It’s been a year since the first panda update and since then quite a few things have changed in search marketing. And now, one year later, the search engine giant has announced a significant set of changes to their search algorithms. They have refreshed Panda to 3.3 and launched 40 other search updates. Some are still in progress and others have already been updated throughout February.

Quite a few people have discussed the changes to Panda. You can read some good articles at Search Engine Land, on David Naylor’s blog and on Google’s blog.

But I would like to highlight a few of those other updates which are most crucial from an SEO viewpoint. It is interesting to note that Google has changed algorithms influencing:

  • Freshness
  • Official Pages
  • Travel Queries
  • Local Search Results
  • and Link Evaluation

All of these have potential implications for search engine professionals.

Freshness

As part of their plan to improve fresh results, Google have disabled two old fresh-query classifiers. They said, “As search evolves and new signals and classifiers are applied to rank search results, sometimes old algorithms get outdated.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.

They expanded on the improvements to freshness by adding, “We’ve applied new signals which help us surface fresh content in our results even more quickly than before.

In many ways this is linked to Panda, which has always considered freshness an important contributor for site rankings. However, from the above statement it’s difficult to tell what the old ‘classifiers’ are… we think this is probably related to auto-content. This reinforces the importance of fresh content.

Official Pages

In order to raise relevant and authoritative listings in the SERPs, Google now have more accurate detection of official pages. “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.

We don’t know exactly how Google defines an official page. It probably involves a site which features trademarks and brand keywords. But what if an unofficial or fan page has better SEO and is more discussed than the official page?  Is it fair that the ‘official’ page outranks it? Bear in mind that if you’re trying to optimize an unofficial page this update could hurt your efforts.

Travel related queries

To develop their Flight Search feature Google have made improvements to travel-related searches: “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.”

The new flight Search feature which was introduced rather recently in December 2011 seems to favourably back up major airline corporations rather than travel agents or smaller corporations. This might as well lead to debates and newly arisen challenges for the ever so competitive travel industry. The question therefore is “is this actually fair play?”

Local Search Rankings

Given the rise of local, it is unsurprising that Google have improved local search results as part of these updates. On their blog they said, “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.” This also affects local search results rankings, about which they said, “This improvement improves the triggering of Local Universal results by relying more on the ranking of our main search results as a signal.”

Google has openly confirmed that traditional algorithmic ranking factors are playing a far more crucial role in local search results. Since Google’s Places Search launched in 2010 SEO has had quite an impact on local search. The latest addition obviously puts even more emphasis on local. In other words users will receive more local results for queries as Google is now in the position to better detect what location the searcher is in.

Really, this doesn’t come as a surprise considering the search engine’s latest global smartphone user survey where 1000 international respondents were questioned regarding their mobile habits.

Yes, the future looks pretty bright for mobile considering that by the end of 2012 about one billion people will be using ‘phones’ as their primary internet access point hence the change in search behaviour will be undeniable. For marketers this is pretty severe and it’s no longer a case of ‘why’ should I go mobile but rather ‘how’. The pressure is on as 80% of the world’s largest websites will have an HTML 5 site by the end of the year.

Evaluating Links

As part of these latest updates Google have completely shaken up their 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 re-architect or turn off parts of our scoring in order to keep our system maintainable, clean and understandable.

Google’s link evaluation signal which has been used for years will soon be switched off. Needless to say this is likely to prompt speculation and criticism. The issue being that it’s difficult to understand what mechanism exactly has been switched off and the impact this will have on SERPs. The link evaluation update undoubtedly has the biggest impact on our industry next to Panda.

This could mean that less importance will be placed on anchor text in contrast to the importance of linking domains. Sites containing plenty of contextual links from other sites with similar and related topics will gain a significant advantage.

Due to Google’s vague definitions and lack of exact details on the latest updates a certain amount of reading between the lines is required. Keep in mind that so far Google has always managed to tweak its way of calculating search results.

If you have your SEO practices in order there shouldn’t be too much to worry about. Of course, Google isn’t interested in rewarding good SEO, they want to reward the most relevant results. So if you have ranked amazingly well for a local search but there are other websites which are more local than you, you could lose out. Or if you are a fan page you could lose out to official pages, or a small travel agents to major airlines.

A Solution on the Horizon

There are some very exciting things in development here at Linkdex. I’ve had a sneak peak into the ‘lab’ and seen some tools which will help webmasters identify and fix problems related to Panda. Keep your eyes peeled for more information!