alterations. Generally speaking, the company rolls out 500 to 600 changes to its search algorithms each year. However, many of these changes are minor and the average web user wouldn’t even notice that changes have taken place. When it comes to major updates and algorithm changes, Google is more conservative with its changes.

Google has rolled out a number of major changes in recent years, beginning with Panda and Penguin almost four years ago. The first major changes were rolled out in 2000, and since then there have been a number of other changes.

Major Algorithm Changes

According to MOZ.com, Google has rolled out 13 changes in 2014 alone. Some of the changes in 2014 represented updates to previous programs, while others were new altogether. Examples of new algorithms in 2014 include the following:

  • In the News: Rolled out in October, Google made changes to the way news-box results were displayed on its website. The presence of news results in SERPs spiked following the change and large news sites reported increased online traffic.
  • Authorship: In august, Google announced that it would completely remove authorship markup entirely. The company had previously removed authorship photos in June 2014.
  • Pigeon: Like Panda and Penguin before it, Google Pigeon represented a massive update from Google and was the biggest change introduced by the company this year. Pigeon shook up local SEO by altering local results and modifying the manner in which they are handled. According to Google, Pigeon is designed to create a closer tie between local search algorithms and larger core algorithms.

Other Major Algorithm Changes

The algorithm changes and updates that webmasters care about most are the ones that shake the foundation of their livelihood. There is a full list of Google’s major algorithm updates on Search Engine Land, but we’ll cover the basics of each one of those updates below:

  • Panda, February 2011: Google Panda was a search filter update that was released to stop sties with poor quality content from working their way to the top of SERPs. Panda has received a number of updates through the years, with each updating causing a minor tremor online. Sometimes updates allow sites previously hit by Panda to escape. Other times, the updates make life worse.
  • Penguin, April 2012: Google Penguin was released to build off the improvements rolled out with Panda. The role of this update was to better catch sites that were spamming search results, particularly those buying links or obtaining them through link networks just to boost their Google SERPs. Penguin, like Panda, had a tremendous impact online at first.
  • Pirate, August 2012: This update largely went under the radar because it wasn’t focused on the primary black-hat tactics that irritated web users. The update was designed to prevent sites with many copyright infringement reports from landing high in SERPs.
  • Payday Update, June 2013: Payday Update was a new algorithm that targeted search results with so-called “spammy queries.” Among the search terms targeted by this update were those related to payday loans (hence the name), pornographic content, gambling content, and other heavily spammed queries.
  • Hummingbird, September 2013: Google Hummingbird is a new search platform that pays close attention to the meaning of words that people use in search queries. Hummingbird is designed to pay more attention to the entire query and better interpret whole sentences and phrases for meaning, ensuring more accurate search results.

Freshness and Quality

There will never be a solid answer from the folks at Google regarding the regularity of its algorithm changes. As it has done since it first started tinkering with algorithm changes, Google will continue to make alterations as it sees fit to ensure that the SERPs users see are fresh, relevant, and fair to all sides.

According to GrowDigitally, Google is still making changes at a rapid pace. As of this year, Google makes small changes on a daily basis. There were roughly 40 changes made in February 2014 alone. Many of the changes that Google makes relate to the quality of SERPs. This is done with the goal of weeding out spam and low-quality content. Others relate to display features and social media.

Starting in 2009, Google implemented new algorithms that focused on search quality. In the eyes of Google, new content means better content. Fresh search results were favored in SERPs, and blogging became more relevant for sites. Blogs represent a fresh stream of content and can boost your sites standing with Google.

Social integration has also become important. Not surprisingly, Google has focused on its own social media platform (Google+) when listing social networking sites in SERPs. When websites integrate social media profiles, it lends credibility to the site and helps it land higher in Google SERPs.

What Does Google Have to Say?

The best place to go for an answer to his question is Google itself. When asking Google about its algorithm changes, there is no one more relevant than Matt Cutts. He is the leader of Google’s web spam department and is the face of the company’s efforts to clean up its SERPs. In this YouTube video, Cutts answers two questions about algorithm changes:

  • How many changes did Google make to their primary search algorithm in 2009?
  • Is content still the king or did something else (structure) take over?

The video is worth 1:45 of your time to hear Cutts’ answers. We will take a moment to highlight Cutts’ response. As he puts it, Google officials in the spam department meet on a weekly basis to discuss potential changes that they come up with each day. After testing each algorithm change to ensure it does its intended job, they put the software into production and begin rolling it out. While his rule of thumb is to craft new algorithms each day, those changes don’t hit the web on a daily basis.

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