Saturday, March 22, 2014

Google Algorithm News: Will Search Get Easier for Small & Local Sites?

At the recent Search Marketing Expo, SMX-West, the head of Google's Webspam team, Matt Cutts, announced an update to the Panda algorithm that might boost the visibility of small businesses.

Since September, when Google announced its latest major algorithm update, Hummingbird, we've discussed the new changes quite frequently. Yet, it's important to acknowledge that a site's performance on Google is never entirely determined by one algorithm change.

Some SEO newbies might assume that Hummingbird is an altogether new algorithm that necessarily replaced the old algorithm. In fact, Google's algorithm is an enormous beast that accommodates all updates. So Hummingbird, and Panda and Penguin co-exist simultaneously. Why? Well, each deals with entirely different issues.

We've discussed Hummingbird in detail. Panda, its algorithm predecessor, was released in February, 2011, with the purpose of penalizing what Google perceived to be "low-quality" sites with excessive advertising and minimal content. While Google's intentions might've been admirable, the update itself had a few inadvertent side-effects.

Panda was supposed to battle "content farms," websites that hire freelance workers to produce articles with the explicit purpose of satisfying the algorithm. These websites often boast enormous amounts of ads and offer very little in return. Of course, the Internet s better without these sites.

Unfortunately, while battling the content farms, other sites without perceived "authority"--defined in many ways, but most notably by well-written, quality content--were also damaged.

Most notably, Panda seemed to penalize small businesses in favor of brand name sites, placing undue emphasis on Amazon and the like for nearly every product search. Smaller sites just couldn't compete, even if they offered equal/or better products at equal/or better prices.

Most troublesome, however, was how the update effected local sites and services like beauty salons or plumbers. Many browsers have experienced the frustration of searching for a local spot to get a good haircut only to discover a first page jammed with national brands, like Supercuts.

Now, we all might live near a Supercuts, but most of us would prefer to learn about truly local beauty salons--and Google's Panda wasn't doing a great job of revealing this information.

Of course, a more specified local search could help refine the results. We might search "Ambler Hair Salon" instead of merely "hair salon." But we expect Google to be smarter, don't we? And the reality is that many people still do not always specify places when searching. We want Google to reveal the most relevant results for each browser. So when I, living in Philadelphia, search "beauty salon" it will be completely different from when my cousin, living in Encino, searches the same term.

Last year Google acknowledged this problem.

And now Google is making the change, apparently, to help small businesses. Cutts did not say when this change would take place. So stay tuned for more news on this update. In the meantime, if you own a small or local business, now is the perfect time to optimize your site for search engine performance. Upgrade your content. Improve your site's speed. Make a change.

If you need some guidance, please refer to our series of tutorials, beginning with our popular article, "Building a Website? Read This First!"

Or please contact our sponsor, Alex Stepman, of Stepmans PC.