Google Announces 50 Search Changes in March
Google reported that 50 changes were made to search during the month of March. Of those 50 changes, many are important and signal that we should be watching closely for small algorithm changes that could lead to bigger, more widespread effects. These recent changes seem to revolve around several themes: freshness and relevance, local and social and anchor text.
Freshness, Relevance and Panda
Several of the March updates revolved around the freshness of results and high-quality content. As most of us know, an iteration of Panda was run this month – which Google tipped us off to via Twitter. This brings us to the first search change Google mentions in a blog post on its Inside Search blog: “In the past month, we’ve pushed updated data for “Panda,” as we mentioned in a recent tweet. We’ve also made improvements to keep our database fresher overall.”
Then there were changes to the actual “Freshness” algorithm change from a few months back – now, this algorithm applies to all queries, as opposed to solely news-related traffic. This will ensure that sites that constantly update their content will get the visibility that comes along with continuous relevant content, and sites that are “stale” will lose rankings. Along those lines, another update was “more precise detection of old pages” – this improvement will allow Google to more easily detect older, stale pages in the index by relying, as the search engine notes, “on more relevant signals. As a result, fewer stale pages are shown to users.” Also being improved for relevance? Image search results, apparently. The change in March “tunes” signals that Google uses “related to landing page quality for images.” Interestingly, this change will allow images that are “highly relevant” to rank higher than others, even if their landing pages are not high-quality.
Another improvement had to do with detecting site quality. Google provides a very vague description of this one, only saying that it allows the search engine to have more confidence in its classifications.
Another freshness/relevant content update came I the form of improvements in “Video Universal” – the fresher the video, the more likely it is to rank. Google says they have improved the video results so that stale videos will be better detected and fresh content will be delivered more often. Take away? Don’t think making one video and spending months trying to rank it is a solid strategy. Keep creating them – make videos about timely events, or simply break up a video sequence so you are releasing one every few weeks or months or so.
Local and Social
Research overwhelmingly points to the fact that local and social are the ways of the future – from on-the-go searches to social searches. In line with is future, Google makes small tweaks all the time (and some bigger ones, like “Search Plus Your World”) to improve both local and social search. In March, a change ensured improvement of the indexing of social profile pages so that the ones in the Google index are more comprehensive across, according to the search engine’s blog post, over 200 social sites. Updates were also made to the signals that Google uses when personalizing the search results.
When it comes to local, Google has adjusted for “better handling of queries with both navigational and local intent.” Google defines “navigational” as directed towards a specific site. The change Google made works toward the goal that the user, when searching a specific query, will be confronted with “highly relevant navigational results or local results towards the top of the page.” It’s worth noting that another change ensures better local results/ sources in Google News.
Don’t let this section’s position towards the end of this blog post fool you – this one is extremely significant right now. A couple of changes mentioned anchor text – and with recent buzz about a coming over-optimization penalty, it’s important to pay close attention to these.
The two changes to which we are referring are: “Tweaks to handling of anchor text” and “Better interpretation and use of anchor text” – the second of which is highly relevant to the coming over-optimization penalty. First, the tweaks – Google changed, in March, the way they score anchor processing. They turned of one classifier, and are experimenting with other methods that make “scoring cleaner and more robust.”
Now, when it comes to interpreting and use of anchor text, Google has “improved systems” that are used for determining how relevant anchor text is to the query/website it points to. This certainly underscores the fact that Google is honing in on anchor text and on-page in general – in preparation for a possible upcoming penalty (though how severe it will be, we don’t know) – focus on branding keywords, and make sure your on-page optimization is natural, and not overdone. This is definitely best practice anyway, as user experience can be greatly affected by how content reads on a page, and whether it seems legitimate. Avoid keyword-stuffing and over-optimization, and concentrate on branding, and you could just find yourself ahead of the game when the penalty does come.
Now, you can monitor your own account activity. You have to sign up for this, but when you do, you basically get analytics of your use of Google. Every month Google sends you a report (that is password protected) of what you did while logged into Google. It’s a curious development, and it will certainly be interesting to see where it goes and what it turns into.
Let us know in the comments: did you notice any affects to rankings due to these search changes and improvements?
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