Latest Google Search Engine Algorithm Update: Uncovering the Facts and Speculations

September 9, 2016

Update: Friday, Sept 23, 2016 – Google has confirmed that Penguin is now part of their core algorithm. Stay tuned for more insights from us as the full effects of Penguin are revealed.

If you were online on September 2nd vigorously tracking your site’s current rankings in Google’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP), then you might have been one of the first few people to notice the change in Google’s search ranking algorithm. The SEO community did in fact speculate that there has been not just one, but two separate updates during the day—one for the core web search and the other on mobile search results. While Google has not commented on this issue yet, John Mueller, a Google Webmaster Trends analyst, has answered some questions raised by curious and concerned netizens. After all, first page organic search results are (kind of) like pure cash these days.

What is the latest Google algorithm update?

Google is known for dropping phantom or unannounced updates, which keeps all of us who work in the SEO industry on our toes. The latest algorithm changes may very well go unnoticed if it weren’t for those who make it their job to stay updated with online trends.
Despite Google’s cryptic silence on these latest updates, they have previously hinted about it on Google Webmaster Central Blog. Here’s what we know about this new search engine update:

1. Google core web search update
Diverse ranking changes have been noticed in all web page verticals and across industries. Here are a few key things we’ve noticed with this latest update.

A. One of the single biggest changes seems to be how Google evaluates on-site content. Typically, websites which had many individual pages dedicated to single “topics” of keyword content would rank well. This is because Google wanted to deliver the most direct search result page for a user’s query. For example, if you searched for website design, you would likely prefer to land on a page that specifically talked about website design, rather than a bunch of services mixed together. So Google would place a high value on websites that very clearly delineated all of the content into separate pages.

However, due to the proliferation of tablet, phones and other touch devices, this multi-page architecture is now often contrary to how users browse websites. People are much less likely nowadays to want to click onto a number of different pages, since it can either be slow or cumbersome. Instead, we’re finding that users would simply rather scroll (or swipe). So this presents a huge usability problem between website user experience, and optimal searchability. Google has been delivering website search results that have been at odds with modern website user patterns. But both ways make sense depending on the given scenario. Is someone landing directly on your website’s homepage due to direct referral, or are they landing on an internal page from a search result? Regardless of the “best” way, Google now seems to be adapting to the modern way, and is evidently giving rank priority to websites that have single siloed themes of content – web pages which have much more content separated by H2 and even H3 titles. This could signal a fundamental shift in Google’s algorithm and hint and what’s to come with the Penguin 4.0 update (more on that later).

B. This might also be because Google is slowly pushing its plan to eliminate intrusive interstitials from the top of SERP.

Google has expressed their concern about the (rather malicious) existence of some content present on a web page that is visually blocked by an interstitial; something that often leads to irritated or frustrated users (read more about our thoughts on that here). When users click on a link, they expect to see the content they’re looking for, right?

However, with interstitials, the site is giving off relatively poor user experience. This becomes more of a problem when the web page is brought to mobile phone screens, which are much smaller.

2. Mobile search results

 It has been several years since Google has added a mobile-friendly feature as a means to help users who prefer to browse on their phones (a staggering 70% and counting). With this feature, people no longer have to zoom into pages so they can read text. Currently, over 85% of all web pages have embraced mobile-friendliness. More than ever, it seems that Google is keen on making sure that all web pages are mobile responsive. If you are a web owner or developer and your site is not mobile responsive, then you should totally reassess your goals for your business.

What are the after effects of the latest Google update?

Since the latest changes made by Google, we’ve noticed a number of things happen. Here is a quick overview:

1. Big ranking fluctuations.
The search engine results page looks very different today than it did a week ago. There has been a lot of noticeable swings, some very dramatic (both good and bad), for websites all across the web. This is not uncommon with a Google algorithm change, but this is definitely one of the most dramatic that we have seen in the past couple of years. Even more-so than Google’s dreaded Mobilgeddon update.

2. Google Analytics is broken.
There is also a lot of chatter about issues with Google Analytics. This started on September 7, 2016. In Twitter, Google has confirmed the complaints and admitted that there is really a problem. Their tweet goes: Some users may be experiencing issues with real time reporting. We are working on a fix and expect to have everything back to normal soon.

Google has also offered a temporary fix for the Analytics error, which is to clear cookies or use the incognito browser window. They have apologized for the inconvenience they’re causing people and promised to get a permanent solution to the problem.

As of September 9, 2016, the solution is yet to be seen. SEO experts are speculating that this prolonged action in solving the problem may be due to one of these two things: Google has launched a not-so-minor update or the company is finally pushing for the long-awaited change in Penguin 4.0 algorithm.

3. There have been crawl errors.
Crawl errors involve issues in which Google fails to crawl a site’s URL and direct web developers to an HTTP error code page. Over the past week, some webmasters are reporting an increase in crawl errors on Google’s search console. These errors include “linked from” lists redirecting to pages that are no longer existing and closed pages randomly appearing on-site and off-site.

In the first week of September, it is said that the number of crawl error reports have increased to 50,000. While many experts say that this is because of the latest updates, Google has commented otherwise. They say the latest algorithm update has nothing to do with the changes in Google Search Console.

Are these changes a preparation to Penguin 4.0 updates?

The last major update done by Google was that of Penguin. It was exactly 688 days ago. Since then, there had been reports circulating that Google would make a Penguin 4.0 algorithm update in March 2016. However, this has not happened yet. Now, people are asking questions and eagerly (nervously…) wait for the real date to be announced.
The latest updates have piqued the interest of SEO experts as they are hoping that this is finally a hint to the promised major update. Having said that, on September 6, 2016, John Mueller declared that there have been no visible changes in the Penguin 4.0 algorithm so far, putting a hold on this speculation.

In Conclusion

Webmasters and SEO experts are fully aware of how eager Google is to make minor updates to their algorithm and send the SEO industry into a frenzy by revealing no specific reason for such actions. It’s a lot of power for one company to yield – but for now, this is Google’s world, and we’re all just playing in it.