A Look Back at Google's 2013 Algorithm Updates

Sam Lowe
Posted by Sam Lowe on January 8, 2014
Apple iMac desktop on a desk in front of a window. The desktop image is an icon of a deer in the center.

2013 was a crazy year for anyone connected to the SEO world. Google went crazy during the year of the snake and hit us with a few pandas, penguins, and even a hummingbird. Those of course were the major updates during the year. Between those updates we played hide and seek with keywords and searches got a little bit smarter with a knowledge graph update. I’m going to take a look back on 2013 with my Google tinted glass on (I wish that I had Google Glass though) and give you a rundown of the major updates.

The Pandas Came and Went

Google graced us with numerous Panda updates during 2013. There were 3 major updates along with a slow implementation of a monthly update which Matt Cutts dubbed the “panda dance.” Since the Panda updates started in 2011, approximately 11-12% of webpages have been affected by the Panda looking for updated, high-quality pages.

The Panda did bite a few sites each month if they were identified as stale or having irrelevant content compared to the page description/title. Sites that were ad-heavy also saw a decrease in organic traffic. If your site was bitten, you couldn’t recover until the next round of updates, which happened approximately every 30 days.

The Penguins Marched

Google only hatched 2 main Penguin updates during 2013 but those birds were busy pecking at poor quality or irrelevant inbound links/backlinks that websites had pointing to them. Sites that had purchased links found themselves in some serious hot water from the Penguin updates and removing the links proved to be difficult. If you’ve been penalized with unnatural links this guide should help you absolve yourself of Google sins.

The Penguin “2.0” update in May of 2013 made the largest ripples on the internet, relative to the other Penguin updates. Approximately 2-3% of English queries were affected by the update. Once again, Penguin pecked at the webmasters that used link-building strategies which generated unnatural links to their site. This update appeared to be geared more towards content at the page level and not sites as a whole.

The Hummingbird Flew

I love the Hummingbird update from Google and any other inbound marketer should love the update as well. We all knew that the emphasis on keywords was dwindling which was confirmed when Hummingbird flew in with an emphasis on semantic search. Google started to rank sites higher that had quality content answering the questions users were searching for.

We saw a large bump in organic traffic overall for Weidert Group’s site soon after the update. I would attribute the main increase in traffic to our almost daily blogging habits. Any site with a quality blog probably saw a decent bump in organic traffic as well since each blog should be an answer to a question. Hummingbird also loves updated content, which a blog provides.

Google Hid Keywords On Us

As much as I loved the Hummingbird update, I did not enjoy the day when Google hid search terms. This did free everyone from the shackles of keyword servitude, but the lack of keywords made quantifying how users got to your site more difficult. On a related note, Google also removed its free Keyword Tool and moved everything over to the Keyword Planner.

The lack of keyword data put a further emphasis on the semantic approach Google currently has on searches. I don’t think that Google could’ve sent a better message than by hiding keyword data. At first it was shocking, but now you should be taking the time spent mining keywords and using it to enhance the quality of your content. Google will love that and users will love it too. That’s what I’d like to call a win-win situation.

Knowledge Graph Update

Google kind of slid this update under the radar, but it was a “nifty” update to say the least. Google has tried to give searchers relevant information on a SERP without making the user click on a link for some time. I like to describe it as a mini “Wikipedia” entry at the top of a SERP. You’ll get basic information on a person, place, or item you’re searching for. If you Google Barrack Obama you’ll be given information such as his age, spouse, and other tid-bits of info on the 44th President of the USA.

Google Knowledge Graph

2013 saw a few refinements and additions to the Knowledge Graph feature. The largest update gave searchers the ability to compare things right on the SERP. This turned out to be especially useful on Android powered mobile devices with voice search.

What A Year

2013 was an interesting year because I firmly believe Google gave us a glimpse into their magic crystal ball of future updates. The Hummingbird and Knowledge Graph updates both aimed at improving user experience by looking at how searchers behave as humans. Google knows that we take shortcuts and ask a search engine questions just as our ancestors would with a wise village elder. Google’s ever-evolving search engine is indexing pages in a more human-like fashion. I wouldn’t be surprised within the next year or two to see a slew of updates specifically aimed at ranking pages based on the quality of content, including how well the content was written.

SEO Survival Guide From Weidert Group

Topics: Search Engine Optimization

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