February’s Unnamed Algorithm Update

Google updates its algorithm close to 600 times a year. Most are minor updates, under-the-hood tweaks that are barely noticeable. But some updates, like Google Penguin and Google Panda, are major algorithm updates that can affect millions of websites, either sending additional SEO juice, or a hit in rankings.

This was the case for at least two updates in February: on February 1, and another on February 6. We saw fluctuations in our own clients’ analytics during these periods. Google has yet to comment on the update.

February 1, 2017: Unnamed Major Update

There are numerous theories flying around online, some arguing it has to do with the previous Google Panda, others saying it has to do with link building and content.

This chart shows the sessions for one of our clients drop about 69% from February 1 to February 2. It also dropped 65% from the previous period. While this does not prove a correlation, it does seem to indicate volatility on the day the algorithm was updated as compared to the previous period.

Unnamed Update

Some users from Black Hat SEO forum, Black Hat World, believe that websites employing PBN strategies were most affected, while others believe that these links are just slow in getting indexed by Google. This claim is dubious as some agencies (such as Arcalea), do not engage in Black hat SEO tactics but were still affected by the algorithm change.

February 6, 2017: Unnamed Major Update

Barely a week later, we saw more signs that Google had updated its core ranking algorithm. Barry Schwartz of SEO Round Table was one of the first to notice. His post highlights evidence from Mozcast, SERP Metrics, Algoroo, AccuRanker, and Rankrager- all tools that index and measure the most minute changes in Google’s ranking algorithm.

These charts are taken from AccuRanker and RankRanger. These two websites are specifically designed to track fluctuations in the SERPs, and report a measure of volatility (called “Grump Rating” by AccuRanker and “Risk Level” by RankRanger). In both charts, the algorithm was most volatile when the algorithm was updated on February 1 and 6.

Glenn Gabe from G-Squared Interactive came up with a few possible explanations for the Feb 7 update based on a few observations:

  • Changes from Google Panda: In January 2016, Google’s Panda update became part of the core algorithm. The update sought to give higher quality sites more visibility, and lower the rank of lower quality sites. Gabe believes that Panda might be connected because of the change in the relevancy of certain queries.
  • Low-quality user engagement/ UI issues: websites that created negative user experiences, such as spammy ads, broken menus, and interfaces have long affected Google algorithms, so it’s likely this one is no different. Gabe noticed a drop in websites with poor mobile UX problems.
  • Thin/ Low-quality content: Some web pages featured little content or content that simply wasn’t relevant to the user. Gabe’s websites impacted negatively had keywords that lead to pages with content, but the admin was either too ignorant or too complacent to update the pages with more valuable content.
  • Mobile Responsiveness: Make sure your website is mobile-optimized, meaning it can be accessed from both a desktop/ laptop computer, as well as a mobile device like a smartphone. Google reads unresponsive sites as sites that don’t want to be found.

Two Significant Updates, Few Answers

A majority of the SEO industry agree that Google had in fact updated its core algorithm on both the 1st and 7th of February. Many agree that it likely targeted websites employing black PBN strategies, although there are anecdotes (including us!) that show something else may be going on. Whatever the case may be, Google is remaining silent.