At G5, Google is more than just a digital marketing company that specializes in search marketing; it’s the stadium where we play ball. It’s our turf. And it’s always changing.
That’s why we take notice of subtle-but-powerful changes like algorithm updates. For our SEO team, nothing gets past the gate without a thorough inspection, including those small shifts in search functionality that fly under the radar to most people.
And while it’s no secret that Google is constantly getting faster, smarter, and more mobile-oriented, 2016 was a banner year. Google shifted its search engine into turbo mode, rolling out a number of groundbreaking changes that would redefine user experience as we know it and ultimately change the game of search marketing forever.
Here we explain what these updates mean for our clients, what features caught our SEO team’s eye the most, and what we might expect to see in 2017.
- RankBrain and Machine learning now apply to all queries, rather than the previous 15 percent. What does this mean? Now, every industry, every market, and even every query has its own unique set of dynamic ranking factors. And these factors are constantly evolving as “The Algorithm” learns from itself. What this basically boils down to are incredibly massive—and growing—data sets.
- Google’s ability to better understand context has blossomed into the rise in SERP features and rich answers. For the uninitiated, these are Google’s attempts to answer a query directly in the search results, sparing the user a click-through to another website. Now users are increasingly more likely to find the answers they are searching for directly in the SERP. This change also presents a great opportunity for websites leveraging structured data to have it featured in the SERP.
- The separation of local and organic search, a result of the Possum update, enhances the way Google interprets and responds to user intent. The inclusion of local and nearby locations in addition to broad terms means results are more fine-tuned to a searcher’s location, which is good news for local businesses competing against authoritative domains in highly competitive markets—especially the city outliers.
- On top of the Possum update, local search has even more relevance thanks to Google’s inauguration of mobile-first indexing and AMP pages. Pair all this with Google’s continual advancements in voice search technology, and you’re suddenly playing a whole new game.
- Thanks to Penguin 4.0, link penalty updates now happen in “real time,” or upon re-crawl, rather than algorithm update. This means that changes in organic rankings, as a result of “unnatural links” (aka: link spam), will be seen almost immediately after the fact.
- Most recently, Google added a feature to the local results that gives users the ability to filter local results by star rating, hours, and more. Optimizing business hours on your Google My Business listing used to be just a smart move—now it could truly be the factor that qualifies you in the game.
As with all things Google, these changes are likely to evolve for the better in 2017, and brand-new advancements will accompany them. Our SEO experts will be watching it all so we can keep bringing our clients the best ways to refine their digital marketing game.