A recent disruption in search engine ranks has search engine marketers confused and intrigued. Many business owners are reporting that they’ve dropped in ranks significantly, while others are reporting a ranking recovery after what could have been another update in January. Google has made no official announcement about a significant update in the month of August, and officials have refused to comment on whether or not these are the aftereffects of an algorithm change.
Reports are varied, and without an official statement from Google, it’s difficult to tell what has been affected and why. However, reports began to trickle in on August 8th, with continued disruption continuing over the August 9th weekend. Various webmasters have noticed significant changes in their rankings for different keywords, with some acknowledging a boost and others acknowledging a decline. These ranking changes seem to be unaffiliated with any significant site change or deployment.
While the public does not have access to Google’s master search algorithm, there are tools available to us to measure whether or not there are changes going into effect. For example, Algoroo tracks possible algorithm changes by measuring the relative “turbulence” of aggregated keyword rankings. Their chart seems to indicate a disruption around August 8th that is continuing to have moderate aftershocks:
Similarly, SERPs.com measures the volatility of thousands of websites on a daily basis to see whether there have been any significant updates or changes. Their report does show a modest spike in volatility, but not to the extreme that Algoroo is showing:
These sources indicate at least some kind of official change. However, since Google made no official announcement, and nothing seems to have completely crashed, this update is likely not major (or at least is not in the same league as the Panda and Penguin updates).
Google is no stranger to coyness. While they like going on the record and explaining the rationale behind their major overhauls, like Panda and Penguin, they also like to downplay the details of their smaller updates. Their algorithm is not available to the public, so it’s no surprise that they keep at least some of their updates under tight wraps.
There are several possible reasons for this:
As you are already aware, the Google Penguin and Panda updates made major algorithm changes that disrupted the world of search engine marketing—and they continue to make impact as Google refreshes these standards.
It’s possible that this latest statistical anomaly is merely the result of a small-scale addition to one or both of these broader algorithm modifications. If that’s the case, this could merely be the latest in a series of regular refreshes.
Google Panda first hit the scene in February of 2011, affecting almost 12 percent of all search queries. The main intention of the update was to reward sites with high-quality content and penalize sites with low-quality or spammy content. This update was announced by Google directly, and was followed by a second Panda update in April of 2011. After those initial rollouts, there were 24 more instances of Panda-related updates, either announced or belatedly confirmed by Google, between May of 2011 and May of 2014. Since 2013, Google has acknowledged that they would be making regular, monthly updates to the Panda algorithm but would no longer be announcing them. In fact, they stated these updates would be gradual, occurring as a steady rollout over the course of several days.
This gives us two conflicting pieces of evidence about how this August 8th update is related to Google Panda. On one hand, the fact that it wasn’t a major disruption and it wasn’t announced leads one to believe that this is a part of a regular search engine update “routine.” Then again, the fact that this variance seemed to happen immediately conflicts with the idea that the update would be rolled out over the course of the entire month.
Google Penguin came out in April of 2012, impacting 3.1 percent of queries (which is still significant, but not as monstrous as Panda). Whereas Panda focused more on encouraging high-quality content, Penguin focused more on eliminating shady backlinking activities. A second update came in May of 2012, with a handful of new updates trickling in over the course of 2012 and 2013. These updates came as relatively sharp peaks, making a big impact in a short amount of time, but there have been no confirmed Penguin updates since October of 2013.
Given the non-disruptive nature of the August 8th update, and the fact that Penguin has not had a confirmed update since the end of 2013, it’s unlikely that this update is affiliated with Penguin.
Odds are, if you got lost any ranks with this alleged update, you aren’t hurting too bad. But if you have seen a drop, don’t think of it as a penalty. You haven’t changed anything, and you haven’t necessarily done anything wrong. Just focus on sustaining best practices for search engine ranking—a steady stream of quality content, an organic backlinking strategy, occasional guest posting and press releases, and an audience-driven social media marketing campaign.
In the grand scope of Google algorithm changes, this probable August 8th update is insignificant. There’s a sizable chance this is just a ripple effect from this month’s Panda refresh, and if it isn’t, then it’s probably the result of some minor tweak. It may even be a test, to be refined and announced at a later date. The bottom line is, this isn’t a sign of any new revolutions in search engine marketing.
Instead, this is the latest manifestation of Google’s philosophy. By keeping the majority of their updates small, unannounced, and gradual, they can avoid generating too much negative attention, prevent black hat practitioners from taking advantage of any holes, and make sure their algorithms remain as functional and useful as possible for the Internet. Whether this is a Panda refresh, a mini-update, a test, or just a fluke, you can expect to see more anomalies like this in the future. All we can do is learn what we can from the data and wait until Google tells us more.