All digital marketers and SEO professionals look forward to the yearly changes Google makes to its search algorithm.
While Google announces some upgrades from the rooftops, others are low-key affairs that don’t garner much attention. Yet whether large or small, Google’s changes don’t impact marketers as drastically as they have in the past.
Major Google Search Engine Algorithm Updates 2016
Among the major updates Google rolled out in 2016 were Panda, Penguin and Possum. Needless to say, Google implements all of its modifications with the aim of making it easy for users to find the information they’re looking for in minimal time. Google also has aimed to integrate paid and organic search results with both local and mobile SEO.
Beginning of the year surprises
Some people expected Google’s Penguin update at the very beginning of 2016. Instead, Google updated its core ranking algorithm, which caused some fluctuations in search rankings.
A significant change at the end of February that impacted click-through rates (CTR) was Google’s update to AdWords. Instead of featuring ads on the right-hand side of the screen, Google moved them to the top of the results page. Consequently, no organic results were above the fold on any type of screen, even desktop computers.
Another update at the end of February was when Google added an Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) news carousel to the top of mobile search results. This was a significant step for the company to improve the user-friendliness of the web.
There was an unconfirmed update in the middle of May, and then Google made another mobile-friendly decision a couple of days later. The company decided to make mobile optimization a more influential ranking factor for search results.
At the beginning of September, Google rolled out Possum, an update with a significant impact. The Possum update affects local listings in particular and is designed to make local searches more effective.
There are several ramifications of the Possum update. Possum filters companies using the same address, broadens city limits, and gives more weight to the actual locations of users.
For example, before the update, businesses that were near a city but were right outside the city limits had difficulty ranking in search results. But their results improved noticeably following Possum.
On the other hand, the Possum update also means that if multiple businesses use the same address (e.g., work in the same office complex), all but one of them will be filtered out of the results. In fact, the update is apparently so specific that it can impact your search results even if you’re simply the owner of multiple companies.
In one case, there was a dentist who had two different practices with different addresses, employees, websites, network access points (NAP), and Google accounts. Before, his practices had simultaneously ranked in the 3-pack. But after the Possum update, they only ranked in the 3-pack one at a time and never together.
Another consequence of the Possum update is that there is a lot more variety in the search results depending on the exact keywords you enter. Also, since Possum, the organic filter and the local filter seem to be operating separately.
An unexpected shakeup happened in September that caused half of the images in the search results to disappear. Not surprisingly, this disappearance significantly impacted organic rankings. Some speculate this incident occurred because of the Penguin update that came shortly afterward, but Google never confirmed that was the case.
Then the long-awaited Penguin 4 update finally arrived. Google has now merged Penguin with its core algorithm, meaning that Penguin will quickly consider website changes because of real-time refreshes.
The update is granular and will only impact spammy pages. One difference, though, is that rather than penalizing sites for spammy pages, Penguin now devalues their links.
The only other noteworthy event from 2016 was a shift in rankings in November. Some believe this to have been caused by Google testing the mobile-first index. Once again, however, this hypothesis is unconfirmed.
This information should be helpful to SEO experts when planning their strategies this year. The intent of Google updates is clear: websites should follow clean SEO practices and create valuable content. The following gifographic encapsulates every prominent Google search algorithm update rolled out in 2016.
Google’s Biggest Search Algorithm Updates Of 2016, a visual representation by E2M.
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