Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Dec 1st 2011 Google Algorithm Update Demystified


Today Google’s Engineering Director Scott Huffman released the first of (hopefully many) monthly updates announcing the changes Google has implemented in its algorithms. Here is a run down of what was announced along with my thoughts on each and how they will/may effect the average website:

Related query results refinements:

Sometimes we fetch results for queries that are similar to the actual search you type. This change makes it less likely that these results will rank highly if the original query had a rare word that was dropped in the alternate query. For example, if you are searching for [rare red widgets], you might not be as interested in a page that only mentions “red widgets.”

What this means to you: theoretically this improvement in search quality would minimize unqualified traffic to your website if you happen to be getting some. For example, using the example above if you were selling “red widgets” but not “rare red widgets” (what the person searched for) then the traffic your site may received before this update would have had a high bounce rate or at least a nearly non-existent conversion rate. On the flip side, if you were making sales by selling users on another product while they searched for a competing product then your sales could be negatively impacted by this algorithm update.

More comprehensive indexing:

This change makes more long-tail documents available in our index, so they are more likely to rank for relevant queries.

What this means to you: this is excellent news for websites with a lot of quality content spanning their field of expertise. Why? Because such sites often have detailed articles on the minutiae of their business/industry which can only be found within long tail searches (lesser searched phrases longer than a couple of words). With this update there should be a better incidence of other content on these sites to attract traffic. Furthermore, if you do not have a lot of content this is a great incentive to build additional content for your website so you can benefit from more longtail search traffic.

New “parked domain” classifier:

This is a new algorithm for automatically detecting parked domains. Parked domains are placeholder sites that are seldom useful and often filled with ads. They typically don’t have valuable content for our users, so in most cases we prefer not to show them.

What this means to you: this is one of the best pieces of news from this entire update! Google is saying we will see less and less search results from websites that are often only placeholders full of poorly written content and advertisements. So not only will your search experience improve but any reduction in garbage listings in the top Google search results will provide more opportunity for increased visibility… never a bad thing!!

More autocomplete predictions: 

With autocomplete, we try to strike a balance between coming up with flexible predictions and remaining true to your intentions. This change makes our prediction algorithm a little more flexible for certain queries, without losing your original intention.

What this means to you: at this point how this will effect search is unknown because determining just how slight the changes in autocomplete will change user results requires a lot of historical autocomplete results that I do not have. That said, if anything comes up that is report-able I will certainly follow-up with an addendum to this section.

Fresher and more complete blog search results: 

We made a change to our blog search index to get coverage that is both fresher and more comprehensive.

What this means to you: content writers with a regular stream of writing have yet more reason to rejoice as this update is meant to give their quality content more exposure; particularly fresh content. To take advantage of this enhancement you will need to make sure you keep a steady stream of writing – do not let your blog stale.

Original content: 

We added new signals to help us make better predictions about which of two similar web pages is the original one.

What this means to you: for anyone who writes quality content and gets annoyed when another website copies it and gets top rankings for it (even by legitimately reposting it – with credit) then you will appreciate any improvement in Google’s algorithm that furthers its ability to determine which site wrote the content first. You see, ideally, Google will give the link and ranking credit to the site that first wrote an article but the fact is if a larger, more trafficked website re-posts your article… they will get the bulk of the exposure.

Live results for Major League Soccer and the Canadian Football League: 

This change displays the latest scores & schedules from these leagues along with quick access to game recaps and box scores.

What this means to you: if you have a sports related website then this kind of increased sports information functionality on Google will, theoretically, capture the attention of more sports enthusiasts resulting in more sports-related searches which you can target in your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. There is also the added indication that Google is focusing on enhancing the timeliness of its search data to become more of a resource for up-to-the-minute news which also increases user engagement and could increase (or at least firm-up) Google’s share of online search.

Image result freshness: 

We made a change to how we determine image freshness for news queries. This will help us find the freshest images more often.

What this means to you: Google is saying they are getting better at finding the latest images for news stories within Google News. From a search engine optimization (SEO) perspective this increases the importance of using descriptive keywords in the filenames of images and within ALT attributes on images placed in articles/blog posts on your website. The more accurate your image descriptive data is the more likely your photo/image could be used in the highly trafficked Google News.

Layout on tablets: 

We made some minor color and layout changes to improve usability on tablet devices.

What this means to you: this is a great reminder to crank up your mobile priorities to ensure your website is usable on mobile devices or at least has a mobile alternative. Here is handy post from Mashable with a list of 8 tools for easily creating a mobile version of your website. Note I do not necessarily recommend these products but they are a good start; ideally you would have a site professionally created just for mobile or your site would be adjusted to work for mobile.

Top result selection code rewrite: 

This code handles extra processing on the top set of results. For example, it ensures that we don’t show too many results from one site (“host crowding”). We rewrote the code to make it easier to understand, simpler to maintain and more flexible for future extensions.

What this means to you: I don’t know about you but I despise seeing any ranking where a single company takes the bulk of the top rankings edging out all competition. There are no reasons why such a thing should take place and I love that Google is keeping a close eye on this issue to minimize occasions where this happens. For you as a business owner this is great news as well since it means your competitors are not likely to achieve more than a single top ranking for a given keyphrase which gives you space to move up into the highest click areas (the top 5 rankings).


That is it for this month’s update from Google. Be sure to subscribe to our web marketing blog for a demystification of future Google Algorithm Updates or like us on Facebook to be notified of new content.




11 Responses to “Dec 1st 2011 Google Algorithm Update Demystified”

  1. Missy

    Hi, Ross:

    I see Amazon ranking at the very top and monopolizing many terms for product related searches. Hopefully with the last item on your list (rewritten code) this will cease to be the case.

    No one company should have the top 2 and top 3 spots for any given term.


  2. Ross Dunn

    Thank you Missy, I quite agree. Unfortunately big brands will probably still keep that kind of power simply because they are so universal and widespread. I hope they have no more than the first 2 positions in the coming days but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Emily Rose

    Hi..! Missy good point. but Unfortunately GG will tend to rank official sites higher

  4. Ryan

    I don’t believe that’s correct with regard to Amazon.

    The text reads (to me) as though it refers to one domain sucking up the top 5 results because they are all relevant. Google already does some natural collapsing but it doesn’t occur frequently enough.

    Amazon ranks well for weak terms because they have so many pages that have almost zero competition and they meet Google’s criteria for a “good” page almost to the T. Their structure, content, soforth is beautiful.

  5. Ross Dunn

    Hi Ryan, thanks for your comment. I agree with you heartily. Amazon has a vast network of content that often catches top rankings for long tail terms and I doubt that will ever change. In the odd occasion where they get more than one listing for a competitive term, however, I do hope this revision will scale their visibility back a bit… again I am not holding my breath though 😀

  6. Missy

    @Ryan and @Ross:

    I know for a fact on several (mid to high) competitive terms because they are terms I am going after, that Amazon ranks in top 3 on page one.

    We shall see if this changes and or improves, because the average little guy (me) can’t possibly compete with the likes of Amazon.

  7. Floyd Florence

    Although one my main sites (listed here) have done well with the Google Updates of 2011, I recently noticed something a little disturbing. A site has gone after the same domain name as mine with dashes in between the keywords… and now ranks on the first page with mine as well.

    Now I’m all for healthy competition but this site, upon closer inspection, is blatantly spamming it’s content redundantly with repetitive keyword spamming of the main keyword phrase… And, an even closer look, reveals that the content is of little value and mostly filler type content.

    Now I believe a lot of the algorithmic updates were to address this kinda thing… I know they hit the “farms” pretty hard (referring to duplicate content) and I would think that fluff and filler content would be even easier to spot. However, if this person’s site is any indication, they got some more work to do in that department.

    However, I’m personally not worried as I can see exactly what this person is doing and can nip it in the bud at will but I do find it kinda odd that Google hasn’t caught it… Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure they will though!

  8. Marisa Wright

    I’m thoroughly depressed by the change to “get coverage that is both fresher and more comprehensive”.

    My websites are not about current affairs or sport. They are about how to choose the right shoe for your style of dance, or how to make a costume. That information does not change! On 6th December I saw both my main sites, which have lots of quality information and advice for dancers, plunge in the rankings – and I can only assume it’s because I don’t update them. I thought “evergreen” content was the key to success – obviously that’s now interpreted as “stale”…

  9. Robin Jennings

    There’s some really nice changes with some of the actions such as lessening benefit for Parked Domains but ‘fresher’ content is going to be hard to make consistent.

    What happens if your website is about a static topic like Roman History? Is a gossip magazine from Rome going to do better in searches for Rome than the well regarded historical website?

  10. Lucy Smith

    Thank you for demystifying Google. I had previously believed the Google algorithm was powered by a giant tortoise. I’m happy to find out that computers too obey the laws of physics and are actually entirely logical!

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