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5 Big Changes Google Made to its Search Results in 2016

Staying on top of Google’s constant algorithm changes is something all good SEO agencies must do.

At LeapGo, we keep a close eye on big movements in the search results that suggest Google is making a few tweaks, and we are quick to make adjustments to our clients’ campaigns if necessary.

But while Google is always making minor updates to improve the search experience, it also comes up with a few really important updates each year.

Here are five of the biggest that came along in 2016 in case you missed them.

1. Penguin 4.0

This was the most recent update, which was announced on Friday, September 23rd. It was also one of the biggest updates of the year.

We all know about Penguin, which first arrived in April 2012. Ever since, Google has been fine-tuning Penguin with fairly major upgrades every year or two.

But Penguin 4.0 was actually the last ever dedicated Penguin update we’ll see. After this one, which was the first update in nearly two years, Google announced that Penguin was now integrated into the core algorithm.

That means it is no longer a separate entity and as such, announcements will not be made about any future updates.

Another of the big changes was real-time updates. If you received a hit from Penguin in the past, once you improved your site you would then have to wait for Penguin to be refreshed to see the benefits.

Now it happens immediately, so you get instant rewards for posting great content, and you can fix mistakes quicker.

And another change was that from now on only individual pages will be punished, not the whole website. Google is taking a granular approach, and this is also good news for marketers.

2. Possum

Possum came out on September 1st. In contrast to the Penguin update, this one was not confirmed by Google.

Possum focused on local search, and its biggest effect was on the 3-Pack. The aim appeared to be to diversify the local results and tackle spam still further.

It was the biggest update to local search since the Pigeon update in 2014. According to one study, 64% of local SERPs were affected.

The main impact was to businesses located outside of city limits. Before the update, ranking for keywords that contained the name of the city was harder. Now it is much easier for them to rank, even though they may not be within the actual city limits.

There is also more focus on where the searcher is located when they make the search. If they are in the city center, the results will be different compared to if they are outside the city. This is also a good update because more relevant results are always a good thing.

Filtering is also now more specific. This is seen where two or more similar businesses are located inside the same building, and only one of them is showing now. Again, this helps to keep results more relevant.

3. Mobile-Friendly Update

5 big changes google made to its search results

This update came out on May 12th. We all remember Mobilegeddon in April 2015, and this was something of a follow-up—although its impact was minimal in comparison. You can read about the main updates here.

The main reason for this update was to benefit mobile-friendly websites on mobile search. But the update is only an issue for your business if you don’t yet have a mobile-friendly site.

We use responsive design at LeapGo, and I would strongly recommend making your site responsive if you have not yet done so. Check out our web design service here for full details.

Things are only going in one direction when it comes to mobile, and you don’t want to be left behind.

4. AdWords Update

OK, so this update was not to the organic results. But it still impacted organic search, so I’m including it on the list.

This update happened in February 2016, and we originally wrote about it here: Big AdWords Shake Up: What’s Happened & How It Affects Your Advertising.

Google completely got rid of ads in the right column so that the only ads were above and below the organic results. Text ads changed their format so they can now be larger, and ad blocks were increased to four rather than three on many searches.

You can read a detailed guide to the update at Moz.

The update was good news for advertisers—the four ads at the top now take up most of the screen so searchers have to scroll down to see the organic results.

This clearly impacts on organic search, so if you have been negatively affected this year, you may want to look into paid search alongside SEO.

5. Core Algorithm Update

The first update of the year arrived on January 8th, 2016, and it had no name. Various tracking tools picked up large movements in the rankings, leading to lots of activity in the search community.

Later on, Google confirmed that it had made a core algorithm update, and this was just one of the various big changes that Google surprises us with from time to time in order to keep us on our toes.

You can read more about this at Search Engine Roundtable.

Keep an Eye on Algo Changes

5 big changes google made to its search results

These are five of the most important updates from 2016, but they are not the only ones. There were others, most of them less important.

You can see brief details of them all, as well as other changes going back many years, at the Moz timeline dedicated to algorithm updates—this is a really useful resource to bookmark and check out from time to time.

Of course, our clients know that we have our eye on the ball with algorithm changes. We are always testing and improving, so as soon as a big change is announced we are on top of it.

And if you’d like us to manage your SEO for your company, we’d love to hear from you.