Search Algorithms—Myths and Facts

By Andrew Rose

It seems like every time Google changes its search algorithm, it is quickly followed by a plethora of “gloom and doom” marketing pieces from SEO (search engine optimization) and website development companies. With distinctly terrifying names like Panda, Penguin, Caffeine, etc., devious service providers have used a lack of client understanding of what the changes are to sell fear-based solutions that weren’t needed in the first place.

Over the past few years, the majority of the changes to the algorithm have been in response to black hat SEO companies that have exploited flaws in the search process for their clients’ short-term advantage. The changes haven’t negatively impacted professional service firms as long as they have been playing fair with their website and content.

That is, until now.

The most recent three updates, Hummingbird, Pigeon and the soon-to-be named mobile readiness change, are representatives of the future of search rather than reactions to companies that are trying to cheat the system.

Say What?

The Hummingbird update, which officially went live in August of 2013, focuses on interpreting spoken search. As more people are speaking into their mobile devices as a search mechanism, this change was enacted to allow better results to be generated. For example, before Hummingbird, if you typed: “Where can I find an auditor for an auto dealership,” Google would have deconstructed the sentence and honed in on a few keywords, such as auditor, auto and dealership, and then found corresponding results.

Now, with Hummingbird, the entire sentence is taken into context for its full meaning. How come? Google wants search to be more humanized moving forward. Google search chief, Amit Singhal, stated that Hummingbird is the first major update of its type since 2001. The impact on most websites is minimal in terms of rankings, although it would be a good idea to read aloud the words on your website to see if they sound natural.

Keep it Local

With the Pigeon update in July 2014, Google places more emphasis on companies claiming their location on Google maps (as well as cleaning up any bad addresses that may be present). There is more information about how to do this in the latest issue of the Interim Report. Google wants to ensure that organizations closest in geographic location to the searcher are appearing at the top of the rankings list.

Are You Responsive?

The newest algorithm update, dubbed Mobilegeddon, is a game changer. Since most searches are now performed on mobile devices, any websites that don’t automatically resize (depending on the device) to the varying screen sizes available, are now suppressed in search results.

Many CPA firms have been caught off-guard by this update and are now unknowingly paying the price in terms of their search rankings. If your firm’s website was built on an old platform, this is a good time for a refresher. Check to see if your website is responsive on Google’s mobile friendly test.

Mobile is only going to grow in terms of primary internet search. In 2014, mobile devices represented 30 percent of searches and this year it is already at 60 percent. Even though the official start date of this update was supposedly April 21, 2015, we saw significant changes in the search results for our mobile ready clients as early as mid-March. They surged higher in the rankings in competitive areas. We suspect that there was a soft, unannounced launch earlier than the intended start date.

Google will continue to refine and calibrate the search algorithms it uses to provide the best solutions for the information being searched. Therefore, your website needs to be viewed as an evolving platform, not a static picture of where you were in the past.

Andrew Rose spent 11.5 years as the Director of Marketing and Business Development for a regional CPA firm based in Maryland. He is now the PreoFYD9F_l_400x400sident of Zest SMS, a digital marketing and business development firm that specializes in professional service companies. It provides responsive website development, custom designs, branding and social media account management, in addition to many other marketing services. You can email Andrew at or call him at 443-275-7992. Learn more about him on the company’s website at or follow him on Twitter at @ZestiestRose.