Google Changes


The SEO world has been abuzz lately with the recent developments rolled out by Google. There are three major changes in particular that may cause anxiety: the latest Penguin update, the switch to secure search (and the consequent “not provided” keyword data on Google Analytics), and the new Hummingbird search algorithm.


Spam-fighting Penguin 2.1 Released

Google Switches to Secure Search: Organic Search Keyword Traffic Data ‘Not Provided’

Google’s Major Algorithm Update, Hummingbird, Now Live

Spam-fighting Penguin 2.1 Released

Earlier this month, Google head of search spam, Matt Cutts, announced the latest release of spam-fighting algorithm, Penguin. In a tweet, Cutts said the Penguin 2.1 update impacts “~1% of searches to a noticeable degree.” Google called the latest release “Penguin 2.1” as it was a minor update from the second generation, “Penguin 2,” which was rolled out in May. It’s also known as Penguin 5 in the industry as it is the fifth confirmed release of its kind.

In case you’ve forgotten, the first ever Penguin was launched back in 2011 and it targeted websites committing spam and other black hat optimization methods. Websites that bought links and carried out links schemes, in particular, are in danger of being penalized by Penguin.

Assess Damage, Recover from Penguin

In a report at Search Engine Roundtable, Barry Schwartz said many webmasters were indeed affected by the update both positively and negatively. “I’ve seen screen shots of Google Analytics showing websites completely destroyed by this update. I’ve also seen screen shots of Google Analytics showing websites that recovered in a major way from previous Penguin updates.” Of course, when some sites fall in rankings, others take their place, Schwartz explained.

To determine whether your clients’ websites were impacted by Penguin 2.1, you can do a simple Google search for keywords they traditionally rank well for. If there’s a major change in ranking, it’s probably Penguin. To verify, check site traffic for sudden drop or increase via Google Analytics.

Since Penguin targets spam, link schemes, and over-optimization, the best way to recover is to conduct a website audit first and then prune links. We prepared to prevent link building methods that would’ve hurt your rankings much earlier and adjusted our SEO services at the start of the year, even before Google made the announcements on “link schemes.” You can also see our Beat the Penguin Update Checklist 2013 for more details.

Google Switches to Secure Search: Organic Search Keyword Data ‘Not Provided’

Google made a total shift into secure search. Secure search encrypts searches, giving users more privacy. However, this is bad news for webmasters and SEO marketers as keyword data will no longer be passed on to Google Analytics. It’s now even more difficult to determine what search terms users enter on Google to find web pages. That data now appears as “(not provided)” on Analytics.

When it surfaced sometime in 2010, secure search affected a small portion of organic traffic. But when it went full throttle a few weeks ago, we received reports of as much as 90% of traffic data falling under the “(not provided)” territory.

We came up with some techniques for you to solve the keyword data ‘not provided’ problem through Google Analytics, as well as to track organic keyword search traffic using Google Webmaster Tools.

You may read more about this:

Read the 10 Ways to Get Organic Search Data article from Search Engine Watch.
Watch this video by Moz founder Rand Fishkin.

Google’s New Major Algorithm: Hummingbird, Now Live

In a move that perhaps surprised many, Google also launched a new algorithm—not just an update like Panda and Penguin, but a whole new algorithm. The announcement was made late September to coincide with the company’s 15th anniversary, although the change was rolled out a month earlier. The name Hummingbird comes from being “precise and fast.”

The new algorithm is meant to better understand complex queries, said Search Engine Land founder Danny Sullivan. “Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query – the whole sentence or conversation or meaning – is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.” For example, people now use smartphones combined with Google voice search to make queries like “show me pictures of the statue of liberty.”

A huge driving force behind the new algorithm is people’s expanding use of mobile devices and “conversational” queries. To take advantage of Hummingbird’s power to process complex queries, it is recommended to shift to a mobile responsive website and, as always, generate quality content. You can read about that in our Hummingbird blog post.

Learn more about Hummingbird through these sources:

Check out Sullivan’s Hummingbird FAQ at Search Engine Land.
Read this Hummingbird article from


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