Well it is not even 2 weeks into the new year and Google has made a big shift in how it ranks pages.
This is because it has rolled out not 1 but 2 major updates already.
Keep in mind that I say 2 here, because it appears they both occurred at different times, however it could have only been 1, but “phase 2” of the update took longer. In fact phase 2 could be still going on. And phase 2, or update 2, is the big one.
First, there was what Google called a “core algorithm update”. What this means is Google changed something in their primary, and most influential, ranking algorithm. Of course they won’t tell us what it was, so we just have to guess.
I have known something is happening for over a month. That’s because my “canary in the coal mine” site has seen a spike in traffic. It is a site I use for testing different theories to see if what I think is happening is really happening.
With about 90% certainty I can see when an update starts and when it finishes simply by watching the traffic on this site.
For example, I know that on about December 7 there was a small update that lasted about 4-5 days. Knowing Google’s history (performing an update just before Christmas that seems to target e-commerce sites) this was to be expected.
What I didn’t expect was another update to happen so soon after.
Starting on Dec 25 or 26 the site saw another increase in traffic that has lasted through the New Year and still appears to be ongoing. That or the updates are complete and my site is “Panda Worthy”.
Phase 2 (or update 2) appears to be the change Google recently announced: That the Panda algorithm, that checks a sites quality, was added to the core algorithm set.
That means that Panda is an update that we will see more frequently (however apparently not automatically – yet).
If that is the case, then the core update and/or the new Panda influenced core update began around Christmas and may have ended around Jan 7, 2016. I don’t have enough data past the 7 to know for sure, as I also had a huge spike in traffic to this site Monday, Jan 11. For some reason the site got 10 times the normal traffic, but returned to “normal” but still elevated traffic (elevated prior to the Dec 7 update) on Tuesday, Jan 12.
So, what does this mean?
Well, Google will likely continue to refine the Panda portion of the core algorithm, continuing to redefine what “low quality” pages are.
In other words, sites with few words per page, or many repetitive pages (such as large ecommerce sites, and business directories) may see a sudden drop in traffic, especially if they employ tactics such as content auto generation, or multiple duplicate, but low content pages.
Similarly, those types of sites that employ these tactics as a way to boost link popularity for other sites will ultimately affect those other sites. In other words, if you use any type of content generation and post those articles, specifically designed for link building, on low quality sites – your link building efforts may become devalued.
These recent Google changes do make sense, and are critical for Google to maintain it’s market share. With new competitors on the horizon, and old ones making daily changes, Google has to be ever vigilant on upping the quality card.
The question is, can your SEO tactics change to compensate?