February 2012 Google Algorithm Change (Panda 3.3)

Each year Google releases 500 or so updates to its ranking algorithm. Many of these changes are small, and fly under the average SEO radar. Others, like Panda, are huge and widely publicized. Recently Google has taken to announcing at least some of these changes.

On February 27th, 2012, Google announced a batch of 40 changes they recently implemented, including Panda 3.3 (you can read the full story here: 40 Search Quality Changes for February.) While many of these updates were relatively benign in terms of SEO impact, there was one little blurb at the bottom that may have a significant impact on your rankings:

  • Link evaluation. We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page. We have changed the way in which we evaluate links; in particular, we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years. We often re-architect or turn off parts of our scoring in order to keep our system maintainable, clean and understandable.

In typical Google fashion they didn’t clearly define what it was, but SEOs everywhere are scrambling to figure it out. I’ve already seen a great post here, that has some thoughts as to what the potential change might have been.

While there are quite a few possibilities, many SEOs think it likely had to do with a devaluation of anchor text of some sort. The other thought that I think has some merit is that Google may have reduced the value of multiple links from a single domain (perhaps with some sort of linking domain qualifier where multiple links from a high authority domain still count?) Both of these, exact match anchor text and getting multiple links from a single domain, are things that are pretty heavily manipulated in the SEO world, and we all know Google doesn’t like being manipulated.

So what does this mean for search engine optimization going forward? If you’re doing SEO the way it should be done, not much. Domain diversity (getting links from lots and lots of different domains) is as valuable as ever, especially if those domains are topically related to your site. Getting those links from high domain authority websites is still super valuable. The only real thing to watch it on might be anchor text diversity, and making sure that the majority of links you build look “natural”, containing anchor text like your brand name, URL, Images, Click Here, and things of that nature.

That said, if you really want to know if you need to change something, just take a look at the link profiles of the sites now ranking in the top 5 positions for your chosen keywords. Whatever sites sit in those top spots after a major or minor algorithm change will give you a pretty good idea of what looks “natural” in the eyes of Google.

If you want to keep an eye on the latest Google algorithm changes, there is a fantastic page on SEOmoz being updated regularly that shows the change history.

If you’re having trouble due to Google Panda 3.3 or any other algorithm updates, give us a holler and we’ll help you figure it out!

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