The everyday user might not think too much about Google SEO. You do your search in Google, and then go about your day. However, for the content creator and those who focus on SEO, keeping up with the search engine’s algorithm changes can help with planning or tweaking content and SEO strategies.
Google strives to adhere to its mission statement when organizing all of the world’s information, making it accessible and useful to everyone. This includes making the search engine behave in a more human manner, so your search results deliver quality and relevant information to you. And that means changing the search algorithm hundreds of times each year.
Here are a few of the Google SEO changes we saw in 2016.
Updated Google Search Console guidelines
Google pushed quite a few quality guidelines in 2016. They really wanted webmasters to become more focused on being conscientious of their users’ experience — especially that it is secure, web accessible and mobile-friendly.
Upping the ante on website security, Google now wants you to use HTTPS to secure your website and its users. In order to keep up with the guidelines, you will need to set up a SSL certificate on your website. This will create more trust with your website visitors, and let them know that you’re trying to make their experience more secure.
In this quality update to the Search Console guidelines, Google wants to to pay closer attention to making sure that your website can be crawled efficiently, and seen by people who cannot surf the web like everyone else. For example, if a person is legally blind, make sure your image titles and alt descriptions actually say what the image is.
At the beginning of 2016 we were still reeling over Mobilegeddon. In simple terms, what Mobilegeddon came down to was making webmasters more aware that they needed to have mobile-friendly versions of their website. Google rolled out this update in 2015 and announced in March 2016 that in May they would “start rolling out an update to mobile search results that increases the effect of the ranking signal to help our users find even more pages that are relevant and mobile-friendly.” They did — with Mobile-friendly 2, which boosted search results to websites that were mobile-friendly.
Having a clear navigation has always been a very basic SEO tip, but in another Google Search Console guidelines update, they are making sure webmasters know that this is a necessity.
Make sure links actually look like links, and each page can be reachable.
As Barry Schwartz explained on Search Engine Roundtable:
“There are two differences here. The first difference is basically a more human and understandable description that both highlights the importance of anchor text and ALT tags and uses the the word ‘findable’ rather than the term ‘static link.’ This is a natural update because ‘static links’ are not the only way that Google discovers content anymore, nor is it a friendly term to non technical content providers.”
Again, the key is to ensure that web pages are as user-friendly as possible.
If you didn’t have a sitemap before, you should have one now. A sitemap is a list of links to all the content in your website, that is structured so that the search engines can easily index your website. With the Google Search Console quality guideline updates, it also wouldn’t hurt to make sure this is visible to your website’s users.
There were some other important updates to the quality guidelines, which The SEM Post breaks down for you.
If you’re a local business, then the Google Possum algorithm update was made for you. Changes to the local search algorithm included:
Businesses that were physically located outside city limits saw a boost in their results. For example, if you live in the county, but serve a city, and actually mentioned that you served that city, your local results most likely saw changes for the better in the search results. If you have not mentioned that you serve a particular city, then you should do that.
They added more filtering by address. If you were a business with multiple addresses for your location, Google would suppress smaller listings and focus on your main listing.
Search results now adapt better to the unique needs of individual users. This means that the actual keywords that the individual user is typing are now playing a key role. Again, Google wants to deliver results that are more human — and the physical location of an individual user also plays another key role. More people are using mobile, and Google is trying to deliver results closer to the individual user’s home — meaning they are trying to deliver local results more accurately.
In September, Google added Penguin to its core algorithm. The update to the Penguin algorithm in all languages means two main changes for Google SEO, according to the Google Webmaster Central Blog:
1. Penguin is now real-time. Historically, the list of sites affected by Penguin was periodically refreshed at the same time. Once a webmaster considerably improved their site and its presence on the internet, many of Google's algorithms would take that into consideration very fast, but others, like Penguin, needed to be refreshed. With this change, Penguin's data is refreshed in real time, so changes will be visible much faster, typically taking effect shortly after we recrawl and reindex a page. It also means we're not going to comment on future refreshes.
2. Penguin is now more granular. Penguin now devalues spam by adjusting ranking based on spam signals, rather than affecting ranking of the whole site.
In other words, if your site gets caught in a Google spam filter and you fix it, you won't have to wait months for this to jog itself out. So, if you did actually fix the problems that Google pointed out and penalized, you simply re-submit your website, and the changes will be seen on the next crawl.
Takeaways for Google SEO in 2016
If you haven’t taken steps to help your Google SEO by staying up-to-date with the latest changes, it’s time to get moving. Here’s a checklist to keep you on track:
- Make sure your website is secure, preferably with SSL.
- Make sure your website is mobile-friendly.
- Make sure your website is accessible for all users, including optimizing images.
- Check your local business listings and your website to make sure the information is accurate. If you’re outside your target city, be certain to mention what city you serve.
- Have a clear navigation structure, and make sure text links are clearly links.
- Have a sitemap.
- Correct any problems that Google has pointed out, and re-submit your website. Penalties should fall off sooner, rather than months later.
- If you're looking to improve your Google ranking, you can follow this checklist.
Because Google is trying to improve search, sometimes their updates are hard to keep up with. The great thing is that Google slowly rolls out major updates, and gives webmasters time to correct before issuing a penalty.
Have you already got your website up to speed with 2016’s Google SEO changes?