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Friday, April 13, 2012

Which Of Google’s 50 Algorithm Changes Should SEO’s Pay Attention To?

Google's 50 Algorithm Changes in March 2012: Which Ones Should SEO's Pay Attention To?

In March, they released their most recent list of 50 algorithmic search quality changes.

Any major algorithmic changes typically send SEO’s into a frenzy trying to figure out what they mean and how to adjust their strategies accordingly. Google is constantly making minor algorithmic changes, usually 30-40 per month at least.

That’s the crazy thing about SEO when you think about it – we are simply playing a game, and the rules of the game change constantly. We must be totally batshit crazy by now, right?

Could you imagine if the same logic was applied to something like football? Imagine if in the middle of the game, a touchdown suddenly becomes worth 4 points as opposed to 6? Oh the humanity!

But this is the industry we’ve chosen, and Google is always trying to make their search results better for the end user, so we go round and round (more power to them I say).

To save you the trouble, I’ve went ahead and pointed out which of their March changes I thought was most key for you to consider and apply in your day-to-day SEO strategy.

1. Sitelinks data refresh

Google said:

Sitelinks data refresh. [launch codename "Saralee-76"] Sitelinks (the links that appear beneath some search results and link deeper into the respective site) are generated in part by an offline process that analyzes site structure and other data to determine the most relevant links to show users. We’ve recently updated the data through our offline process. These updates happen frequently (on the order of weeks).

My SEO Advice: Sitelinks are generated to show users the most relevant and popular internal pages of your site (I typically see 6 or so). As an SEO, you can’t really tell Google which pages to show, but what you can do is try to make some of your key pages more relevant using practical SEO best practices.

That means beefing up the quality of the content on your site’s key pages, and building links (and social exposure) to your site’s most critical internal pages (as opposed to always sending links to the homepage). I can’t guarantee that this will change how your Sitelinks appear, but but it may help.

2. Better indexing of profile pages

Google said:

Better indexing of profile pages. [launch codename "Prof-2"] This change improves the comprehensiveness of public profile pages in our index from more than two-hundred social sites.

My SEO Advice: I’ve been saying over and over in the last couple months (and so has Google), social and SEO are now intertwined – see points #5-6 in my last post on six good SEO ideas.

Aside from that, if you’re a company who wants to dominate brand-related searches, fill out your flipping social profiles – then USE THEM to engage with your customer-base socially!

3. Link Anchor Text

Google said:

Tweaks to handling of anchor text. [launch codename "PC"] This month we turned off a classifier related to anchor text (the visible text appearing in links). Our experimental data suggested that other methods of anchor processing had greater success, so turning off this component made our scoring cleaner and more robust.

Better interpretation and use of anchor text. We’ve improved systems we use to interpret and use anchor text, and determine how relevant a given anchor might be for a given query and website.

My SEO Advice: They made two mentions of how they may handle anchor text. Although there have been many attempts to weed out low-quality sites with lots of low-quality rankings (see: Google Panda), I imagine that you’ll still see spam to some degree in your search results. However, I think sites that use appropriate link anchors that fit within the context of the page, and SEOs who build links where the link anchor text again fits the context of the page should see a long-term benefit (i.e. links that match content’s theme rather than just randomly stuffed in the page and not making sense with the content around it).

In addition, there may be more value from links that come from new publishers, rather than links that simply show up magically on old content. Se keep building your links ethically, and make sure that the content around your links matches the page’s context appropriately.

4. Improvements to Freshness / Improved Detection of Old Pages / Improved Detection of Dates for Blogs and Forums

Google said:

Improvements to freshness. [launch codename "Abacus", project codename "Freshness"] We launched an improvement to freshness late last year that was very helpful, but it cost significant machine resources. At the time we decided to roll out the change only for news-related traffic. This month we rolled it out for all queries.

More precise detection of old pages. [launch codename "oldn23", project codename “Freshness"] This change improves detection of stale pages in our index by relying on more relevant signals. As a result, fewer stale pages are shown to users.

Improvements in date detection for blog/forum pages. [launch codename "fibyen", project codename "Dates"] This change improves the algorithm that determines dates for blog and forum pages.

My SEO Advice: It’s no secret. Google likes content. And for that matter, Google also likes fresh content (see: Freshness Algorithm Update). So the improvements to freshness have a few implications, (1) keep your site’s content up to date and relevant for your users – don’t let it get stale, (2) make sure your site architecture supports the creation of new content, and (3) consider implementing something like a blog so that you can release fresh content on a regular basis.

In additon, just know that some older blog posts and forum entries may not rank as well as time goes by, necessitating either the need to create new content, or to improve the content that exists within those pages to make them more relevant and up-to-date with the times. Making updates to old and out-of-date posts is a good practice that can lead to a better user experience and good SEO results due to the equity the page has gained over time.

5. Improvements to processing for detection of site quality

Google said:

Improvements to processing for detection of site quality. [launch codename "Curlup"] We’ve made some improvements to a longstanding system we have to detect site quality. This improvement allows us to get greater confidence in our classifications.

My SEO Advice: Again, although you may continue to see some spam in your search results and some sites manipulating the algorithm by gathering low-quality links, Google will continue to improve their site quality algorithms, and you’d be best suited long-term from an SEO perspective to stick with highly ethical tactics, and focus more on creating a great experience for your site’s users, as well as push out great content.

Well, that’s it for Google’s March updates. I’ll be back next month with thoughts on their April updates. Until then, let me know what you think? How have you adapted your strategy over time as Google changes algorithms?

About the Author:
Jacob Stoops is the Director of SEO at People To My Site, a Columbus-based Search Engine Marketing firm. He has been actively involved in Search Engine Optimization since 2006, starting off as a lowly web designer before transforming into an SEO maven, blogger, and social media enthusiast. He has worked with hundreds of large, medium, and small businesses to effectively generated higher volumes of traffic and better rankings, while remaining on the cutting edge in the implementation of SEO best practices. He runs an SEO tips/portfolio website, Agent SEO