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Dec 19, 2012

The Changing Face of Google’s Algorithm

Google Algorithm Changes Over The Years
Over 200 factors go into making up the Google algorithm (algo), but not all of these factors are equal. Some factors – like Page Rank – have more weight than others, and some seem to change regularly, while others stay the same year-on-year.

As an Search Engine Optimizer, it’s hard to keep track with the algorithm changes that take place, seemingly every day – it’s been said that Google makes hundreds of algorithm changes every year. This post will cover some of the major updates that have occurred since the early days of Google. 


“Florida” – 2003 


Florida is widely acknowledged as the first major “modern” algo update; one where it made life significantly harder for SEO’s than it was hence. Florida hit many sites hard, and mainly came down on spam tactics such as cloaking, keyword stuffing and aggressively optimised anchor text. Florida was a game changer – it was a signal from Google that they were not going to tolerate spammers polluting their algorithm. 


“Brandy” – 2004 


The Brandy update was a slightly different update as it was not a traditional update designed to clamp down on webspam, but rather an update designed to improve how Google indexes, ranks and returns results. Brandy introduced the fancy-sounding term “Latent Semantic Indexing “(LSI) to the SEO lexicon – LSI is basically Google scanning web pages looking for synonyms of keywords in the text, to return related, and more accurate results in response to a searcher’s query. 


“Vince” – 2009 


Vince caused a lot of hubbub and noise in the SEO community, as early on in 2009, many Google users began to see some major changes to how brands were featured in the SERPS – many were seeing higher rankings for major brands (most of which would have ranked pretty high anyway) and lower rankings for less well known sites. Google called it more of a “trust” update, rather than a brand one. However, the two are pretty much synonymous with each other – brands attract trust and links like sweets attract flies. To my knowledge, Vince was one of the first Google algorithm update to be named after a Google engineer. 


“Caffeine” - 2010 


Caffeine was known as the “freshness” update – it was designed to deliver more up-to-date, or “fresher”, results to certain queries. So, for example, a Google query for a recipe for muffins would not require that fresh results, but a query for an unfolding news story or sports results, would. Google announced the change would affect 35% of results. Caffeine had been described as “a huge change to the way Google provided search results and was a major step in providing the newest content on the web, quicker.” 


“Panda” – 2011


Panda was the “content” update – it was the first update to use human quality testers data in a scalable way, in order to produce artificial intelligence processing that mimics the testers data. The update was designed to clamp down on poor or “thin” content. A big casualty of Panda was the so-called content farms, who were tapping into long tail searches with low quality content, and including lots of ads into their pages. News and social content reported a rise in rankings as a result of Panda. 


Google Penguin Algorithm Update
Penguin - 2012 

The big daddy of recent algo changes, Penguin was a major algorithm update by Google, perhaps one of the biggest. It came down hard on many types of webspam, particularly anchor text over optimisation, and also zapped many of the notorious blog link networks, who were the modern version of the link farm. Penguin has had a massive effect on SEO on the web, effectively killing dead a large portion of the black hat tactics that make up the rankings of many sites out there. Some have even called Penguin “the death of SEO”. Those SEOs, however, that tend to stay on the right side of the tracks, have generally welcomed this algorithm change, and all the others, as they are improving the web for all of us, and getting rid of the bad guys.


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