The world of online marketing and SEO appears to change overnight. We’re less than four months into 2016 and Google’s algorithm and search quality guidelines look a whole lot different than they did on New Year’s Eve last year.
This list of changes made by Google this year are what I believe to have had the most significant effect on SEOs and link builders:
1. Penalties For Freebies
A month after Google issued a warning to bloggers for publishing links in exchange for free products, penalties are now being actioned to those who are not obeying the search engine.
The initial warning to bloggers was to simply NoFollow any links pointing their readers to sites where they can buy the product they’ve received.
Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller confirmed the penalty was related to not NoFollowing links:
“There’s absolutely no need to nofollow every link on your site! However, those that are there because of an exchange (such as a product or service for a review) should have a rel=nofollow on links to the product, to their sales pages, and to any social media profiles that are linked because of the review. Also, it’s always a good idea to clearly label these kinds of posts for your readers too.”
One would think a couple of high-profile penalties would send a big signal out to those who have not yet taken up Google’s advice but I imagine this will cause a problem for a number of link builders.
Inevitably though, many bloggers will follow Google’s advice rather than risk a penalty.
2. Google Reveals Top 3 Ranking Signals
The search engine’s ranking algorithm has been concealed in mystery from the start. Google has told us there are more than 200 ranking signals in the past, but much of what we believe to be the top ranking signals simply came from trial and error.
Last year Google announced their article intelligence system, RankBrain, was their number three ranking signal.
Then at a Google Q&A in late March, Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google Ireland, Andrey Lipattsev revealed the other two factors. Those two signals? Links and content.
Andrey even stated there was “no order” when asked for the order of importance.
Don’t forget that these aren’t the be-all and end-all of rankings though and there are several other factors that also contribute to where your website is positioned in Google.
3. Right-hand PPC Ads Removed From Search Results
Towards the end of February Google began rolling out their new search results layout – no AdWords ads on the right-hand side of search results!
The consequence of removing ads from their sidebar came with an additional ad above the fold – AdWords bidder #4.
Depending on the resolution of your screen, you may not even see a single organic result above the fold on your device compared to the 3-4 results once upon a time.
Many SEOs saw an initial worry with the change, however early research from Wordstream suggested that there were only very minor negative effects on organic traffic and clickthroughs.
4. Paid Ads Turn Green
As of mid-April, starting in Europe, Google have switched their Ad label in the search results from yellow to green for paid ads.
Google first introduced these labels back in 2013.
It is early days so we don’t have any definitive data as to what effect this is having on the paid and organic click-throughs, but it certainly looks like a cheeky ploy from Google to make the paid ads fit in with the organic results given the blue, green and grey font colours…
5. Google Panda Becomes Part Of The Core Algorithm
Less than a fortnight into the new year and Google had confirmed that Panda was officially part of their core ranking algorithm.
Jennifer Slegg, reporting for the SEM Post, received this quote from a Google spokesperson:
“Panda is an algorithm that’s applied to sites overall and has become one of our core ranking signals. It measures the quality of a site, which you can read more about in our guidelines. Panda allows Google to take quality into account and adjust ranking accordingly.”
Gary Illyes from Google confirmed the authenticity of the quote through Twitter:
Gary Illyes (@methode) January 12, 2016
6. Search Console Pagespeed Notifications
As of the first week of April, Google are now sending out notifications in Search Console for PageSpeed tips.
The message reads:
“Google has detected that your site is currently running PageSpeed < 18.104.22.168 or < 22.214.171.124, an older version of PageSpeed. Outdated or unpatched software can be vulnerable to hacking and malware exploits that harm potential visitors to your site. Therefore, we suggest you update the software on your site as soon as possible.
“Following are one or more example URLs where we found pages that have outdated software. The list is not exhaustive.”
7. Toolbar Pagerank Switched Off
In early March Google decided to kill off its Toolbar PageRank from its browser.
Any tool or browser that showed you PageRank data from Google no longer works. It had been long overdue in my opinion. Google had not published an update since December 2013 anyway.
PageRank was a way of Google measuring the importance of website’s pages, initially to build up the search engine’s reputation for being smarter than their more established rivals at the time – Yahoo!, MSN Search and AskJeeves.
Making these scores public in 2000 quickly led PageRank being associated with black hat link building, paying for links to improve your own score and rankings, and with it Google’s search engine results became a big mess.
Remember receiving emails asking to buy a link on your website? That stemmed from PageRank. Or the bots that publish unrelated, spam comments on your blogs so they can drop a link in? You can blame PageRank for that too.
However, Google did confirm with Search Engine Land that they are still using PageRank data internally within their ranking algorithm.
8. Warnings For Non-mobile-friendly Site Owners
As of early April, Goole is now issuing a new warning to webmasters if their site is not mobile-friendly.
The warnings even show directly to the site owner in mobile search results.
Jennifer Slegg, reporting for the SEM Post published an example of one of her old sites receiving the non-mobile-friendly warning:
Thy hyperlinked message points to a Google mobile-friendly help page.
9. Search Quality Rating Guidelines Updated
Google updated their Search Quality Ratings Guidelines at the end of March.
The original release of the document was in November 2015, before an updated version was published a few weeks ago.
Notable changes included:
- An emphasis on Local
- A de-emphasis of Supplementary Content
- Stressing the importance of mobile
The document, which can be downloaded here in PDF format, was reduced from 160 to 146 pages.
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