Google updated its algorithm fewer times in 2015 than it has in several years.
Google makes hundreds of changes to its algorithm each year. Some are significant enough to cause substantial fluctuations in search engine results.
After several years of heavily turbulent algorithm changes, Google settled down in 2015, releasing just five significant changes. Before the end of the year, it’s likely Google will push out one more, which will make 2015 its least active year since 2009, a year in which Google updated its algorithm four times.
While Google may have slowed its changes, the ones it did make were not without serious impact.
February 4, 2015
Marketing software company, Moz received reports from multiple webmasters regarding fluxes in traffic and search engine rankings. Google had released an unnamed update that primarily targeted eCommerce websites, and most law firms were unaffected. Google has not officially confirmed this update.
April 22, 2015
If you read any website between the winter of 2014 and the spring of 2015, you knew Mobilegeddon was coming. Google announced this update in advance to give webmasters time to make their sites mobile friendly. After the update, websites that were not mobile friendly would see considerable ranking declines for mobile searches. The update did not affect desktop searches.
While Mobilegeddon did change mobile results, the affects were not as cataclysmic as predicted. Google did, however, force webmasters to start prioritizing their mobile experience, which is becoming increasingly important.
May 3, 2015
This widespread update affected many smaller sites and websites with a lot of content that Google now deems low quality. CNBC reported that HubPages, a microblog community, saw a 22% drop in traffic to its 870,000 indexed pages after this change. Our law firm website data showed minimal impact on the legal community, with most websites recovering one to two weeks after the update.
July 17, 2015
In July, Google rolled out its 28th Panda update. As a reminder, Google Panda deals with content quality, and Google Penguin deals with link quality. Moz reported no immediate ranking changes as the update was the start of a gradual release.
We found a significant drop in rankings on the websites we monitor a month later on August 18th. However, the majority of these rankings recovered by mid September.
October 26, 2015
Originally reported by Bloomberg, RankBrain is an artificial intelligence component of Google’s search algorithm. In this month’s feature, “Google’s RankBrain and the Future of Smart Search,” Ryan Conley explains that “Google users enter some three billion queries into the search engine each day. The company says that about 15 percent of those queries are unique — no user has ever before performed exactly that search. RankBrain helps Google’s computers understand these unique queries.”
While not officially algorithm changes, Google also made several updates to its local product.
Google My Business
As Google works towards detaching its Google+ network from other services, it launched Google My Business to help business owners manage local listings. The Google My Business platform is very similar to the pre-Google+ local product, Google Places. With improved support, it’s clear that Google is making significant investments to improve its local listing product, which has in the past been plagued with glitches.
August 6, 2015
Custom Legal Marketing (CLM) reported in August that Google was no longer displaying a 7-Pack under the map. Instead, it started showing a 3-Pack with a “more places” option.
CLM speculated that this was an attempt to compete with providers like Yelp saying, “Google is essentially drawing your attention to service providers, then giving you a way to find more of them without scrolling below the map listings. This gives you the opportunity to explore local businesses without looking at any highly-ranked organic listings, which typically include sites like Yelp, Yellow Pages and a variety of local directories. This means that impressions and rankings for your website may appear down, but you may actually see an increase in clicks from traffic that would have otherwise gone to a directory like Yelp.”
Google Penguin Real Time
Rumored to be released by the end of 2015, this update will allow Google to punish and redeem a website in real time. Currently, if your website is penalized for bad links you can correct the links, then have to wait several months for Google to run Penguin again to redeem your website. Once this update is released, you will be able to quickly address a problem and get back on Google’s good side without the long wait.
Google has spent the last five years making a strong push to enforce content and link quality. Expect any changes coming in 2016 to be directed at content, links and user experience.