Google Algorithm (Understanding the Basics)

Did you know that Google updates its algorithm 500-600 times per year?

It’s true! Roughly two to three times each day they change something about the way their Search algorithm works.  That feels like quite a lot! 

Fortunately, most updates are more about improving function behind the scenes.  You only need to know about the seven to nine changes that actually impact how your website performs in search engine results pages (SERPs).  If you have questions, you’re not alone. Let’s talk about some of the most common ones.

What does the Google Algorithm do?

Google assigns a rank to each page of your website that contains a keyword used in a search query.  Its algorithm is designed to sort through the hundreds of billions of websites out there, find the most appropriate, useful results, and put them in front of you in an easy-to-navigate way.

What have been the most impactful updates?

Some of Google’s more significant updates become a classification unto themselves, with smaller, related updates following over time.  You can learn more about those updates in the list below – or view the complete list of Google updates here.

BROAD CORE – overall improvements: refines Google’s overall algorithm to better understand search queries and webpages to improve user satisfaction.

PANDAuniqueness: earn your rank by creating unique content, no plagiarizing.

PENGUIN – external links: quality links = quality websites. Choose your friends wisely.

PIRATE – ownership: don’t share pirated content. Google does not like copyright issues.

HUMMINGBIRD – readability: write for the reader, not the robot – no keyword stuffing.

PIGEON – location: your location is important – make sure your address and information are consistent, so you can be easily found.

MOBILE FRIENDLY – format: your website should have a mobile friendly version, or else.

RANKBRAIN – Google’s artificial intelligence: – looks for quality content, UX, relevance of content to your page

POSSUM – geography: results shown based on location, not much you can optimize for.

FRED – ad-centric content: thin content only meant to generate revenue – is flagged – not considered the best content.

SPEED – load time: marks the first time Google addressed mobile page speed – because it’s important too.

So, what should I do?

Sometimes, you don’t need to do anything. (Isn’t that nice?) Some updates will require optimization, revisions to content, changes to your website, etc. Google isn’t going to tell you exactly what you need to do, the best practice is simply to pay close attention to your Google Analytics.  If you see unexpected changes or declines in what is normally steady traffic, it could be a good indication that something has changed.  You’ll want to check the updates and see how you might have been affected.

In general, PR practitioners, the best advice I can give is to keep doing what you are doing. Write high quality, relevant content that interests your user audiences, answers their questions, and meets their needs.  Optimizing for search engines is an ongoing process, but with a little monitoring and accommodations when necessary, we can keep up with Google’s algorithm!

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