It seems like the only constant in technology these days, is change. Google's search algorithm updates are a good case in point. Every year, Google changes its search algorithm hundreds of times. While most of these changes are usually minor, Google occasionally rolls out a "major" algorithmic update, significantly affecting search results and webmasters all over the world.
Google has rolled out updates that changed the way search engines had to be optimized. Being aware of these updates and their dates of release help search marketers identify, understand and explain changes in site rankings, organic web traffic and ultimately, improve search engine optimization.
The major 2013 updates included further releases of Penguin and Panda, Hummingbird taking flight, and the move away from providing keyword data in the interest of encrypted search. Google followed up in 2014 with a few noteworthy, interesting updates.
Top Heavy 3 (Update #3) - February 6th 2014
Originally introduced in January 2012 and impacting about 1% of English searches since, Google refreshed its Page Layout Algorithm that was introduced to downgrade sites that were "top heavy" with ads. This filter, also known as the Top Heavy Algorithm, penalizes sites that do not display much actual content and include too many ads above-the-fold.
The move was intended to better user experience. Sites that do not dedicate a larger fraction of the sites' initial screen to related, visible content but instead to ads, making it difficult for users to discover content, will not rank highly going forward. So, watch out, for not just what you put on your site, but also where you put it!
Panda 4.0 (Update #26) - May 19, 2014
Panda 4.1 (Update #27) - September 23, 2014
Originally introduced in February 2011, Google's Panda is a filter that looks into improving the quality of content available on sites. Although its exact intentions are unclear, generally, based on user and webmaster feedback, Panda targets sites with an overall lack of content or "thin content", sites with a large volume of duplicate content and sites with a large amount of machine-generated content or "spun content".
Panda 4.0, introduced in May 2014, included significant modifications and a new algorithm from the earlier Panda Update. Four months later, Google began rolling out Panda 4.1, stating it was even more precise, allowing high-quality medium and small sized sites to rank better. Google projects that based on location, about 3-5% of search queries will be affected.
Pigeon - July 24, 2014
On July 24th Google introduced one of their biggest updates in the local SEO world, calling it the Pigeon Update. This update released a new algorithm to provide more relevant and useful search results based on a more accurate interpretation of location cues, also improving distance and location ranking parameters. Although core changes are unobservable, sites may notice an increase or decrease in web referrals from local search results.
Google pointed out that this new algorithm also ties into some of the other web search capabilities such as the ranking signals they use in web search, as well as certain search features like spell check, synonyms, Knowledge Graph, amongst others.
Authorship Removed - August 28, 2014
The Authorship project originally emerged from Google's Agent Rank patent in 2007. This was a way that various pieces of content could be connected by means of a digital signature representing one or more "agents"; in other words, authors. When first implemented in 2011, Google announced support towards authorship markup by encouraging webmasters to begin marking content on their sites with the rel="author" and rel="me" tags, which then connects a piece of content to an author's Google+ profile.
Nevertheless, as of August 28th 2014, Google completely dropped all authorship functionality from search results and webmaster tools, including all authorship photos from SERPs (search engine results page). John Mueller of Google Webmaster Tools cited two primary areas that colored their decision; namely, the low and incorrect adoption of authorship markup by authors and webmasters and also the unexpectedly low value users placed on authorship markups. So, due to the low worth this project returned to Google in comparison to the resources it took to implement, it was goodbye to Authorship for now.
However, knowing Google, there is the hope of something new and better to come. It now remains to be seen what updates the search engine giant comes up with in 2015, and it has marketers and SEO experts reacting and scrambling to get in line.