A Year of Search: 2013’s Most Important Google Search Changes

Most Important Google Search Changes

2013 was a busy year for Google, which rolled out several major updates to its search algorithms. These changes had a big impact on the search industry and businesses marketing themselves online.

Concerned you might have missed some of Google’s search changes or don’t have the time to track down all the information on your own? Then check out this roundup of some of Google’s major algorithm updates in 2013 and what they mean for your business.

January and March: Final Panda Refreshes

Two Panda algorithm refreshes were implemented in January and March of this year, with the January refresh affecting 1.2% of inquiries in English. The Panda algorithm targets low-quality content and rewards high-quality content with higher rankings on the search engine results page (SERP). In 2011, Google provided the public a comprehensive list of what counts as a high-quality site.

What this means for you:

Be sure that you’re not engaging in any “black hat” or unscrupulous techniques while trying to improve your search engine optimization (SEO). Doing so can get your site banned from Google search results altogether. Instead, work to provide your website visitors with the most informative and helpful experience that you can. How? Provide quality content that’s original, fresh, and interesting. This can include posting helpful articles about your industry, providing product videos, and pushing content to your social media sites.

May: Penguin 2.0

Google’s fourth Penguin update, dubbed “Penguin 2.0,” launched on May 22. It was designed, according to Google’s Matt Cutts, to tackle black-hat web spam techniques and advertorials that passed along Page Rank. More comprehensive than Panda 1.0, Penguin 2.0 included hack site detection and awarded websites with relevant subject authority, such as those in the medical and travel industries, with higher ranking on SERPs.

What this means for you:

Again, don’t use black-hat techniques! Google continues to take steps that favor original, quality content that helps your visitors. The more you update your site with fresh, relevant content that answers consumers’ questions about your business, products, or services, the more you can improve your SEO.

August: In-Depth Articles

Google announced its rollout of the in-depth articles feature, which places long-form content from recognized subject matter experts and high-quality sources in the middle of a SERP. In-depth articles now appear across a broad range of subjects but will not, however, necessarily appear for every query a user types into Google.

What this means for you:

Are you a recognized expert in your industry? If so, then work on writing and posting in-depth articles to your site. You can also use Google Authorship to link content you publish on a specific domain, like your website, to your Google+ profile. This means your author information like your profile will appear in the search results for the content you author, which can drive clicks and increase the authority of your page, improving its visibility in search engine results.

September: “(Not Provided)”

Before September, Google provided keyword listing information within Google Analytics, which gave web administrators the ability to see which keywords people were using online to find any particular website. That information is now blocked on the report with the phrase, “(Not Provided)”.

Google decided to secure all organic searches in an attempt, it said, to protect an online users’ privacy. This means that Google is not reporting which keyword terms people are using to search for and visit your website. However, other key Google metrics are still available, including: overall organic search traffic by search engine, total conversions from organic traffic/by URL, search rankings for critical terms and more.

What this means for you:

While losing keyword data can be frustrating, you can still build a great business website with quality content and an engaging experience for your user. How? Know your customers, what they care about, and how your products and services can solve their problems. All of these things can help you know what to write about and what kind of content to produce.


This new algorithm was announced later in the month although had already been in use for about a month. Hummingbird uses “meaning technology” to analyze an entire search query to better understand the searcher’s intent rather than just matching specific search terms to content on a page. Hummingbird, in other words, attempts to answer query questions and not just find content containing words within a search phrase. This means that searchers now receive search results that are more aligned to the meaning of their query.

What this means for you:

Because Hummingbird is better at matching search intent with relevant content to individual searchers, this frees businesses and marketers from having to build their search engine optimization programs around exact keyword phrase matching. In a Hummingbird world, think about your business from your prospect’s point of view.

What kinds of questions would they ask that your products or services could help address? It’s critical to write content that answers your visitors’ questions and intent. Having insights into your customers’ mindset and needs will help you create website content that addresses their questions – which will help your site perform better to relevant searchers, thanks to Hummingbird.

October: Ad Extensions Now Impact Ad Rank

Ad extensions — the additional information included in an text ad — are now used by Google as one factor to determine a text ad’s placement on the SERP. Before this change, only the cost-per-click (CPC) bid and your Quality Score were used to determine an ad’s rank. Text ads without any ad extension information now risk lower placement on the SERP.

What this means for you:

Using text ads with ad extensions can help them to rank higher in SERPs. And, it can help boost your click-through-rate on your ads. So moving forward, you might want to consider adding text ads with extensions to your marketing mix in 2014.

What was Google’s most surprising or impactful change to you this year? Let us know with a comment!


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Amy Neeley

Amy enjoys helping small- and medium-size businesses (SMBs) navigate the online marketing world with tips, trends, and best practices they can use. She has written for Fortune 100 companies, non-profits, and SMBs, and her articles have been featured on sites like Yahoo! Small Business Advisor, MarketingProfs.com, and other industry publications. Amy can often be found walking her dogs, Lola and Marlo, and keeping up with the news via Twitter.

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