Google has announced one of their biggest set of changes to their search algorithms in their Google Inside Search Blog on the 27th Feb 2012.
The changes that were mostly rolled out at the start of February are also known as Google Panda 3.3 update.
There are 40 changes listed on the Inside Search Blog post. Not all of them are very important from an SEO point of view, but there are some changes that are quite significant.
In this article, I’ll be giving you my opinions on the impact of the key points of the Panda 3.3 update.
Panda 3.3 Key Points
Note that Google will never reveal the exact details of their changes, so there is a certain amount of guess work and reading between the lines with the information they have provided.
More accurate detection of official pages. [launch codename “WRE”] We’ve made an adjustment to how we detect official pages to make more accurate identifications. The result is that many pages that were previously misidentified as official will no longer be.
This description is a little vague as it depends on what Google’s definition of “official” is, but presumably it means that sites that target brand names or trademarks will no longer be given a boost in the rankings from a misidentified “official” status.
Disabling two old fresh query classifiers. [launch codename “Mango”, project codename “Freshness”] As search evolves and new signals and classifiers are applied to rank search results, sometimes old algorithms get outdated. This improvement disables two old classifiers related to query freshness.
Improvements to freshness. [launch codename “iotfreshweb”, project codename “Freshness”] We’ve applied new signals which help us surface fresh content in our results even more quickly than before.
It’s well known since the first Panda update that freshness is an important factor for a lot of sites to rank well. It’s impossible to say what the old classifiers are, but my guess is they are related to auto-content.
Improvements to travel-related searches. [launch codename “nesehorn”] We’ve made improvements to triggering for a variety of flight-related search queries. These changes improve the user experience for our Flight Search feature with users getting more accurate flight results.
It doesn’t appear to be a coincidence that the new Flight Search feature (first introduced in Dec 2011) appears to favour the major airlines, rather than the smaller carriers or travel agents.
Improvements to ranking for local search results. [launch codename “Venice”] This improvement improves the triggering of Local Universal results by relying more on the ranking of our main search results as a signal.
Improved local results. We launched a new system to find results from a user’s city more reliably. Now we’re better able to detect when both queries and documents are local to the user.
What this means is that Google will show more local results for various queries, eg: doctors, restaurants, movies etc as they are able to better detect what location the searcher is in.
Link evaluation. We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page. We have changed the way in which we evaluate links; in particular, we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years. We often rearchitect or turn off parts of our scoring in order to keep our system maintainable, clean and understandable.
This is probably one of the biggest and most important updates. Again, it’s very hard to know exactly what methods of link analysis that they’ve turned off.
Reading between the lines, it is possible that Google is going to place less importance on the anchor text and more importance on where the link comes from. Presumably this will benefit sites with contextual links from sites that have related topics to the site where the backlink is pointing.
So What Does It All Mean?
The most important thing to remember is that every Google update is not “The End Of The World For SEO” or “Google Hates Us”.
Google are always going to be tweaking the way they calculate the search results.
The bottom line is if you have a diverse set of non-spammy backlinking sources and a good mix of social media (eg: Google Plus, FaceBook, Twitter etc), then it’s more than likely you won’t notice much different in your website rankings.