Google’s Latest Algorithm Changes (They Don’t Include Panda)

    January 7, 2012
    Chris Crum

As you may know, Google has been putting out a monthly list of algorithm changes it has been making, as part of the company’s initiative to be “more transparent”. Google will never put out the entire secret sauce of its algorithm (without a court order, at least), so webmasters can at least be thankful that they’re being thrown a handful of bones in the form of a monthly list.

Have you seen effects from Google’s most recent algorithm changes? Let us know in the comments.

Some have apparently already been feeling the effects of Google’s algorithmic early this year. Webmasters were quick to point the finger at the old panda, but Google assures us that this is not the case. A spokesperson for the company told WebProNews there have been no Panda updates in 2012 so far (though I’d expect one to launch before too long).

By the way, now that 2011 is over, do you think Panda has done a good job at cleaning up search results?

In the latest edition of the series, on the company’s Inside Search Blog, they highlight 21 changes made in the month of December. The list goes as follows:

  • Image Search landing page quality signals. [launch codename “simple”] This is an improvement that analyzes various landing page signals for Image Search. We want to make sure that not only are we showing you the most relevant images, but we are also linking to the highest quality source pages.
  • More relevant sitelinks. [launch codename “concepts”, project codename “Megasitelinks”] We improved our algorithm for picking sitelinks. The result is more relevant sitelinks; for example, we may show sitelinks specific to your metropolitan region, which you can control with your location setting.
  • Soft 404 Detection. Web servers generally return the 404 status code when someone requests a page that doesn’t exist. However, some sites are configured to return other status codes, even though the page content might explain that the page was not found. We call these soft 404s (or “crypto” 404s) and they can be problematic for search engines because we aren’t sure if we should ignore the pages. This change is an improvement to how we detect soft 404s, especially in Russian, German and Spanish. For all you webmasters out there, the best practice is still to always use the correct response code.
  • More accurate country-restricted searches. [launch codename “greencr”] On domains other than .com, users have the option to see only results from their particular country. This is a new algorithm that uses several signals to better determine where web documents are from, improving the accuracy of this feature.
  • More rich snippets. We improved our process for detecting sites that qualify for shopping, recipe and review rich snippets. As a result, you should start seeing more sites with rich snippets in search results.
  • Better infrastructure for autocomplete. This is an infrastructure change to improve how our autocomplete algorithm handles spelling corrections for query prefixes (the beginning part of a search).
  • Better spam detection in Image Search. [launch codename “leaf”] This change improves our spam detection in Image Search by extending algorithms we already use for our main search results.
  • Google Instant enhancements for Japanese. For languages that use non-Latin characters, many users use a special IME (Input Method Editor) to enter queries. This change works with browsers that are IME-aware to better handle Japanese queries in Google Instant.
  • More accurate byline dates. [launch codename “foby”] We made a few improvements to how we determine what date to associate with a document. As a result, you’ll see more accurate dates annotating search results.
  • Live results for NFL and college football. [project codename “Live Results”] We’ve added new live results for and ESPN’s NCAA Football results. These results now provide the latest scores, schedules and standings for your favorite football teams.
  • Improved dataset for related queries. We are now using an improved dataset on term relationships to find related queries. We sometimes include results for queries that are related to your original search, and this improvement leads to results from more relevant related queries.
  • Related query improvements. [launch codename “lyndsy”] Sometimes we fetch results for queries that are related to the original query but have fewer words. We made several changes to our algorithms to make them more conservative and less likely to introduce results without query words.
  • Better lyrics results. [launch codename “baschi”, project codename “Contra”] This change improves our result quality for lyrics searches.
  • Tweak to +1 button on results page. As part of our continued effort to deliver a beautifully simple user experience across Google products, we’ve made a subtle tweak to how the +1 button appears on the results page. Now the +1 button will only appear when you hover over a result or when the result has already been +1’d.
  • Better spell correction in Vietnamese. [project codename “Pho Viet”] We launched a new Vietnamese spelling model. This will help give more accurate spelling predictions for Vietnamese queries.
  • Upcoming events at venues. We’ve improved the recently released places panel for event venues. For major venues, we now show up to three upcoming events on the right of the page. Try it for [staples center los angeles] or [paradise rock club boston].
  • Improvements to image size signal. [launch codename “matter”] This is an improvement to how we use the size of images as a ranking signal in Image Search. With this change, you’ll tend to see images with larger full-size versions.
  • Improved Hebrew synonyms. [launch codename “SweatNovember”, project codename “Synonyms”] This update refines how we handle Hebrew synonyms across multiple languages. Context matters a lot for translation, so this change prevents us from using translated synonyms that are not actually relevant to the query context.
  • Safer searching. [launch codename “Hoengg”, project codename “SafeSearch”] We updated our SafeSearch tool to provide better filtering for certain queries when strict SafeSearch is enabled.
  • Encrypted search available on new regional domains. Google now offers encrypted search by default on for signed-in users, but it’s not the default on our other regional domains (eg: for France). Now users in the UK, Germany and France can opt in to encrypted search by navigating directly to an SSL version of Google Search on their respective regional domains: and
  • Faster mobile browsing. [launch codename “old possum”, project codename “Skip Redirect”] Many websites redirect smartphone users to another page that is optimized for smartphone browsers. This change uses the final smartphone destination url in our mobile search results, so you can bypass all the redirects and load the target page faster.

The image search landing page quality signal change is quite interesting. We ran a great article on optimizing for image search by Michael Gray last year, and that’s full of tips to consider for this less talked about element of SEO, but the adjustments, as unspecific as they may be, reflect Google’s Panda-style focus on quality in search results. This, to me, is saying they’re applying same kind of thinking they do with regular web search to other parts of Google, more than ever before.

Here’s the list of questions Google has presented in the past to consider asking yourself, when evaluating quality.

Note that “better spam detection for image search” is also on the list.

Also note the codenames used throughout the list. Most you probably won’t have to remember like Panda and Caffeine, but it’s still nice to have something to reference for the future.

With regards to the “more rich snippets” item on the list, you may want to check out the series of videos Google recently put out on how to do rich snippets.

Which changes do you think are the most significant? Is your site being helped or hurt by changes? Let us know in the comments.


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.