The year has only just started, but in the search engine world, 2016 has come in like a lion. There have been some major shake-ups over the last couple of weekends, and more are on the horizon. To help you keep up with what’s going on, I’ve compiled this quick overview of what you need to know.
The Core Algorithm Update and Penguin
Beginning the weekend of January 9, site owners began reporting ranking shifts in Google. Many site owners thought this might be a Penguin update, which has been expected since late 2015. However, Barry Schwartz over at Search Engine Land was able to confirm with Google that it was an update to their core ranking algorithm.
Additional shake-ups in the rankings were reported through the weekend of January 16 as Google continued to roll out the update.
If you’re not familiar with Penguin, it’s an algorithm update that Google launched several years ago to combat bad link networks and shady linking practices. We’ve heard it from the horse’s mouth: the recent SERP activity is not related to Penguin, so that means sites that were penalized and are hoping to recover will have to wait a while longer. If you think a site you manage might be at risk for a Penguin-related penalty, this is good news. You have a little while longer to work on your recovery strategy. It still sounds like the update should roll out early this year, but of course, we don’t know when. Stay tuned!
Panda Moves to the Core
On a related note, Google’s other major update, Panda, has been moved into its core ranking algorithm. Industry leaders aren’t exactly sure when this happened, but Search Engine Land states that it was likely sometime late in 2015.
Like Penguin, Panda was designed to prevent spammy, low-quality websites from ranking in Google’s results. Instead of focusing on links, though, Panda focuses on content quality. Specifically, the update targets content farms, which produce poor quality content stuffed with keywords and created solely for the purpose of ranking, not serving the user. However, it also targets “thin” content—anything that the engine deems lacking in substance and usefulness.
Now, Panda is part of Google’s core algorithm, meaning it is stable enough and has been tested enough to run regularly on its own.
What Should You Do?
Given the fact that the recent algorithm updates are not Penguin related, I think it’s safe to say that the ranking changes are related to on-site factors, including content. This shouldn’t be surprising given the fact that Panda is now baked into the main algorithm. If you’ve noticed that your rankings have slipped, evaluate the keywords that have moved down and try to pinpoint the pages that you’ve targeted for these terms. Can you improve the content there? Can you create new, in-depth content that will further prove to Google that you’re an authority on the subject in question? If you start there, I wouldn’t be surprised if you eventually see your rankings recover.
Remember, though, that a Penguin update is still lurking in the shadows. You may have managed to escape its grasp for now, but it’s coming. If your site has a bad backlink profile, get moving to avoid a penalty in the near future. For some more information on how to identify and remove bad backlinks, see this penalty recovery guide from Kissmetrics.
The new year has certainly started off with a bang, and there’s more to come. Plan ahead and be proactive to stay in Google’s good graces for 2016.