While the digital landscape is comparatively sleepy this year, the few changes everybody saw in the last 12 months were undoubtedly profound. Some were announced, others came out of nowhere; nevertheless leaving winners and losers at their wake.
As we bid farewell to 2015, let’s look back at the moments Google drove the industry crazy, and brought the Hummingbird algorithm to a higher ground.
An Update with No Name (February 4)
Owners of eCommerce sites didn’t have a pleasant start of the year—no thanks to a sucker punch of a Google update. There were major fluctuations in the SERPs, affecting sites with generic and brand-related keywords. It was first noticed in the UK, then confirmed by webmasters around the world.
Among the noticeable changes is that Google is now lenient to brand typos, directing users to the right pages regardless of the spelling. The company said they didn’t roll out anything, but rather just doing the usual tweaks in the algorithm.
Mobilegeddon (April 21)
Unlike what happened in February, the majority of the industry was actually expecting—some even did a countdown—the rollout of the “Mobile Update.” As a matter of fact, in a rare occasion, Google made an exception and gave everyone a heads up in advance about this important change.
This update marked the relevance of mobile-friendliness of pages in search rankings. In short, sites that Google deems compliant with their standards gain more points organically. In mobile SERPs, these pages get extra recommendation with the tag “mobile-friendly,” as a way of telling users which sites provide a “better” browsing experience for smartphones and tablets.
While it was billed as “Mobilegeddon” to describe its potentially drastic impact in the SERPs, the update didn’t live up to its buildup. Experts saw no major reshuffling in the organic rankings, and not a single outcry was heard by any high-ranking publisher after the update’s launch. Somehow, the hysteria was never really justified.
Google, however, stated that the rollout might take days or weeks to complete, making it a little bit harder for analysts to track the movement of rankings and measure the Mobilegeddon’s actual impact.
But other than rankings, the update is, in a way, related to Google’s decision to rid of domain names in favor of page titles in mobile SERPs. The transition to breadcrumbs-like format is Google’s way making Search more intuitive, thus mobile-friendly.
The Quality Update (May 3)
Less than a month after Mobilegeddon, every SEO company felt some tremors of yet another approaching update. The rankings were visibly shaken, reducing a considerable amount of traffic to some sites. HubPages is probably the most vocally upset casualty of this update that nobody saw coming, losing almost ¼ of its organic traffic overnight.
Google was asked about it, but they refused to provide any details right away. The company only confirmed the core algorithm update two weeks later. The tech giant said they made changes on the way they assess quality signals.
According to SEO expert, Glenn Gabe, this update is ruthless because it’s domain-level; it aims not to punish specific pages with low quality content, but the entire site they belong to. Despite remaining secretive about this surprise ranking change, Google has quietly told everybody that this is how it’s going to be now.
Panda 4.2 (July 17)
Technically a refresh and not an update, the latest version of Panda was released mid-year. Google said this change only affects 2-3% of queries, which is quite modest compared to the last two Pandas. In addition, it is said to roll out slower than what most of us usually see. Plus, there have been no alarming fluctuations before and after its announced release. This means nobody could accurately tell how big a game-changer it is in today’s SEO—at least not yet.
RankBrain (October 26)
Recently, Google made the newest part of their algorithm public: RankBrain. It’s a machine-learning system that uses artificial intelligence to provide better results to users.
In essence, it interprets queries, particularly the ones Google never encountered before, and find the most relevant pages without necessarily containing the exact search terms. As queries have become more conversation-like, Google uses RankBrain to understand complex questions and provide accurate answers just like how human beings could.
Google updates were less common in 2015, but they’re undeniably significant. The fact that 2016 is still weeks away means it’s not too late for another milestone to happen (read: HTTP/2). Until that happens, we’ll call it a wrap, and let’s all look forward to 2016 with enthusiasm for more wonders the search giant has in store for us.
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