Last year, the SEO and copywriting communities, along with business owners who rely heavily on their optimized websites were on their toes waiting for the next Google search algorithm to kill their hard work.
Of course, this never happened. Despite the numerous algorithm changes of last year, the websites that really cared for bringing valuable information and great copy to their readers saw little to no decrease in traffic.
In fact, some of them were rewarded by the almighty Google bots. I distinctly remember one of my agency’s clients emailing us to thank us for thinking ahead and helping his website gain even more traffic after the updates.
It felt incredible!
However, I strongly believe in not overestimating yourself and staying grounded in reality. This is why, even though at, Idunn, the marketing agency I run, we never had problems caused by algorithm updates, I still think an overview is useful.
E2M created an amazing infographic that showcases all the major confirmed and unconfirmed Google search algorithm updates of last year. Let’s take a look at them and at how they affect you.
The 11 Major Google Search Algorithm Updates of 2017 and What to do about Them
As a general note on these updates, it’s worth mentioning that most of them (if not all) are designed to improve user experience. Thus, while we may dislike the fact that we need to change our strategy frequently, we also need to look at the bigger picture and take these updates as free advice on improving our own users’ experience.
1. Intrusive interstitials penalty (January, 10)
The first confirmed update of 2017 was to penalize websites that used intrusive interstitials that blocked content when users clicked through from web searches. The update was announced and the website users were given more than fair warning.
Action tip: this one is pretty obvious – offer your readers a great experience and remove the intrusive interstitials. This doesn’t mean you have to give up on all your CTAs, just make sure they don’t block any of the text.
2. Unconfirmed spam links devaluation (February, 1)
Google never confirmed this, but SEO specialists speculate that it was a change to Penguin that helped the algorithm better detect and devalue spam links. The best news about this is that a lot of black hats reported losses.
Action tip: you can still have spammy links pointing to your website, even if you didn’t hire someone to do it on purpose. Head on to your search console and disavow them manually.
3. Unconfirmed core search algorithm update (February, 7)
Google updates their Search Quality Raters around the same time, so experts suspect that this is related to content quality.
Action tip: I’ve said this more times than I can count – never, ever cut corners when it comes to the quality of your content. Don’t publish just because “it’s time”. Publish relevant, authority content that your buyer persona enjoys reading.
4. Fred (March, 8)
Very few updates brought as much happiness to us, people who hate filling the internet with irrelevant content, as Fred did. This update takes its name from Google’s Gary Illyes who jokingly called it that on Twitter.
In a nutshell, Fred penalizes websites with low quality content that is more focused on revenue generation than on helping users.
Action tip: hire SEO copywriters who know what they are doing. They may be more expensive, but they will never get your website penalized. Quite the contrary – your content will be appreciated by both Google bots and readers (aka your potential customers) if written by pros.
5. Wide-range unconfirmed quality update (May, 17)
Some suspect this was a core update, while others saw massive changes in the rankings of ecommerce websites.
Action tip: if you run an ecommerce website and saw massive drops in your organic traffic after mid-May, take a look at the pages that got the worst hits and try to rework the copy to follow Google’s newest guidelines.
6. Unconfirmed update affecting rankings across country domains (June, 25)
Google’s John Muller denied anything special happened, but experts noticed huge ranking fluctuations. Plus, all the analytics tools signaled something was going on.
7. Quality-related unconfirmed update (August, 19)
Websites with disruptive advertising, poor UX, technical SEO issues and tags and category pages with no unique content on them dropped massively.
Action tip: again, think about the user experience across your entire website. A pleasant experience is more than pretty colors and conveniently placed menus. Make sure that your website is easy to navigate and that readers can easily browse your menu and get to what they need.
8. Hawk (August, 22)
This update annulled some of the effects brought by Possum back in 2016. Basically, Google removed a filter that prevented local businesses sharing an address from appearing in the same pack. I wrote more about Hawk and its effects here.
Action tip: make sure your address is perfectly written in Google My Business. Ask your customers for reviews (offer incentives to ensure you get them). Check your business and contact information frequently and update whenever needed.
9. Local results on Google ccTLDs (October, 27)
The search results are now location-specific and independent of the country specific domain used. In other words: users can’t access international results by changing ccTLDs. As a result, AdWords ads saw a massive spike, while local packs in SERPs dropped.
Action tip: if you own a local business, this is your moment of glory. Add as many references to your city or area in your copy as possible. Also, make sure that your business address and name are correctly listed in Google My Business.
10. Increase in meta descriptions length (December, 1)
The length of the meta description grew from 160 to 230 characters. Google, of course, confirmed this, and said it was a way to offer more descriptive results and more information to users before clicking on a link.
Action tip: make the most of this lengthier meta description. Add variations of your keyword in it, as well as LSI keywords. But make sure it remains telling of the entire content on the page. Ideally, go back and update your older metas.
11. Maccabees (December, 12)
Confirmed by Google, this is another core algorithm change. We still know very little of this update. SEO experts have seen major changes in affiliate websites.
As always, user-friendliness and excellent content are paramount. We’ve been through 11 major changes last year and this has held true more than ever. And we don’t expect this to ever change.
My two cents: invest in quality content and play the long-term game. If you must invest in AdWords, do it, but save some budget for quality copywriting as well. Remember that as soon as your ads stop, so do the results. However, the results brought about by excellent SEO copywriting last for ages.