4 Google updates from 2016 all small businesses need to know about

From Possum to Penguin 4, when Google makes a change it can have a massive impact on how easily businesses are found in the company's search results

4 Google updates from 2016 all small businesses need to know about

So far, 2016 has been one of the most eventful years to date in the search engine optimisation (SEO) industry – largely thanks to a string of major updates from Google that have affected both the way search results are displayed and how web pages are indexed and ranked. If you’re starting to map out your digital strategy for 2017 – with or without the support of an SEO agency – you need to make sure you have a good grasp of what Google’s latest policies mean. 

In case you missed them, here are some of the key changes that have taken place in 2016 – and what they might mean for your search marketing strategy. 

1. AdWords were removed from the right sidebar in search results 

Although this was a major change, it went largely unnoticed. And that’s precisely why it happened: people rarely look at the right side of a website these days, particularly with the rise of mobile devices and responsive layouts. So in February, Google axed the AdWords search ads from the right side of the search results. The change means that all ads are now displayed between the search box at the top and the organic list, resulting in fiercer competition to appear within the search results – and higher prices. It’s now more expensive for businesses with smaller budgets to gain a foothold on the first page. 

2. Google got serious about mobile 

Google has been pushing mobile for several years. And in May this year, the company essentially told businesses that mobile must come first by releasing its first mobile update, which further boosted mobile-friendly websites. If your site doesn’t pass Google’s mobile friendly test, you must invest in a responsive platform.

And as well as rewriting the rules when it comes to mobile-friendliness, Google announced the need for more speed. “Two seconds is the threshold for e-commerce website acceptability. At Google, we aim for under a half second,” Maile Ohye, developer programs tech lead at Google, advised in a video. 

The tech company also introduced Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) results into mobile search. AMP allow websites to load incredibly quickly via a dedicated content display network (CDN). Businesses must build AMP pages, which are crawled and cached on the cloud to allow page load times fall to well under 500ms. 

3. The arrival of Possum 

Possum is the name of a type of animal native to Australia, New Guinea and Sulawesi. It’s also the nickname SEO analysts gave to an unannounced algorithm change by Google that affected the way local businesses are displayed and potentially ranked in search results.

Before the update, if a company was located just outside a major city, they would rarely be included in search results for that city. Since Possum, companies on the border of towns, and even just outside a particular region, can now rank for that area. This is great news for companies that have a physical address in the suburbs or outlying villages as they can now rank alongside businesses in the centre of town. Joy Hawkins, contributor to Search Engine Land, the SEO website, said in a blog on the site that Possum was “the biggest update we have seen in Local since Pigeon in 2014”. 

4. Penguin 4: real-time updates

Penguin 4, which was released in September 2016, totally replaced all previous Penguin updates, which Google has been introducing over the course of a few years to discourage overly aggressive link-building tactics. Early reports suggest that Google no longer penalises websites for bad links. Instead, it simply removes bad websites from the link graph. Many business that had previously suffered have seen a recovery and SEOs are confident that their link-building practices will pose no risk. And from now on, Penguin will refresh in real time and become a core part of Google’s algorithm. 

No doubt there will be another update before 2016 is out; Google usually makes a major change in the run-up to Black Friday and the Christmas period. But as far as UK businesses are concerned, the four changes mentioned here will continue to be the most important ones to emerge from 2016.

This article comes courtesy of Freelance SEO Essex, a digital marketing agency. 


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