Google Algorithm Updates
A brief history of how Google ranks your dealership website.
The reason your dealership’s search engine optimization is best handled by experts is because keeping up with Google updates is a full time job.
Historically, as search ranking became more important for websites and online businesses, people found more and more ways to manipulate those rankings and game the system.
Those tactics might have produced short-term gains, but were unacceptable to Google, whose goal is to provide the most relevant search results and best experience for users.
For marketers, knowing the reason for these updates, the date they were implemented, and how they affected other websites can help understand their impact on sites you manage and what you can about it.
Major Google algorithm updates:
Page Experience Update
Rolling out in June through August of 2021, this update relies on Core Web Vitals to measure page experience, including:
First Input Delay (FID): rate of interactivity with the user. How quickly does the page respond when you act? Optimal FID should be under 100 milliseconds.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures how much a page visually shifts as it loads. The lower, the better!
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): overall loading performance of the web page. Good user experience means an LCP of fewer than 2.5 seconds after the click.
BERT is a deep learning algorithm focused on improving language understanding in search. Specifically, it helps refine search in two key areas: nuance and context. Think of the word “boat” showing up in both of these search terms: “boatload” and “boat prices.” The key here is defining user intent, which BERT achieves by understanding certain search terms within the context of the total query.
This update wasn’t officially named or announced by Google, but noticed and pointed out by the SEO community. While Google is still vague about its intent, there were two types of sites most affected: those plagued by heavy, obtrusive ad content, and those that offered thin content and existed mainly to generate revenue through affiliate links.
Possum shook up local search again in 2016. The impact was seen on results returned through Google Maps and in the location results. The physical location of the person doing the search became a more important factor, as Google returned results that showed related businesses between you and the one you searched for. (If your customer searched for a dealership close to home in your town, but they searched from their job in the next city, they will see all relevant dealerships in between.)
In 2015, Google revealed that part of the overall search engine was powered by AI, or machine learning. This part was named RankBrain. It was developed to help the search engine interpret which results are relevant to a query by looking at factors like the location of the searcher, personalization, and the specific words used. As with machine learning, the results are continually adjusted as RankBrain learns more about which searches best fit which queries and ways that people search.
This 2015 update was pre-announced to give webmasters time to prepare. When it launched, it brought “mobile-friendly” site rankings, which gave priority to websites that display well and load quickly on mobile devices.
This update from 2014 increased the importance and relevance of local search, tying location signals more tightly to the core algorithm. The best response to this update is complete, updated business information on listing and review sites, as those sites were given a rankings boost.
Hummingbird rolled out in 2013 to power changes to semantic search (understanding user’s intent) and the Knowledge Graph. It took a step toward providing answers to questions instead of results that matched keywords. It focused on long-tail searches with intent signals and set the groundwork for the rise of voice search.
While the Panda update focused on content, Penguin took on poor technical SEO strategy in 2012. Initially called the "Webspam Update", it adjusted a number of spam factors, including keyword stuffing, aggressive link building and over-optimization.
The Panda algorithm as undergone more than 30 updates since its introduction in February of 2011. Panda continues to crack down on thin content, content farms, sites with high ad-to-content ratios, and a number of other quality issues.
Google knows that a good search engine tries to answer the underlying question, not simply return the pages that best match the keywords.
The same is true of a good website. As long as your content is developed with the user in mind, you shouldn’t lose any sleep over algorithm updates.