We need to understand the past to be ready for the next Google update
What can SEO specialists and marketers learn from a historical analysis of the updates of the most famous online search algorithm?
Probably more than a history lesson: as known, analyzing the past helps in predicting the future, and this is also true for the web. Studying the evolution of the Google algorithm in the last 20 years can help marketers and SEO specialists to get ready for the next big Google update.
Let us go through the history of the algorithm with all its main updates from Caffeine to the most recent “Core Updates”:
- August 2009: Caffeine makes content available quicker for users;
- February 2011: Panda was created to prevent low quality websites from appearing in the main Google search results and it rewards content that is useful and exhaustive for users;
- April 2012: Penguin penalizes spam websites which use SEO techniques which are not in line with the webmaster rules, particularly in link building (Black Hat SEO);
- September 2013: Hummingbird gives more attention to every word in queries, making sure that the entire phrase or conversation is taken in consideration by the algorithm, as opposed to single words. The semantic research and knowledge graph have an increasing weight and contribute to the increase of pertinence level of search results
- January 2015: RankBrain uses artificial intelligence to best interpret user search intent. This innovative system is capable of transforming great quantities of written language into mathematical entities (vectors) that the computer is able to understand and therefore interpret: “RankBrain uses artificial intelligence to embed vast amounts of written language into mathematical entities — called vectors — that the computer can understand.”
- October 2019: with BERT, attention towards the potential of artificial intelligence grows further. BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) helps in comprehending better the shades and the context of words thanks to techniques based on neural nets and the natural language parsing (NLP) and therefore pair queries better with the most relevant search results.
- January 2020: The January Core Update, is the first “core update” of the year. It created much volatility in search results for niches like health and finance and increases for niches in the top 10 results.
- May 2020: May Update , this is the second core update of 2020, the most important factors that determine the rise and fall of search position of a website become many: pertinence, relevance, authority of contents, but also the user experience.
What is in Common Between the Updates?
Google has adopted clear measures, update after update, to try making the search results better, more relevant and more useful for users: it introduced measures to reduce spam and to penalize websites that try to manipulate the algorithms to go up in the SERP. Additionally, Google is rewarding more and more reliable sources which also have authority on the internet and it worked to understand in a smarter way the content and user signals, by implementing machine learning and artificial intelligence. Looking back to all these updates as a whole, it is possible to identify a pattern and to comprehend the model that guided Google in the last 20 years.
Is it Possible to Predict what will Happen in the Future?
Yes and no. Yes, because we know for example how it is useless to rely on “Black Hat” SEO techniques to obtain a higher position. The manipulation of positioning can still be done, but its effects have been mitigated and they are monitored and punished by Google. And no, because we know that the optimization of Google Search will become increasingly intelligent and that there is a constant attention towards innovation, to the user’s advantage.
However, no one has a crystal ball, so there will always be some surprises in how Google manages updates: as John Mueller, Senior Trends Analyst at Google, joked about the fact that awesomeness is also a ranking factor.
What Does This Mean for your Business
By analyzing the updates for the last 20 years of the Google algorithm, it is visible that Google is increasingly more capable of seeing content like a human would, through the use of AI and Machine Learning. For businesses that aim at ranking higher on the Google results, the goal should be to build a website and its content that is objectively unique, better, more complete, more reliable and authoritative than that of the competitors’.