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On the search

David Mackley brings you a guide to Google Updates and his views on how to reduce the risk of being damaged by them

If you have a website and rely on Google listings to bring in customers, you may be aware of Google Updates and how they can change the position of your website in Google search listings. You will have probably heard of PANDA, PENGUIN and other friendly names, however, a Google Update can seriously damage your business. Here's a potted history of Google Updates, and my own view on how to reduce the risks of being damaged by them.

What is a Google Update?

BING has just launched a new logo for its search engine, as it strives to make a bigger dent into Google's dominance, but it's still miles behind. Google has its faults, but it really is good at delivering relevant search results, which is why they're so utterly dominant in the market. Google search is powered by its secret Algorithm and every now and again the Google team find new ways to improve it. These improvements are sometimes announced and, more recently, kept quiet. In either case they do tend to have an impact on the search results. So, if you sell teddy bears online and are lucky enough to be in Google's first page results for these items, you'll probably be getting a nice revenue stream from new customers. How would you feel though if Google publishes an update that pushes you down, and effectively out of the search results? You would lose most, if not all, of your teddy bear business overnight. This does actually happen. Some businesses have literally gone bust; as a result they've launched petitions with thousands of signatures asking Google to remove updates, but chances are nothing will happen. It's pretty scary but very real, there are lots of cases where small businesses have lost more than 40 per cent of their turnover overnight after the Google PANDA update. Who knows when the next one will strike? For those wanting to track such things, there are SEO companies that have tools to track changes in Google rankings on a massive scale and give temperature readings to reflect change in rankings. When the temperature gets above 100 degrees, it means there are lots of changes to Google rankings. Webmasters then get very twitchy. Google has more recently become wary about officially confirming when updates are released. Partly because so much rides on Google listings for so many businesses, and also after the uproar that happened with PANDA and PENGUIN updates. As this is an area of concern for people, there are rumours that fly thick and fast. Here's a potted history of some of the main Google updates in recent years.

Google Updates - A potted history

Domain Crowding - May 2013.Google released an update to reduce the problem where a website comes up multiple times for the same search term.
Exact-Match Domain Update - September 2012.Google announced a change in the way it handled exact-match domains (where the search term is the same as the URL of the website, e.g. teddy bears = www.teddybears.com. This led to devalued listings for about one per cent of sites.
7-Result SERPs - August 2012.
Google made a change to limit its first page to only show seven, and not 10 results for many queries. This change impacted about 18 per cent of keywords.
DMCA Penalty -August 2012.
DMCA stands for Digital Millennium Copyright Act. You can post a DMCA Takedown to request an Internet Service Provider (ISP) take down material that infringes another's copyright. Google announced that it would start penalising sites with repeat copyright violations, probably via DMCA takedown requests.
Knowledge Graph -May 2012.In a step toward semantic search, Google started rolling out Knowledge Graph, a new page layout providing extra information about certain people, places, and things. Type Star Wars into Google and see the Knowledge Panel appear.
Penguin - April 2012.Google rolled out this major anti-spam update, which became known as Penguin. Penguin impacted an estimated three per cent of English queries. A number of changes were made to clean up search listings. Sites were penalised for keyword stuffing, participating in link schemes, deliberate creation of duplicate content and other underhand techniques.
Venice - February 2012.This update appeared to give more strength to geographically local based results, e.g. if Google knows you are in Leeds and you type in toy shop, you're more likely to get local shops appear than shops down in Devon!
Ads Above The Fold - January 2012.Google devalued sites with too many adverts in the top part of the page.
Freshness Update - November 2011.Google announced they would reward freshness, e.g. fresh content on sites. This impacted up to 35 per cent of queries. This update primarily affected search terms that were time-sensitive like news, but signalled a much stronger focus on fresh content generally.
Panda (Europe) -April 2011. A major update hit sites hard, affecting up to 12 per cent of search results. Panda seemed to crack down on websites with thin content, sites with a high ratio of adverts to content, as well as other quality issues. Google has since rolled out about 30 more revisions to Panda.

How to avoid being dumped by an update
Here is my view on how to avoid being penalised by a Google update. Take the view that Google wishes to present the best possible site for any particular search term. They want to get rid of poor quality and copied websites. Put yourself in the shoes of someone typing a search term into Google; what would you want Google to provide for that term? This mind-set will start you on the right track. Here are a few pointers:

1. Aim for your website to be a positive contribution to the wonderful World Wide Web.
2. Provide genuinely useful information in the form of text, images and video for people to use.
3. Don't copy or spam, i.e. don't write junk for the sake of Google listings.
4. Endeavour to get other good quality websites to link to yours where it's relevant and useful.

Google's informal corporate slogan is Don't be evil. If your general frame of mind is to cheat Google, you're at risk. If your frame of mind is to genuinely provide useful information for people using the web, you're less likely to be affected, in fact you will probably gain good listings over time.

David Mackley MBA BSc is Managing Director of Intelligent Retail - www.intelligentretail.co.uk - providers of multichannel EPoS and eCommerce websites for independent retailers. If you have any questions you can contact David on T: +44 (0)845 680 0126 or E: dmackley@intelligentretail.co.uk

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