Google algorithm updates are a fact of life for brands and search specialists.
With so many Google updates over the course of a year, we have a periodic collective outburst of stress around these changes.
However, the effects of these changes are generally much more subtle and are not the cataclysmic events some fear.
Google’s mobile-friendly update was one such example.
There was talk of ‘mobilegeddon’ (and yes, we used that term) but the reality was that Google was simply implementing changes to its algorithm that it had talked about and hinted at in advance.
Google is focusing more on UX related ranking factors, and mobile is an obvious area where the user experience was poorer for a significant number of searchers thanks to sites that hadn’t been optimised for mobile.
The update was trailed in advance, so sites that haven’t optimised for mobile shouldn’t be too surprised.
In this post I have data on two sectors showing the movement in search visibility over the course of a little over a year.
They’re tracked against known algorithm updates, so we can see if any seem to have had a particular effect.
The caveat here is that we don’t know what internal changes have been made to these sites in this period, so not necessarily everything can be tied to algorithm updates.
Here we can see the effect of Panda 4.0 on eBay, which seems to have been the clear loser from that particular update.
Panda 4.0 was about clamping down on thin content and eBay, in the form of its category and landing pages, had plenty of this.
So we can see a big change around May 2014, and this table shows some of the terms that it dropped for.
For other sites in the sector, we can see that, though there have been slight drops around the time of some Google updates, most sites have been steady over the course of the year.
The exception here is Asda, which seems to have suffered in the wake of Penguin 3.0.
This tells a similar story, though farecompare and Cheap Fliights seems to have suffered more than others.
Until relatively recently, Cheap Flights would be number one on Google for that term, thanks to an exact match domain.
Now, it’s at number two, and has been lower.
Part of this may well be the lessening impact of exact match domains on the SERPs.
While EMDs do tend to rank higher than branded domains (11% higher on average according to canirank) their effect my well be diluted in such a competitive vertical.
It also seems to have suffered from Panda 4.0 ad 4.1, which were aimed at sites with thin content.
Here we can see some of the drops after 4.1:
It has recovered to some extent since Panda, but still remains lower than before.
Now this could be continuing issues with Panda, or simply a reflection of the difficulty of ranking in such a competitive sector.
According to Sam Silverwood-Cope from Pi-Datametrics:
“We see that Cheap Flights has been affected more than once by algorithmic changes. In May last year it was hit by Panda and took a big dip, the second main update was in September. But as we can see from the following charts, there wasn’t a major drop in the SERPs, but more of a gradual and ongoing degrading of positions site-wide.
“If the site was initially appearing above the fold for many terms, post update these terms would appear slightly below the fold. This could mean a decrease in traffic of well over 50% for each term, and thus a major hit on the site as a whole.”
What these stats do show is the ever-changing landscape of search.
Positions are rarely static for long, and there is plenty of fluctuation over a 12 month period, some caused by algorithm updates, some due to other factors.
Some sites benefit too. TripAdvisor seems to have gained from the mobile update for instance.
“I think too much worry is put into the updates themselves rather than actually doing something about it. An algorithm change by Google is generally a good thing. It means it is changing its results and making sure the best content sites with the best links are performing well.”