It’s amazing how when we look back every year, so much has changed. In 2016, we saw Google algorithm becoming more sophisticated and smarter and the refinement of local SEO. No other industry would have gone through so many fluctuations. This year, SEOs had to play the role of visionary’s – it was not just enough to keep pace with the recent changes but they also had to think for the future.
While a lot of us are busy making predictions for 2017, it is also important to look back and learn from 2016. Here are the top news stories from each month that defined the local SEO scene in 2016! From major updates to interesting tidbits, these stories kept the SEO community talking in 2016.
Panda is made a Part of Google’s Core Ranking Algorithm
When Panda 4.2 was launched in July 2015, the roll-out was so slow that people did not believe it was real. But, on January 16, Google officially announced that Panda is a part of its core ranking algorithm.
Panda is an algorithm that’s applied to sites overall and has become one of our core ranking signals. It measures the quality of a site, which you can read more about in our guidelines. Panda allows Google to take quality into account and adjust ranking accordingly.
“Fake Locksmith” problem Plagues Google Local Search
Last January also saw a 5-year old problem (30 Common Local SEO Problems & Its Fix) coming back to haunt Google Local. The New York Times uncovered shady businesses, often not located in the neighborhood, setting up fake locations within Google Maps to trick the local search algorithm into thinking they’re local businesses. These businesses showed up in search results and when users tried to contact these businesses, the call often was diverted to a call center. Customers got tricked into paying three to four times the price that was told over the phone to poorly trained locksmiths.
Google’s algorithm clearly failed in this case and did not weed out fake listings.
Outbound Links are not a Ranking Factor
Google’s John Mueller confirmed that even though links are a ranking factor, linking out to other sites doesn’t help much. Links definitely add value to your content and makes the search more relevant but outbound links aren’t specifically a ranking factor.
Now that Google has confirmed this, can we break up with outbound links already?
Implement AMP for “Enhanced Exposure”
Publishers and webmasters received notifications via the search console to make their new sites AMP-compatible. The notification explained that Google has detected that the website is news-oriented and if the AMP guidelines are implemented, the site might benefit from increased exposure.
Core Search Ranking Update
Google confirmed a core ranking change that was not related to Penguin. A lot of people witnessed ranking fluctuations, but the changes were only limited to that.
Google adds “Send to your phone” Feature in Local Knowledge Graph Search Box
Google adds “Send to your phone” feature directly in the Google search results. Many of us would have noticed this feature on the Google Maps interface. If you search for a location, you will be able to see the “Send to your phone” option on the right-hand side local knowledge graph box. Clicking on it will send a push notification to your mobile device with directions.
AMP Goes Live
Google AMP goes live on mobile search results. It showed up for search queries that cause the news carousel to come up in search results.
AMP is not Yet a Ranking Factor
Google AMP was launched for mobile search towards the end of February. While Google had previously suggested that AMP might become a ranking factor, it was announced after the AMP roll-out that it is not a ranking factor by itself.
Google AdWords Shake Up
An AdWords change was rolled out that saw 4 ads at the top of the search results, none on the sidebar and 3 ads at the bottom. This change replaced a mix of the bottom, top and sidebar-heavy AdWords ads. Google confirmed this change and mentioned that this was designed for highly commercial queries, to provide relevant results for people.
Google News Carousel Features Only AMP Pages
Google AMP went live during the last week of February. In less than two weeks, we got an announcement that the news carousel will feature only AMP supported pages!
Google Organic Results Start Showing Phone Number
Some users noticed that Google showed a phone number and icon under organic mobile search results. This was the first time that Google displayed a phone number outside the local results a the AdWords ads. This change went on and off for a while and hasn’t stabilized yet.
Content, RankBrain and Links are the Top 3 Ranking Factors
Google’s Andrey Lipattsev disclosed that RankBrain, content, and Links were the two most important ranking factors. RankBrain was already disclosed as another important ranking signal. In 2017, we’re hoping to see a lot of webmasters leveraging the power of content and links to create better sites.
See Reviews from Third-Party Sites for Hotel Listings
Google started displaying deep-links reviews from the web for hotel listings. Before this, Google brought up the hotel results in Maps and featured only Google reviews.
A Real-Time Indexing API?
Google’s Richard Gingras announced that Google is testing a real-time indexing API that will allow searchers to view content based on what’s happening at the moment.
Page Speed Doesn’t Impact SEO Much
In what came as a surprise for many SEOs, Google’s John Mueller hinted that page speed is not a ranking factor anymore (unless your page is really really slow, God save you then!)
An Unconfirmed Google Update Created a 97% Spike
Though there was no major Google algorithm change, the Google search results were unpredictable during the first few days of May. The interesting part was that some tracking tools showed a 97% change even when Google did not confirm any update.
The All-New Mobile Friendly Update is Launched
Google fully rolled out the mobile-friendly update that will help users find mobile-friendly and relevant pages by increasing the effect of ranking signal. According to Google webmasters, sites that were already mobile-friendly would not be impacted by this update.
Carousel for Reddit Results
Google started showing a search carousel for Reddit search results which is typically reserved for news-oriented sites. By implementing rich snippets, some sites can get this carousel and Reddit seems to have done the same.
You can’t Optimize for RankBrain
RankBrain was launched as an AI based query interpretation and was quoted by Google as one of the top three ranking factors used by Google. Gary Illlyes noted that RankBrain is not similar to other ranking signals like Panda in a way that no score is assigned. And the confusing part – he also said that one can’t optimize a site for RankBrain.
Google Launched a New Tool for Small Business to Improve the Page Speed and Mobile Friendliness of their Websites
Google introduced a new tool where users could just type in the web address and get scores for page speed and mobile-friendliness. Designed specifically for small business websites, the tool will also offer a detailed report of steps to be taken to improve scores.
Drastic SERP Fluctuations Even Before Penguin 4.0 Roll Out
Many SEOs witnessed crazy fluctuations in the SERPs and blamed it on Penguin. But John Mueller confirmed that Penguin 4.0 hasn’t rolled yet. This news really had everyone waiting to see the effects of the rollout!
Contact Information on a Website is not an Organic Ranking Signal
Not having contact information on the website is bad for user experience, but it doesn’t count as a strong signal for core web search also! But, Google did not mention if missing contact information on a news magazine could impact ranking in Google news snippet.
Fewer Local Business Listings in Google Maps Results
The fact that Google was displaying fewer and fewer local business listings got many Local SEOs worried this July. Looks like Google Map Pack is getting more hyperlocal! You can read more about this here.
Another Search Algorithm Penalty on the Way
In August, Google announced that they will be launching a new search algorithm penalty that will have “intrusive” interstitials ads. If the content on your website is made less accessible to the user because of interstitials ads, your site might not rank as highly as it once did!
Google Drops the “Mobile-Friendly” Label
On one fine August morning, the “mobile-friendly” label disappeared from search results! While Google has mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal, it has also officially removed the label.
Yelp is not happy with the Interstitials Penalty
Because when you search on your mobile device and click on a Yelp listing, you see this interstitial ad prompting you to download the app and the upcoming interstitial penalty will upset Yelp!
Possum is Here!
Phil Rozek coined the name “Possum” for a major local search algorithm update that happened on September 1, 2016. This update impacted local search rankings in the 3-pack and Google Maps results. Read more about Possum update here.
Penguin 4.0 starts Operating in Real Time
Shortly after the Penguin update, Google announced that Penguin 4.0 is operating in real time. Google also quoted that the impact of Penguin 4.0 could take time and the dust still hasn’t settled till now!
Penguin Becomes a Part of Google’s Core Algorithm
After making Penguin more granular and real-time, Google also announced Penguin as a part of their core algorithm. Read more about it on Google Blog.
Only 12% saw a SERP Increase After Penguin 4.0
So what’s really happening after Penguin 4.0? For one, amongst 600 people, only 12% reported seeing an improvement and 73% said they saw no changes. We’re still (as of December) waiting to see the real impact of Penguin 4.0!
Another Unnamed Search Update
A lot of pages dropped in rankings on November 10, 2016. While some trackers picked up an update, some did not. And there was no news from Google as well, so it was a mixed bag!
Google Tweaks Top Stories Algorithm to Filter Out Fake News
Quoting Sundar Pichai from BBC News,
Sure, fake news as a whole could be an issue. From our perspective, there should just be no situation in which fake news gets distributed, so we are all for doing better here. I don’t think we should debate it as much as work hard to make sure we drive news towards more trusted sources, have more fact-checking, and make our algorithms better.
Looks like Google acted incredibly fast! Notably, in November, Google News carousel stopped showing news from low-quality sites.
Restaurant Lists Rich Cards AMP Markup – a New Beta Feature
When a user searches for restaurants, a marked-up restaurant content can appear on search results as a host-specific carousel. To make this happen, you will have to enable host-specific lists for restaurants, build the list pages in AMP HTML with ItemList Markup and also markup individual restaurant pages.
Google Reviews MarkUp Now Rejects Vulgar Language
Google added a new review markup guidelines which read “Profanity and vulgar language are prohibited. Do not include reviews that contain vulgar or profane language.”
So, for your reviews to show up on rich cards and rich snippets, you must improve your spam detection to remove customer reviews that use profane language.
Phew! What a year it has been!