40 Google Search Updates: 3 takeaways (Panda 3.3, Link Evaluation & Improved Local Search Rankings)

As part of Google’s new monthly series on algorithm changes, Google announced earlier this week 40 search updates that are happening or have happened in the month of February. Not to discount the 37 updates that relate to sitelinks, related searches and indexing others, but the following three are the standouts marketers should be particularly aware of:

1. (#36) Panda update. “This launch refreshes data in the Panda system, making it more accurate and more sensitive to recent changes on the web.”

If we’re keeping track, this is a Panda 3.3 update but as a data refresh only and it’s not entirely clear what this means. We can expect this update to be Google’s way of continuing to optimize the Panda algorithm and updating any websites that should or should not have been affected by Panda. Either way, like previous data refreshes, this latest Panda update may not be related to any changes to ranking signals, new or old.

2. (#37) 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 rearchitect or turn off parts of our scoring in order to keep our system maintainable, clean and understandable.”

Again, it’s unclear what this really means and impossible to tell but worth noting even if Google won’t expand further. Online speculation (SEO conspiracy theorists) will be rampant but without testing (if even possible) to understand what link evaluation signal has been turned off that was previously used for years, we could just be spinning our wheels.

Speculated signal considerations:

      • HTML weighted signals like font size, italics, bold, etc
      • Root domains linking – less weight
      • Age of links – depreciation, especially if the number of broken links mucks up data
      • Surronding text around a link
      • Link position on a page: contextual vs footer vs navigation links and so on
      • PageRank – devaluating higher PR sites that manipulate link sculpting (violation against Google’s TOS)
      • Anchor text
      •  and so on…

A notable part of the statement on link evaluation is “…in order to keep our system maintainable, clean and understandable.”  This could potentially indicate the low relevant link signal is in conflict with another Panda algorithmic signal and this was a quick fix to rectify that conflict.

3. (#40) Improved local results. “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.”

Looks like traditional algorithmic ranking factors are playing an even bigger role in improving local search results. This is great news if you’re already investing in local search (which is an absolute must) but bad if you’re behind the eight ball.

After 11 updates, Panda is here to stay, but most importantly, being aware of Google’s changes can only help us and our clients.

Marco Braggio, Search Engine Marketing Specialist

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