Earlier this month, the SEO community and webmasters around the world began to feel the impact of an unannounced algorithm update from Google. The shakeup arrived in the form of erratic shifts in local results, leaving everyone to wonder… what happened? There are still many questions left to be answered, but here’s what the SEO community seems to know so far.
The following third party tools illustrate the changes in Google’s algorithm day by day. MozCast and AccuRanker tend to be accurate in their aggregate reporting.
Note that there was a dramatic spike in activity relating to Google’s rankings on September 1st. Another interesting observation: Google performs over a thousand updates every year, and rarely makes an announcement to the public when they do. Frankly, that would be an overwhelming task in itself. However, John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst for Google stated during a Google Hangout that this update was not Penguin related. Cryptic as it may be, some tips are still better than none.
What is the SEO Community Saying?
The consensus view is that the update appears to be heavily centered around Local, with some folks gaining traction and rising into the 3-pack while others fall out completely. Joy Hawkins, a Google My Business Top Contributor and Google MapMaker Regional Lead, had this to say:
“This is the biggest update to local I have seen since Pigeon. Went through a ton of client reports today and not a single one is the same as August 31. A whopping majority are doing better from the updates.”
Google’s “Pigeon” algorithm was an update that occurred in July of 2014 that aimed to push local search forward by providing results that were more useful and relevant to users. In regards to the most recent update, not everyone has been so lucky. Robin, a member of the Local Search Forum says:
“I’m also still seeing a lot of fluctuation and ‘odd’ results on the 60+ clients I’m tracking. Several of them rank top 3 organically and have consistently ranked in the 3-pack but suddenly have dropped out of it. But I’m also seeing the opposite: clients who rank 10-20 organically and have never been in the 3-pack and suddenly are there.”
Robin’s problem is consistent with what many other SEO’s are facing out there right now. It would appear that Google has tightened their grip on the spam filter, as well as the criteria they were using to trigger filters for duplicate pages. Listings are being filtered based on the keywords in certain queries. For example, typing in a “keyword + city” is giving different results than “keyword + city + state”. The results are even different if the user spells out the state instead of abbreviating it.
This is particularly troublesome for businesses who are in the same industry and are located at the same address. For example, if a law firm employs five lawyers and they each have their own listing, in addition to the practice listing, Google is going to pick one of those profiles to show, and most likely filter all the rest. This algorithm aims to show different results that are unique, while filtering out the duplicates and spam. It’s a big hit for those businesses with shared office spaces. Another forum member by the name of “heckler” made an interesting observation, stating:
“I just looked over changes in pre/post-September 1st rankings for our clients (several thousand) and those with suites vs those without… there is almost no difference (certainly nothing statistically significant).”
To which Joy Hawkins responded with:
“Thanks. Yeah, we have found suites make no difference.”
It would seem that Google is getting smarter as they’re now paying attention to the address for an entire building, and are no longer differentiating between those with suite numbers contained within the building.
As this update continues to roll out, expect search engine rankings to continue fluctuating as Google is likely performing some kind of A/B testing to work out all the bugs.
This update potentially has to do with Google’s venture into paid advertising within Local, which was announced at the SMX Advanced Local Workshop back in July. It would be difficult to roll out ads when the volume of spam is at its current level.
SEOs all over the world can at least be thankful this wasn’t another crippling version of Penguin.