It’s the beginning of the month, which means that if you’re an SEO, it’s time for your regularly scheduled paradigm shift.
That’s right – as per usual, Google has released the sum total of changes made to the algorithm in the previous month.
Google’s official Inside Search blog unveiled the 50 tweaks, nudges, and adjustments made in March, and added a bonus: a video from a December 2011 “Quality Launch Review” meeting that videoconferences in Googlers from around the globe to discuss search evaluation and ranking. We’ll save that till the end, though.
Some of the most important changes for SEO include:
Indexing symbols (codename “Deep Maroon”) – in the past, Google has ignored punctuation symbols, but has now decided to begin indexing those with the highest frequency of use: “%”, “$”, “”, “.”, “@”, and “+”.
This change may be problematic for content managers and SEOs who break up long-tail keywords by using periods, commas, and other symbols. For instance, if you were trying to get a page to rank for “South Shore cleaning services discount” (for whatever reason) then you might have a sentence that runs “… our South Shore cleaning services. A discount may be available…”
Traditionally, Google has overlooked certain stop words and punctuation symbols to make this kind of flexibility possible, but if punctuation is now being indexed, then it’s not long until it starts affecting the algorithm.
Better scoring of news groups (codename “avenger_2”) – news results on Google are clustered into groups about the same story, and a slight change to the scoring system will lead to more effective news clusters.
Although this won’t change very much for SEOs or content managers, it’s an important reminder that tactics like newsjacking are not always effective – if you’re writing about the same topics as everyone else, it’s more likely than not that your content will be clustered in the News results, and therefore unseen.
High-quality sites algorithm data update and freshness improvements (codename “Panda”) – you’re probably already familiar with Panda, and no matter how long it’s been out of the news, it certainly hasn’t gone away. No, it’s been there all along, in the background, working away.
This month, algorithm data that had been processed offline was cycled into the database. Google gave this change away earlier this month on Twitter, but, as usual, failed to give any indication as to what kind of changes the data might have held. Watch your analytics for any bumps or dips.
Another change relevant to Panda (codename “Curlup”) is meant to improve the system that Google uses to rate the quality of sites, an important factor in a post-Panda world. Very little is released by Google about the qualities taken into consideration by the Panda change, but overall site quality is far and away one of the most dominant factors.
More relevant image results (codename “Lice”) – you might be wondering how an image search is relevant to an SEO, and if you are, you could also be missing out on the boon of image integration and alt-tagging. Since Google segregates image search from general search, you will now be able to find relevant, high quality images, even if they are on low quality pages. If you don’t use alt-tagging to differentiate your images, we recommend doing so immediately so that you can leverage this algorithm optimization.
Changes to how anchor text is handled (codename “PC”) – a classifier related to anchor text has been turned off; mum’s the word on this one from Google, but they claim their data suggests that anchoring text was more robust without this particular classifier.
It was also announced that the anchor text interpretation systems have been improved, which will augment how an anchor might be relevant for the query that led to the website. What this essentially means is that you should ensure that any anchoring you’re doing on-page should be reflective of the keywords and topics you’re trying to rank for.
Improvement of searches with navigational and local intent (codename “ShieldsUp”) – this change balances results for search queries that have local intent and an obvious navigational intent, such as “New York Times” “Florida accident.” Instead of weighing one more heavily than the other, search results will include highly relevant results from both categorizations.
Freshness rollout (codename “Freshness”) – when this improvement was released last year, the resources were significant enough that Google opted for a soft-rollout, affecting only news-related queries and traffic. This month, that freshness update has been applied to all queries. As has always been the case, this means your websites should be updated regularly, if not daily, to maximize freshness and leverage this and other changes that prioritize recency.
“Freshness” also includes some changes to how old pages are detected. Now, stale pages will be detected more quickly by the index, and as you can imagine, this means fewer stale results will be shown to users. Does your homepage look the same as it did last month? What about your contact page? Your product’s landing page? Change them.
This is only a sampling of the changes that were released and unveiled in March, but you can read the entire list of changes at Google’s Inside Search blog.
Although not all of these changes are released on the very morning of the last day or first day of the month, it’s not a bad idea to take a monthly baseline of your analytics so that you can keep a general sense of how the changes are affecting your traffic and performance.
And here’s the video of the Quality Launch Review meeting:
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