As search engine optimisation (or SEO) practitioners, a Google algorithm change is a pretty colossal deal in our world. Although Google applies around 500-600 changes to its core algorithm every year, the occasional ‘major’ updates are the ones you really need to look out for – often requiring an adapted strategy to maintain crucial keyword rankings, all while not actually knowing exactly how the algorithm has changed. Welcome to the laugh-a-minute world of digital marketing.
As 2018 draws to a close, today, we’re taking a look back at the most significant Google algorithm changes of the past year, explaining how they impacted search rankings and why exactly Google felt like they were needed. So, let’s begin at the beginning, shall we?
Mobile-first index roll-out – March
The first major shift occurred back in March, when Google announced that, after a year and a half of testing, they’d begun migrating sites that best follow the practices for mobile-first indexing.
Before this, the search engine’s crawling, indexing and ranking systems had focused on desktop versions of page content – but these pages could greatly differ to the mobile versions of the page, often causing problems to the ever-increasing mobile user demographic.
Subsequently, the purpose of this update was to help mobile users acquire better results by using the mobile version of pages for indexing and ranking. However, this did not have any dramatic effect on ranking positions, as Google continued to use a single main index in which mobile versions of a page simply began to be featured more frequently than their desktop counterparts.
Snippet length decrease – May
In May, Google confirmed that, just five months after increasing the length of search result snippets to an average of 230 characters, they were decreasing it once more. Though there is no fixed length for snippets, the new length is deemed to be an average of around 160 characters (and 130 for mobile).
If you were quiet, you could hear SEO marketers across the country ripping out their hair after spending half a year increasing the meta descriptions of their content…
Video carousels – June
A scroll down your social media feed is enough to observe that video is becoming an increasingly fundamental form of online consumption. This was reinforced by Google back in June, where videos began to appear in a dedicated video carousel, as opposed to appearing as an organic search result with a thumbnail.
Previously a staple of Google search engine results pages (SERPs), thumbnails saw a sudden and dramatic ranking drop of around 92%, causing a huge shake-up in results that were previously tracked as organic. On the other hand, SERPs including video results saw a significant increase of over 60%.
Mobile speed update – July
First announced six months prior, July saw Google roll out the mobile page speed update that considered page speed as a ranking factor for mobile users.
Intended to encourage developers to think more broadly about how site performance affects user experience, the speed update only really affected pages that delivered particularly slow user experiences, ultimately influencing a very small proportion of search queries and having a very insignificant effect on major mobile rankings.
Chrome security – July
In an effort to increase user security on their search platforms, Google Chrome began to mark all non-https sites as ‘not secure’ back in July.
Intended to motivate site owners to strengthen cybersecurity, this update warned users when a connection to a site was not encrypted and their information therefore wasn’t private. This algorithm update focused more on user reassurance – particularly when entering sensitive information such as bank details – rather than ranking, but it’s since become abundantly clear that being unsecured in 2018 and beyond is a dangerous game for any online brand.
Core update – August
Undoubtedly the most significant of all the algorithm updates of 2018, August saw a broad core algorithm update with widespread reports of massive ranking impacts.
As ever, Google enjoyed keeping us guessing, detailing very little about how exactly the update had changed their algorithm. As they continued to roll it out throughout the week, it became increasingly evident that diet, nutritional and medical themed sites were most heavily affected – hence the affectionate nickname, ‘Medic’, was born.
Key factors surrounding this update appeared to be business and author reputation, reinforcing the importance of expertise, authority and trustworthiness (EAT) – a concept originally brought into our lives via Google’s all-important search quality rater’s guidelines. Though – as has consistently been the case in recent months and years – the majority of affected sites seemed to fall into the Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) category, the damage felt by these brands was by no means insignificant.
So, there you have it! As the year draws to an end, we’re looking ahead to 2019 and all the chaotic, stressful and – we’ll admit it – exciting updates Google has in store for us in the year ahead. After all, there’s nothing quite like being kept on your toes.