Google Algorithm Changes in Summer 2012 (Part I)

After 2 months of not providing any search algorithm updates, Google posted 86 algorithm changes on its “Search Insights Blog” last week. Reviewing client analytics from various industries for the last 2 months, we can easily see that Google was busy running tests and making changes. Here is a list of the changes they have made and what it means for SEO.

  • uefa-euro1. [project codename “Answers”] Addition of a live result showing schedule and scores of the EURO 2012 games (European championship of national soccer teams).
    They had a similar update in May; however this simply displays the advanced real time search capabilities of the Google algorithm.
  • #82293. [project codename “Answers”] Improved dictionary search feature by adding support for more natural language searches.
    Google is trying to make search more relevant and that means matching the user search intent with the right search results. A big part of this process starts in the dictionary. This has big implications for businesses offering products and services on their sites. For example, a user could search for “bike” or “bicycle” which should return very similar results.
  • Better HTML5 resource caching for mobile. [project codename “Mobile”] We’ve improved caching of different components of the search results page, dramatically reducing latency in a number of cases.
    Mobile is a big part of search now and it’s expected to triple in the next 3 years. Optimum7 has also seen client mobile analytics surging in 2012. Google is paying attention to this trend and making sure that search on mobile devices is fast and accurate.
  • ng2. [project codename “Other Ranking Components”] Better ordering of top results using a new and improved ranking function for combining several key ranking features.
    As generic as this “update” might be, it’s a continuation of Google Penguin. Google does not provide what the “several key ranking features” are, however we believe it mostly involves “exact anchor” backlinks as well as frequency and quality of content on the site.
  • Ref-16. [project codename “Other Ranking Components”] Changes to an “official pages” algorithm to improve internationalization.
    Google has been targeting “auto-translations” in its recent updates. This means that any website that has “Automated” translations through software or web system gets de-valued in search results. English remains to be the major language on Google however they want to change that. Through these updates, Google aims to increase the quantity and quality of information (content) in different languages.
  • Bamse. [project codename “Page Quality”] This launch helps you find more high-quality content from trusted sources.
    This is also a continuation of Penguin updates. Google has been working diligently and putting a lot of resources towards “Quality Content” criteria.1) Backlinks: One must have trusted backlinks from trusted sources. This means “non spammy backlinks” (brand name anchor links) from trusted sites such as news outlets, edu domains, etc.2) Authority: If you are not generating content for your site, you must start now! Author authority is a big part of search in 2012. “Trusted” means authorship, guest blogging, online PR and reputation. You have to be somebody online, otherwise this becomes very difficult. “Somebody” means quality activity; write blogs, guest blog on other’s blogs, remain active on LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+.
  • Bamse-17L. [project codename “Page Quality”] This launch helps you find more high-quality content from trusted sources.
    I like how Google puts a “-17L” at the end of the project codename and it becomes another line item with the same explanation. Thank you Google. 🙂
  • GreenLandII. [project codename “Page Quality”] We’ve incorporated new data into the Panda algorithm to better detect high-quality sites and pages.
    We do not know what the “new data” means here. But there’s no doubt that Google is better at detecting “high quality” pages.
  • #82353. [project codename “Page Quality”] This change refreshes data for the Panda high-quality sites algorithm.
    Another Panda/Penguin update.
  • SuperQ2. [project codename “Image”] We’ve updated a signal for Google Images to help return more on-topic image search results.
    We have seen great change here. Google images are indexed much faster now (for new content) and there’s also a freshness factor with image search results. This means that most recently updated images have a higher chance of showing on top of image search.
  • #82743. [project codename “Answers”] Changes to the calculator feature to improve recognition of queries containing “and,” such as [4 times 3 and a half].
    While we believe this is really unnecessary, it shows how advanced Google search can be. They want to respond to any and all queries.
  • komodo. [project codename “Query Understanding”] Data refresh for system used to better understand and search for long-tail queries.
    This is essential. Google has been focusing extensively on long tail searches for the past 2 years. They understand that these searches make up over 70% of all queries. There’s no doubt that they’re putting more resources into understanding and serving these queries more effectively. It is further evidence of their emphasis on searchers’ intent, not just the phrase itself. This means that we, as marketers, should also pay close attention to long tail targeting.
  • #82580. [project codename “Answers”] This is an improvement for showing the sunrise and sunset times search feature.
    People use Google to get answers on everything! If I go to Google and type “sunrise time miami”, there is a chance that I’m looking to do something at sunrise. (sunrise and sunset activities)

    This feature alone could be used to push very specific traffic to a niche website promoting activities across the US during sunset and sunrise. There’s no competition for AdWords and little competition for SEO. These are the kind of ideas marketers can leverage from.

  • PitCode. [project codename “Answers”] This launch adds live results for Nascar, MotoGP, and IndyCar. This is in addition to Formula1 results, which were already available.
    Another set of live result updates by Google highlighting relevancy and significance of current events. We are also sure that they base these edits on search volume for certain events.
  • timeob. [project codename “Answers”] We’ve improved natural language detection for the time feature to better understand questions like, “What time is it in India?”
    Google answering questions and keeping users on its platform!
  • #81933. [project codename “Synonyms”] This launch improves use of query synonyms in ranking. Now we’re less likely to show documents where the synonym has a different meaning than the original search term.
    This is very interesting. It goes back to “search intent” as well as multiple meanings and synonyms in search. This reminds me of the “hammer example” by Bruce Clay. What happens when there are multiple intents AND meanings of a search query? Google definitely relies on its search data, which we have no access to.
  • #82496. [project codename “Answers”] Changes made to the movie showtimes feature on mobile to improve recognition of natural language queries and overall coverage.
    There’s no wonder that mobile searches for movie times are significant. However, they do have an exclusive agreement with Fandango and they forward all “specific times” to purchase on Fandango.com. How do you like that? 🙂
  • #82367. [project codename “Other Ranking Components”] This launch helps you find more high-quality content from trusted sources.
    A duplicate  update with a different number.
  • #82699. [project codename “Other Search Features”] We’ve made it easier to quickly compare places. Now you can hover over a local result and see information about that place on the right-hand side.
    Google is trying to increase the time spent on site on its properties such as Google Places. The new “score” option is a nice touch based on reviews.
  • CapAndGown. [project codename “Image”] On many webpages, the most important images are closely related to the overall subject matter of the page. This project helps you find these salient images more often.
    This was explained above in the image search update.
  • #82769. [project codename “Answers”] Improvements to the calculator feature on mobile to improve handling of queries that contain both words and numbers such as [4 times 3 divided by 2].
    This was explained above in the calculator feature update.
  • Vuvuzela. [project codename “SafeSearch”] We’ve updated SafeSearch to unify the handling of adult video content in videos mode and in the main search results. Explicit video thumbnails are now filtered more consistently.
    This is Google’s approach to making search available and safe for everyone. This might be bad news for adult providers since Google videos and images makes up a big part of their traffic.
  • #82537. [project codename “Answers”] We’ve enabled natural language detection for the currency conversion feature to better understand questions like, “What is $500 in euros?”
  • #82519. [project codename “Answers”] We’ve enabled natural language detection for the flight status feature to better understand questions about flight arrival times and status.
    Google is certainly paying attention to the search volume for specific answers that users are looking for.
  • #82879. [project codename “Answers”] We’ve improved the triggering for the “when is” feature and understanding of queries like, “When is Mother’s Day?”
    Google’s own calendar of important dates encoded in their system.
  • wobnl0330. [project codename “Answers”] Improvements to display of the weather search feature.
    More answers.
  • Lime. [project codename “Freshness”] This change improves the interaction between various search components to improve search results for searches looking for fresh content.
    This goes back to the significance of fresh content. It’s essential to have a “content update” strategy in place to address this issue. I spoke about this at the SMX Toronto and London 2012 conferences in detail. You can find the related post here.
  • gas station. [project codename “Snippets”] This change removes the boilerplate text in sitelinks titles, keeping only the information useful to the user.
    More usability changes.
  • #81776. [project codename “Answers”] We’ve improved natural language detection for the unit conversion feature to better understand questions like, “What is 5 miles in kilometers?”
    So, why did Google suddenly start paying more attention to these metrics conversion, date, time and weather questions by users? They’re basically trying to provide more value to the users. This also means that more time will be spent on Google and the likeliness of users making another search and clicking an ad is high.

So, what does all of this mean for businesses and online marketing? It means that people at Google are practicing what they preach; they’re paying more attention to usability, fresh content, and their own data as well as answering any and all questions on their search engine. They’re trying to group and organize the billions of pages of content, images and videos more efficiently. They’re also serving these results based on relevance and freshness, as well as credibility and authority.

I will review the second part of the Google’s June and July updates next week. In the meantime, share any questions or comments below.