Why Google won’t start announcing algorithm updates

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  • January 20, 2016
Stephen Kenwright

Stephen Kenwright

Strategy Director

In February last year Google announced that it would start to give a boost to sites labelled as ‘mobile friendly’ in search results as of the 21st April.

This prompted a lot of speculation that Google might start to announce its algorithm updates in advance, since it has never really done this before.

Google quickly proved that this would not be the case.

The mobile friendly update, despite being billed as ‘Mobilegeddon’; despite being covered on publications such as the WSJ and The BBC; and despite the hype wagon rolling on for months in advance…didn’t really have much of an impact at all.

Around a week later Google quietly rolled out an algorithm that had a huge impact in search rankings – taking visibility from sites as large as MoneySupermarket in some sectors – but flat out refused to admit it had done so for two weeks after the event.

I think the reason the mobile friendly update was announced in advance is not because Google expected the impact to be particularly big, but because of sign off levels.

Initially dubbed ‘Phantom’, but more recently referred to as a ‘Quality Update’, is very much an SEO problem. It affects the (content based) tactics the SEO industry has been using for a few years now.

Tactics that are very effective, and that are not necessarily wrong, but that may not be executed as well as possible and result in the best quality content.

Because these tactics are used to increase visibility and SEO performance, it’s the SEO Manager or Team’s prerogative to continue to use them, or to stop. (To clarify, I wouldn’t suggest that any website stops creating content, just to make sure the quality is high enough that you could not label it just for SEO).

The mobile friendly update affects search performance based on factors that may be out of the SEO Team’s control.

Making a website responsive, for example, might represent a big investment for a business if it does not currently have a mobile optimised website.

Often, the bigger a business, the bigger the investment.

Google wants websites to be mobile friendly in order to meet its own KPIs. The search engine wants to move towards being truly mobile first because it’s terrified of the experience offered by apps.

Google can’t rely on being the first thing a user sees when she loads up her browser (which will probably be Google’s own Chrome browser) because regardless of whether she’s using an Android or an iPhone she could easily just open her Amazon app and start searching there.

So Google has to provide a good experience on mobile devices.

To do this it needs buy in not just from SEO Teams, but from the people who sign the cheques. It needs to arm the SEO Teams with the knowledge that their businesses could lose 20% of traffic overnight if they don’t go meet the criteria it sets.

You can stop buying links immediately and disavow all the damage you might have done.

Often it’s possible to take down pages in a CMS within minutes that might not be the best quality.

When it’s something as fundamental as your website, that doesn’t change overnight.

Even if it has been the year of the mobile since 2010.

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