Google’s search engine works on a set formula which we call its algorithm. It’s a very complex formula that is used to derive information from its search index to deliver results on search engine result pages (SERPs). When you enter a query into Google, the algorithm starts working. It looks at various factors such as your keywords, location, settings, the relevance of websites, their usability and other factors. A different weight is applied to each factor, and each website is ranked according to them. The top-ranking websites are shown on the first SERP, and then so on. The recent Google updates in 2022 have made major changes to the search engine algorithm. These changes affect the way the algorithm works and assigns weights to factors and ranks websites. Every update, major or minor, impacts all the websites in Google’s search index.
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How Often Does Google Make Updates?
Since the algorithm is an integral part of the search engine, Google updates it frequently. In 2010, Google made about 400 changes to the algorithm. This might seem like a large number of updates, but it’s not. In 2018, there were 3200 changes, which means the algorithm was updated multiple times a day. There were 4500 changes in the search engine in 2020. This is about 12 updates daily. Moreover, Google ran about 600,000 experiments in 2020 to finalize these changes. Not all of these changes are introductions of new features or even core updates. Most of these are regular updates that help keep the results on SERPs relevant. Most people wouldn’t even recognize them.
Types of Updates
Google rolls out two types of updates; core and minor. Although both types of updates target the same algorithm, the difference is in the scale of the changes. Core updates are major changes that alter the way the algorithm works. On the other hand, minor updates are a few tweaks here and there. Minor updates are way more common than core updates. Over at Google, there are several minor updates every day. Core updates only happen once or twice a year. Minor updates work on a small scale and only affect about 0.1% to 1% of indexed websites. In contrast, core updates impact 10% to 15% of all indexed sites.
Why Do Google Updates Matter?
Google Updates hold no significant value for the average user, but they’re everything for marketers and SEO specialists. These professionals put a lot of time and energy into their websites. And optimize them by targeting a number of ranking signals. But what if the next update removes that signal as a vital factor? All of their effort and resources would go to waste. Moreover, some core updates introduce penalties that can also drop their rankings. A popular example is the Panda update of 2011, which aimed to reduce low-quality websites. The Panda update introduced penalties for thin websites. Websites that were ranking high without enough content instantly saw a drop in their rankings. This is why it’s important to keep an eye out for these changes, especially core updates.
Notable Past Updates
The search engine we see today is an amalgamation of all past updates. Some updates have made significant changes to the algorithm. While others, not so much and were quietly phased out. Some of the notable past updates are:
The Penguin update was rolled out in 2012 and had massive aftereffects on SEO and search engine results. The goal of the update was to show high-quality results by improving web performance. The Penguin update aimed at eliminating sites with a lot of webspam, and a good chunk of indexed sites were impacted. It fought against unnatural links, quick link growth and artificial linking. If any form of webspam was detected, the entire domain was devalued and risked getting kicked out of the index. The penguin update is still a part of the core algorithm today.
Fred is the name given to every unnamed major update from Google. But right now, we’re talking about the first Fred update that was rolled out back in March 2017. As soon as Fred rolled out, webmasters and SEO specialists across the globe saw significant drops in traffic. Some as drastic as 90%. Since Google never really announced the Fred update, nobody was prepared for it or knew how the update even worked. An analysis of affected sites showed that the update impacted websites that prioritized monetization rather than user experience. These websites all had aggressive ad placement and were driven by thin content.
The Hummingbird update might just be the most significant update since 2001. Some call it a complete “rewrite of the algorithm.” But the thing is that the impact of this update was hardly noticed by anyone. Surprising, right? What the Hummingbird update did was set the stage for future updates and got the ball rolling on future innovation. The aim of the Hummingbird update was to improve the algorithm itself, so it had to be rewritten. The update allowed the algorithm to match keywords and search intent with topics on indexed sites. All the original algorithm did was match words in the search query with the keywords on the website. But the updated algorithm was more focused on search intent and conversational keywords. A major impact of the Hummingbird update was that it paved the way for mobile SEO which is more focused on long-tail conversational keywords.
The Pigeon update was rolled out in 2014 and built on the infrastructure laid out by the likes of Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird. The aim of this update was to connect Google’s traditional web algorithm to the local algorithm. The local algorithm was one that was based on location and served local websites and businesses. By connecting the two algorithms, Pigeon was able to pass over all the ranking signals from the web algorithm to the local algorithm. What this did was enhance the local algorithm to improve ranking factors according to location. Unlike the above-mentioned updates, Pigeon wasn’t a penalty-based update. It was very beneficial for local businesses that were in need of an organic online presence.
Last on our list of past updates is the Medic update which happened back in 2018. It’s one of the most important updates in Google’s recent history and is still a part of the core algorithm. The Medic update focused on three factors; these are Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness (EAT). The update punished sites that had low or no EAT and rewarded those that ranked high on these factors. EAT focuses on content that was published by an authoritative figure, is factually correct, and is published in a way that users find helpful. The Medic update had a widespread impact when it rolled out. Websites from the tech, finance, health and legal industries, as well as YMYL sites, were most affected.
Major Google Updates 2022
In the latter half of 2022, there have been two major updates in the algorithm as well as a core update. Here’s a brief description of the three;
Broad Live Update
Every year Google rolls out one or two core updates. In 2022, the first happened back in May and the second one rolled out in September. The second core update didn’t have anything specific in mind and neither did Google announce any explainer. But what it did was review indexed sites on a broader scale. There was no penalty involved. The update only promoted and rewarded sites that met its criteria. As big as the update was, it didn’t have a significant impact on SERP rankings and only cleared out the weeds.
Helpful Content Update
Google announced the helpful content update on August 18. The rollout began on August 25 and took fifteen days to finish. As the name suggests, this update was meant to prioritize websites with content that users would find helpful or informative. It is a major update to the algorithm that will drastically change SEO practices, just like Panda did back in 2011.
This update is meant to change content strategies so that websites would prefer publishing human-first content. Websites that publish content that has the sole purpose of ranking high are at the top of their hit list. These websites aren’t helpful at all to users. Their content isn’t informative or valuable. All they do is target ranking signals in the algorithm and get a high placement on SERPs. Google said the update will “help make sure that unoriginal, low-quality content doesn’t rank highly in Search.”
If you’re using a lot of AI-written content, this update will likely impact you. Most AI content isn’t helpful at all to users, so you might have to revisit your content strategy. A great way to check if this update will impact you is to review the time spent on your pages. If users visit your website and leave immediately to go back to SERPs with the same query, your website isn’t helpful to them.
Link Spam Update
The link spam update began rollout on December 14 and took two weeks to finish. Link spam update isn’t new at all and was first introduced back in July 2021. But this time, it’s rolling out with a major change. And that is the addition of SpamBrain AI.
SpamBrain is Google’s very own AI. It’s a spam-prevention system that is based on artificial intelligence technology. Not only can it detect spam, but it can also pinpoint websites that buy links and those that pass outgoing links. Many websites use links to artificially manipulate results on SERPs. With the help of SpamBrain, the new update aims to nullify these links and penalize websites that use such underhanded techniques. Spammy links will be neutralized, and there are no levels to this neutralization. Also, since it’s not a manual action, there won’t be any notifications in the Search Console that you’ve been affected.
Most websites have a number of spammy links pointing to their website. If you haven’t bought these or built them yourself, you won’t be hurt, but you won’t benefit from them as well. Spammy links that get neutralized won’t be counted at all.
How to Recover Your Website After an Update
If you know a catastrophe is about to hit, you would want to prepare your house beforehand to minimize the damage. But when it comes to Google updates, there’s no way to prepare since you don’t know what the update will be and how it will impact SERPs. All you can do is respond quickly so you can recover what you’ve lost. For a website, the most significant damage is lost traffic. When ranking factors change, your site stops appearing in its original placement. Fewer users discover your website, and you lose a portion of your organic traffic.
Here are a few actionable ways to regain lost traffic and recover from an update:
- Update your old content with the latest information and statistics.
- Watch out for keyword cannibalization issues.
- Audit your blog and articles for relevance, content quality and search intent.
- When practicing SEO, keep both users and Google in mind.
- Improve your on-page SEO to send more algorithm signals.
- Conduct an internal links audit.
- Revise your content strategy for more consistency.
- Improve your Core Web Vitals (LCP, CLS and FID)
Look Out for Google Updates in 2023
Google’s algorithm has a major role to play in what you see when you search for something. But the algorithm needs updates to ensure that you always get the most relevant information for every search. Google updates the algorithm very frequently. Surprisingly, it’s changed multiple times every day. These changes can affect your website, so it’s important to keep an eye on them. Optimize your website for these updates as soon as Google announces them, so your ranking isn’t affected.
Have you ever been affected by a Google update? Let us know in the comments below!