The term “google” has been interchangeable with “search” for some time now. The phrase “google it” has nearly completely replaced “find the answer” with Millennials and Gen X’ers alike. In turn, this has produced the stunningly massive field of SEO, or Search Engine Optimization.
This is obviously not insider knowledge at this point. SEO is all over the place and SEO agencies are popping up like Starbucks. While Google’s actual ranking algorithm is held in extreme secrecy, there are many tools we use to study it.
We treat this process similar to the way astrophysicists study black holes. We don’t try to find the algorithm itself. Instead we monitor the effects it has on other objects. For example, we can track a wide variety of pages using a wide variety of SEO tactics and monitor their ranking over long periods of time. When we notice rankings shift suddenly, we often assume an update to the algorithm. We cross-reference that information with the tactics used on each site to make educated guesses at what sorts of specific updates were made. As such, if a site that is primarily ranked on ‘link building’ has a decreased ranking, we can assume that the algorithm updates were focused on downgrading that sort of tactic.
Why is the quality of the ranking algorithm so important to Google? Their purpose is to provide relevant, high quality content to their users. Doing this manually would obviously be a monumental task so they must use an algorithm to sort and separate the relevant from the irrelevant and rank that in order of popularity using the factors available to them.
Generally, updates are suspected and reported on within the various SEO communities as soon as the tracking tools begin to light up. We refer to them as ‘unconfirmed update’ for a period of a few weeks until Google announces the update with an official name. Google has had many themes for these updates in the past, such as “content quality” for the 2011 Panda update.
This past week, the tools lit up like a Christmas tree suggesting a fairly significant update. One particular metric, SEMrush Sensor, which tracks Search Engine Ranking Profile (SERP) Volatility, is showing nearly double the average volatility. Mozcast, which graphs volatility in the form of weather temperatures as one might see in a forecast, shows 110+ degrees multiple days last week which is obviously very, very hot.
While this is obviously still an unconfirmed update, it appears to be focused on link spamming and mobile interstitials (pop-ups on mobile devices). Google has stated repeatedly that mobile-first indexing is on the way and will be a major game changer.
Google is always looking to provide rankings based on rich, relevant content. This is why sites using black hat SEO tactics such as blog comment spamming (i.e. “picture frames picture frames picture frames, etc”) and cloaking (showing google something different than normal users) continue to be hunted down and de-indexed. The better Google gets at finding the best sites to rank first, the more important it will be to have the SEO staples of old such as responsiveness, modern development tools like HTML5, and high quality links to your site.
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