The Google Algorithm Changes You Need to Know To Start 2018 Right

January 22, 2018 | |

Google algorithm updates

How To Keep Your Website Ranking High

Google’s algorithm changes constantly – about 500 times a year. Most of these changes are minor but some can have serious effects on your rankings. And, from the outside, some of these updates can seem capricious, with the best practices of yesterday being the penalty of today, so it’s important to keep updated on what Google’s bots are looking for.

The end of 2017 saw a flurry of changes and activity across the SEO world. Here’s a rundown of the major changes to the algorithm made in the last several months.

January 2018: Page Speed Will Be A Mobile Ranking Factor

The first major update of 2018 is that page speed will now be a ranking factor on mobile. For years, it has been a significant factor on desktop, and Google has confirmed that it will now be on devices of all sorts. Google has also said that it uses a single criteria for determining speed regardless of what technology the page is built on.

On BigCommerce? Read about how switching to Stencil can improve your mobile speed with AMP.

December 2017: Update Maccabee Targets Many Keyword Permutations

In mid-December 2017, SEOs and webmasters reported sites taking major hits in rankings and dubbed the update “Maccabee.” Experts worked out that the affected sites were targeting large arrays of what are called keyword permutations, meaning that they used many synonymous terms to drive maximum traffic to one page. An example of this would be a travel website listing “cheap flights to Florida, low cost flights to Florida, inexpensive flights to Florida,” et cetera, across several landing pages.

Google eventually confirmed that updates to the algorithm were made, although declined to speak on the exact changes. However, experts have taken this to mean that Google’s algorithm has “leveled up” in how well it interprets whether content is useful and informative or just keyword stuffing.

December 2017: Taking Aim At Spammy Backlinks

Experts speculate that a separate December algorithm update took aim at spammy backlink techniques, such as the use of private blog networks (PBNs). A PBN is a shady technique for trying to trick Google into ranking your sites higher. It involves groups of sites linking back and forth to one another so that Google’s bots think they have more authority and a healthier link profile. It’s also one of the major things Google’s bots penalize for and many sites involved in them felt the burn with this algorithm change this past winter.

November and December 2017: Google Targets Thin Content

Battling content farms has long been a major focus of Google’s developers and, in November and December, they pushed two separate updates targeting what’s called “thin content.” This means sites with a poor content-to-ad ratio, or with other “red flag” content like:

  • Automatically generated content
  • Content that was copy-pasted from another site
  • “Doorway pages” that simply point the user to another page
  • Irrelevant or uninformative content
  • Keyword stuffing

November 2017: Snippets Are Longer

SEO best practices used to dictate that you keep your site’s meta-description as close to 160 characters as possible so that it could appear as a snippet, the description of the URL that goes below the URL in search engine results. And while 160 was a hard limit for a long time, Google had been playing around with lengthening the snippets on certain sites’ results to as much as 250 or 300 characters for several years.

In November, Google confirmed what many had suspected: snippet length has officially increased across the web to provide users with what they called “more descriptive and useful snippets.”

October 2017: New Version of Chrome Web Browser Warns Visitors of Unsecured HTTP Forms

While this isn’t strictly related to search engine rankings, Google took a major step in October 2017 when they announced their Chrome browser would show a “Not Secure” warning when users enter data – such as filling out a form or making a purchase – on an HTTP page, or access any HTTP page while in incognito mode.

This update is part of a push to encourage site owners to migrate to HTTPS, which is a more secure way of sending data from a browser to a website. HTTPS certification is crucial for the overall health of your website.

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Emma works on IntuitSolutions' internal resources and marketing initiatives. Previously, she taught ESL and worked as a freelance writer on a variety of subjects ranging from healthcare to education.