Venice. Penguin. Panda. Are Google’s changes leaving you behind?

Posted by Justin Deaville on 16 Jan, 2013
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Venice. Penguin. Panda. Are Google’s changes leaving you behind? From Wordtracker, the leading keyword research tool

Google makes about 500 changes a year to its search algorithm. That’s a lot. And, as a result, SEO advice gets out of date very quickly. Many of the SEO tips you’ll read on the internet are either dated or, worse, just plain wrong. So, here are seven of the most recent, significant changes to Google’s search results and how they affect you.

1. Venice

For many years, Google has personalized its results based on geography.

In February 2012, with its Venice update, Google changed the way it presents its results, so that results for local businesses are now pulled into its main results page.

As you can see here, Google can tell your location from your computer’s IP address.

IP address result

So, even when I’m not logged into my Google account, a search for family lawyer near my house reveals these local results:

Local results

As you’d expect, the results Google presents are different in different countries. And for many keywords you’ll see radical changes from one town or city to the next.

What does this mean for you?

Every site offering a service that’s delivered locally - so, say a plumber, hairdresser or a retail chain with stores across the country - needs to have a geographical SEO plan. If you’re running a local business, now’s the time to target local keywords.

And if you operate in multiple countries, it’s essential Google sees you as a local listing.

Here’s how to check Google in different geographies. To see results in a different country, simply add /ncr after the version of Google you’d like to use. For example, you’d use to see Irish results if you’re based outside Eire. Here’s a list of other English-speaking Google results pages:

Google NCR

Using these URLs, you’ll be able to see Google’s listings for other countries.

If you’d like to see results from a different location within your country, just change your search settings here:

Location settings

You’ll then be able to see Google’s results from your chosen location.

2. Penguin

In 2012, Google’s Penguin update penalized sites that it considered over-optimized. It focused on sites that practiced keyword stuffing and link spamming.

Here’s an example of keyword stuffing:

Keyword stuffing

It doesn’t look great, does it? You can see why Google wants to stop people doing it.

Google Penguin

What does this mean for you?

Google’s changes often create a lot of unnecessary panic. Yet, you only need worry about the Penguin update if you’ve been using spammy methods to promote your site, or if you’ve received links from spammy sites.

If you think your site may have been affected, Wordtracker has a guide to the Penguin update which will tell you more. And has a guide to recovering from Penguin

If you think there may be spammy links pointing at your site, you can (effectively) get rid of them with Google’s Disavow tool And this Wordtracker article shows you how to get rid of low value links

3. Google’s Panda update

Panda small image

Throughout the past couple of years Google has been cracking down on spammers who have tried to game its algorithm.

Google’s Panda update focused on improving the quality, uniqueness and accessibility of the content it presents.

The majority (60%+) of your content needs to be unique. And it needs to be accessible. So don’t include too many ads at the top of the page (above the fold).

If your site is well designed, with engaging content, you needn’t worry too much about Panda.

What does this mean for you?

Google continues to refine Panda, issuing regular updates. So, if you think your site’s been affected, check out Wordtracker’s Google Panda survival guide

4. Personalized Search (historical)

Same Google results

A few years back, everyone who searched with a given keyword received exactly the same results. Yet, this catch-all approach doesn’t reflect our individual needs and interests.

So search engines started personalizing their results. Nowadays, any two searchers can see very different results for the same keyword.

Google uses your search history to suggest relevant results.

So, for example, one of my favorite UK sites is I’m a regular visitor. Google recognizes this, and over time, site has risen towards the top of my search engine results - for relevant queries.

By comparison, when I run an anonymous search (for credit card deals), the results are different. Moneysavingexpert appears lower down the results, and with fewer entries in the listings.

Incognito results

The credit card market can be very lucrative, so that’s a significant change. Particularly for, whose listing has disappeared from the first page of my personalized results.

Even when you’re signed out of Google, you may see personalized results, as Google keeps a 180-day record of whatever your browser has searched for.

What does this mean for you?

Your site is more likely to be near the top of the rankings on your computer than it is on everyone else’s. So, you may get a misleading impression of how your site is performing.

If you use Google Chrome as your internet browser, you can use its Incognito feature to check rankings for individual keywords. This will give you a more realistic impression of your site’s rankings:

IP address result

Or, to check multiple keywords, you can use software such as Wordtracker’s Rank tracking tool to monitor your site’s baseline rankings.

5. Personalized search (social signals)

The search engines use social signals - such as Facebook 'likes' and tweets - to determine their results. Google’s own social network, Google+, provides the search engine with clues about which web pages people like and share.

These social signals affect Google’s search results in important ways.

We know that pages that are liked and shared a lot will do better in the rankings than sites that aren’t so popular. Each +1 acts like a vote. Sites with lots of votes rise up the rankings.

In addition, social signals are used to individualize the search listings. Pages that my friends have shared are likely to appear higher in my results.

Plus ones

As we can see, I’ve given a +1 to a Wordtracker page, which helps that page move towards the top of my search results. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the page at the top of the listings has more +1s than any of the others.

Pages that I have visited are also likely to rise up my personal search results.

BBC Sport

If someone becomes friends with you on Google+, their recommendations can trump all other ranking factors. A Google+ connection is a powerful connection (you can follow me on Google+ here, and you can follow Wordtracker here).

What does this mean for you?

If you want your site to do well in the search rankings you need to get active in social media - particularly Google+. You should be encouraging your site’s visitors to like and share your content.

You’ll find Wordtracker’s guides to social media marketing here:


You can read more about personalized search here:

And you’ll find Google’s views on search personalization here:

6. Google Instant

Google has been trying to present results more quickly, so users get a better, faster experience.

Launched in September 2010 Google Instant introduced dynamic results that change as the searcher enters their keyword. The results update “live”.

Start typing and you’ll see one result:


Continue typing, and the results change. Google’s guessing what you’re searching for:

Fantasy search result

What does this mean for you?

Google Instant favors sites that are at the top of the search listings. Which makes it more important than ever that you establish and reinforce your site’s position as quickly as possible.

7. Google Autocomplete

Google has become much better at predicting what you’re searching for.

Google Autocomplete was launched in August 2008 And I’m sure you’ve seen that, as you start entering a keyword, Google tries to predict what you’re looking for, so you can get to the result you want more quickly.

Google will suggest the results it thinks you want to see.

You’re likely to see search queries from relevant searches that you've done in the past.

Marketing result

And you’ll see relevant Google+ profiles. It’s another good reason to get on Google+.

Marketing result

What does this mean for you?

Google’s suggestions affect how people search. You should try to be aware of what Google’s likely to be predicting.

Start by checking the suggestions Google’s making that include your brand name, and make sure you’re ranking number 1 for those terms.

In practice, this means creating a page to target each of the related keywords, then building links (from your site and others) that point at the page.

Marketing result

Clearly Wordtracker could improve its targeting for 'wordtracker review' because we’re not top of the search results.

Next, do the same for your site's non-branded target keywords: make sure you’re aware of the related keywords Google’s suggesting. And, when resources allow, target the terms Google’s suggesting.

Is Google making life better, or tougher?

As a consumer, I'm delighted that Google's making search quicker and more intelligent.

As a digital marketer I can't help feeling that Google makes life difficult. We've only mentioned the search engine's larger, more influential updates here. There are many others and keeping on top of them is difficult.

Yet, I'm also pleased that Google's making life tougher. It used to be possible to throw a few keywords at a page and get a Top 10 ranking. Google's forcing us to become better marketers, plan more effectively and work with more rigor. And that must be good for us, even if it doesn't always feel like it.

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