Google search algorithms updates retrospective

As a new affiliate marketer, you will no doubt hear a lot about Google algorithm changes. Truth be told, Google changes their algorithm hundreds of times each year, meaning that various changes occur every day or even multiple times per day. However, every now and then a very large Google algorithm change will be made at which point, forums and blogs explode with people either praising or complaining about the latest update. In this article, I will explain how to survive just about any Google algorithm change.

Don’t Rely Only On Google

First and foremost, your business shouldn’t be reliant on Google. If your affiliate business can’t survive without Google, you’re no better off than someone working for a boss at…. well…. Google. You could be fired or laid off anytime.

In today’s online world, there are many places to obtain traffic. Whether you use social media, email marketing, get involved with sites like Yahoo Answers or network with other bloggers and affiliate marketers, you can drive free traffic to your website in a whole slew of ways. Once you are earning some revenue, paid advertising can also be a way to sustain a steady flow of traffic without relying on search results.

Google Algorithms and Why They Change

Before you can fully understand the impact of each individual search algorithm update, you need to have a working knowledge of what a search engine algorithm is all about.

The word “algorithm” refers to the logic-based, step-by-step procedure for solving a particular problem.

In the case of a search engine, the problem is “how to find the most relevant webpages for this particular set of keywords (or search terms).”

The algorithm is how Google finds, ranks, and returns the relevant results.

Google is the #1 search engine on the web and it got there because of its focus on delivering the best results for each search.

From the beginning, in a bid to improve its ability to return those right answers quickly, Google began updating its search algorithm, which in turn changed – sometimes drastically – the way it delivered relevant results to search users.

As a result of these changes in the algorithm, many sites were penalized with lower rankings while other sites experienced a surge in organic traffic and improved rankings.


Back in February 2011, Google introduced Panda. The aim here was to crack down on content farms which focused on quantity over quality and spammed vistors with adverts.

Panda spelt the end for marketers who had been at the top of Google’s rankings thanks to keyword stuffing, spam and mass production of low-quality content. However, Panda didn’t just affect affiliates, it also saw sites like Amazon and Ebay fall in the search rankings as a result.

Panda was very successful in targeting sites which focused primarily on filling their pages with ads and vary little content and is one of the key reasons why native advertising has grown in popularity.

Tip: As an affiliate, you should never try to include too many links on a single page. If you are constantly plugging links then Google’s algorithm will recognise it and your site will be penalised with a lower ranking.

Try to ensure that any links you have on your site are organic and that the content is related to the place to which you send your link.


In April 2012, just over a year after Google released the Panda update, the Penguin update was released. Once again shaking up search results and encouraging better SEO practices. The overall goal of this algorithm update was to prevent large-scale and automated link building tactics from impacting search results, therefore ensuring that users could find the most relevant content.

If the original Google Panda update wasn’t enough to show the SEO community that things were changing, then Penguin did. While the Panda Google update targeted manipulative content tactics, and for many, this was relatively easy to recover from, the Penguin update hit the much more manipulative and competitive link building SEO strategies. It was around this time that the whole SEO community really started to wake up. They realized that instead of competing against Google they too needed to add value to the web – they had to earn, rather than manipulate the rankings by improving sites for the benefit of users.

Tip: Whilst you shouldn’t stuff your content with keywords, you must still use them! Two such places where they are of vital importance are in the title of your content and the description. If you don’t mention them here, then Google won’t recommend your site as you won’t have directly addressed the topic which the user searched for.


Google launched its Hummingbird update on August 22, 2013. It works on itself and develops the search result. Thus the hummingbird algorithm does not affect the website or the web page directly. It makes use of the user’s intent and then interprets it.

Algorithm uses same intent to give the end result. As per the query and intention, search result occurs. Thus it deals with the semantic data search results.

Unlike the panda and penguin updates of Google, the hummingbird update didn’t have that much of a drastic effect on the website rankings.

Tip: Make sure that each piece of content you produce answers at least one question. For example, if you are selling weight-loss supplements, then consider the questions which users might have and then answer them in your content and explain why visitors should buy your product.


The Google Pigeon update was released in July 2014 originally in the US and was later extended to other countries. This update specifically targeted local searches and took many of the factors from Google’s core search algorithm and integrated them into local search results and Google Maps.

Learn from experience. One size does not fit all websites when it comes to ranking in Google. It’s only by testing changes and adapting to the changes in search results that we can truly begin to understand how to improve rankings. Don’t expect to simply replicate other peoples SEO success; every keyword should be treated differently. Even the best of SEO experts can’t give generic advice to every market and see flawless results.

Tip: Make use of the location-based text, images or videos which will be easier to find you at the same location.

Don’t forget to include the name, address, and phone numbers which are very essential information about any company or services.


In a rare move, Google pre-announced an algorithm update, telling us that mobile rankings would differ for mobile-friendly sites starting on April 21st. The impact of this update was, in the short-term, much smaller than expected

From all indicators the Google Mobilegeddon search engine adjustment was far from apocalyptic. Most marketers were well-prepared for the change and thus avoided painful mobile placement penalties.

Tip: Keep up with the technology your website visitors use and ensure your website meets their needs! And Ensure you don’t use a stripped-down mobile site.


RankBrain was launched by Google in October 2015 as an extension of Hummingbird and was Google’s first attempt at introducing machine-learning AI into their search algorithms.

The aim of RankBrain is to find content even when the search engine doesn’t recognise the exact user input. It does this by assessing the words and phrases used and trying to evaluate which other words could have been used and might be related to the initial query.

The introduction of RankBrain was incredibly successful and it is now considered to be the third most important factor in Google’s ranking algorithm.

Tip: This is a bit trickier to use to your advantage but it is still possible. One way is to use words related to the keywords on your site. For example, if you are advertising sports equipment then you can use various different terms such as sports gear, kit, uniform etc. Google can then better assess whether or not your site fits into the category a potential visitor types in.


 Google rolled out what appeared to be a major update, with reports of widespread impacts across the SEO community. Gary Illyes jokingly referred to is as “Fred”, and the name stuck, but he later made it clear that this was not an official confirmation.

It specifically targets the websites that contain low-quality content and have uploaded content only with the single intent of generating Ad revenue. These websites violate the webmaster guidelines of Google.

Tip: To work in the lines of this update the SEO professional must see that their content is not of low quality. If the display of Ad is prime objective then it will bid well for the websites that have some high-quality content that is relevant as well as informational to the users.


Google rolled out a massive core update over the first week of August 2018. It was coined the “Medic update” by Barry Schwartz. The update mostly affected YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) sites—sites that can have a big impact on the safety, health or financial situation of a person.

The Google Medic update aims to make the web that trustworthy beacon of information, by making website owners responsible for the content they put up for everybody to read and use.

Google wants to know that you have the credibility to speak about and advise on critical matters. You need to be able to prove your expertise, authority and trust, especially if your website is focused on health, finance or selling products or services to users.

The Medic update had big consequences for websites in the health, e-commerce and financial niches, but other websites were not less affected.

Rankings dropped for websites across all niches, and the update has pushed everybody to look into their E-A-T assets and vision once more.

Tip: Showcase All Authority Credentials on Your Website. Give Users Complete Information About Services and Products. Disclose Any Partnerships, Affiliations, Sponsorships and Leads That Might Affect Trust. Review Your Site Mission and Keep Track of User Intent.


In October, Google introduced BERT, a search algorithm replace that higher contextualizes pure language queries. The search engine is making updates to its algorithm on a regular basis, however this one is especially notable given the broad affect it is going to have on search outcomes: The corporate estimates that 10 percent of all English searches made in the USA might be impacted by the change.

The technical particulars surrounding the Google search algorithm replace are difficult, however briefly, it entails using synthetic intelligence and big knowledge units to higher perceive context and search question intent. This permits Google to position much less emphasis on the key phrases featured in a question, and as a substitute perceive the context of how these key phrases are getting used and the way they relate to 1 one other, all within the title of delivering higher outcomes for customers.

The focus of the Bert Update is for the search engines to understanding natural language search queries.  In particular, Google wants to recognize the nuances of human language.

This update was created is in response to Google’s intention to allows users to use Google Search by speaking your question on a mobile phone, then the voice activated software responding to your query.

You can’t optimize your content for BERT.  What can you do if you are hit?

  • First, focus on writing better content.
  • Next, write for humans and not for search engines.
  • Third, write the way you speak, with long tail keyword phrases that sound like natural human language.
  • Finally, improve the user experience for your audience.

Tip: The most important thing you can do to not be affected by this update is to write for humans and not for computers.  When you write for humans, you’re writing has natural language, nuance, context, and complex sentence structures.  When writing for computers, the text seems to be keyword focused, difficult to read, has poor sentence structure.

January 2020 Core Update

On January 13, 2020, Google announced in a tweet that they had launched what they called the “January 2020 Core update”.

We feel that all of the following, unpacked below, were important issues in this update:

  • Affiliate sites that did not properly disclose their affiliate links may have been affected.
  • Truly excellent content appears to have been rewarded.
  • Several elements of trust, as outlined in the Quality Raters’ Guidelines (QRG) were possibly reassessed.
  • Pet Health content may be held to a higher standard now.
  • A lot of ultra-spammy content may have been deindexed.

Google is not against affiliate links. The QRG mention that, “Without advertising and monetization, some webpages could not exist because it costs money to maintain a website and create high quality content.” They even say, “Ads may contribute to a good user experience.”

All advertising must be very clearly labelled as such. omething that we noticed, while assessing sites that either improved with the January 2020 core update or declined, is that many of the sites that declined had affiliate links that were not clearly identified as such. 

You do not want to have your content perceived as deceptive!

Product reviews that are written primarily to get users to click so that you can make affiliate revenue could be seen as deceiving users.

We don’t believe that most of you who are reading this article have this level of deception on your site. You’re not actively trying to trick users. An example, however, would be an article that lists the top ten hosting companies, and then highly recommends only those hosting companies that have high paying affiliate programs. In other words, your recommendations are only there because you get paid more for recommending them.

Let’s take this even further. 

Some of the sites that dropped, were well written and did not seem to be overly deceptive. They often contained an affiliate disclosure at the top or bottom of each article. For example, at the top of the article, there was a line saying, “This article contains affiliate links. If you click on these and make a purchase, we will receive a small percentage of the sale.” This is pretty common to see on most pages containing affiliate links. 

But, most readers will not have read your disclosures. If you contain a disclosure in your footer, they almost definitely have not read that. Think of how you search for information on the web. In most cases you likely skim the article, find the section that is relevant to you and then read that. So, let’s say you skimmed to the following part of an article about how to make chocolate cake:

When I make this recipe, I love to use this blender. It is the best one I’ve ever used.

That “blender” anchored link is a link to the blender’s sales page on Amazon. The link contains your affiliate ID. 

Would a reader know that? But really, is that link an ad? Remember, the QRG tell the raters to consider affiliate links ads.

It is not enough to simply contain a disclaimer at the top or bottom of your post: “A disclaimer of this nature at the bottom of such a post is unlikely to be sufficient because there is the potential that the links and any ‘directly connected’ claims would not be considered obviously identifiable as advertising at the time they are encountered by the reader.”

Here are some examples of things that we noticed on affiliate sites that saw improvements in overall keyword rankings with this update:

  • Plain text to make it clear that the user is clicking on a link to take them to a sales page. Example: When I make this recipe, I love to use this blender which you can buy on Amazon. It is the best one I’ve ever used. This would make it clear to a searcher that if they click on that link, they are heading to Amazon to potentially buy it. There is no deception there.
  • Using an official widget from your affiliate partners.

Tips:  If you have affiliate links on your site, make it really clear to the reader that they are clicking on an affiliate link. A disclosure at the top or the bottom of an article may not be enough. If you have a large number of ads on your site, consider removing some ad blocks, especially if they make it so that they push down content so that very little helpful content is visible above the fold for most readers. Look at competitors that started to outrank you with this update to see if they have truly better, expert written content than you do.  Look for things that Google has described as possible trust issues.


Google’s algorithms, all work to help searchers find what they’re looking for while battling against low-quality content.

Through its algorithm changes, marketers understand what they can do to stay on Google’s good side. Additionally, we know what to needs to be done to fix our sites if something goes wrong.

So, let’s get down to the key takeaway from all of this.

You’re probably tired of hearing about the need to produce high-quality content, aren’t you?

Even so, Google’s algorithm history represents a blueprint for how marketers should approach their on-site content.

Helpful. In-depth. Original. You know the drill by now, right?

When you stay in Google’s good graces, you don’t have to work as hard. You also don’t have to worry about getting nailed with a penalty or watching your hard work go down the drain.

Don’t keep your site moving two steps forward and two steps back. By aligning yourself with Google’s goals, you’ll keep your site and its traffic moving in the right direction.

Bottom line: All you need to do is to build links in a scalable, organic way and focus on providing the best quality content (be it written blog posts or creative infographics) that you can, to grow your blog’s traffic. 

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  1. Mila

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