Family table discussing 2013
blog post | marketing | news + business

Retreading An Exciting Year – Part Two: Major Algorithm Updates

Like most other years, there were some seismic search and social algorithm updates that took place. So, which ones do we feel made the biggest impact?

This is part two of our year-end wrap-up. If you want to read part one, click here.

Part Two: Major Algorithm Updates

Google’s Hummingbird Update

Origami hummingbird symbolizing google's newest algorithm updateIf 2012 was noted for Penguin, Panda and other algorithm penalties tearing things down, 2013 was the year for building things back up.

Hummingbird is the biggest search engine update since the launch of Google. Sort of…

If you were just looking at your search engine rankings, you wouldn’t think it was that big of a deal. However, just because Hummingbird has not immediately disrupted things doesn’t mean it isn’t capable of doing so.

Hummingbird improves Google’s ability to determine the entities discussed in almost all of the internet’s content (webpages, social content, emails in Gmail, etc.). It can then intelligently categorize content according to the entities being discussed. It’s then easier for Google to determine the relevancy of that content based on certain indicators (e.g. on-page mentions, external links, author, recency of social media mentions, etc.).

Hummingbird can do this. However, It doesn’t mean that it is doing it at the moment. While it is said to be affecting 90% of all search queries, the direct impact isn’t so easily discernable outside of websites that were sustained by long-tail searches.

So, Hummingbird is one change to Google’s algorithm that we’re definitely going to want to keep our eyes on.


Google’s Penguin 2.0 & Panda Updates

Google’s commitment to quality content is showcased particularly well by the algorithm update duo of Panda and Penguin. And 2013 saw its fair share of these two.

Panda, which focuses on low quality sites and webpages with thin content, is now a monthly update that takes over the course of ten days. This algorithm update is nothing new for search engine marketers, but is a continuing presence.

Penguin, which cracks down on websites manipulating relevancy with fake links, saw a bit more of a facelift. It was updated to dig a bit deeper into website’s linking sources. The 2.0 update was widely anticipated because the first one caught so many people off guard and had some pretty devastating effects.

At the end of the day, your site most likely didn’t get unfairly caught in the cross-fire of these two updates. Unless you were still chasing large volumes of low-quality links or spinning existing content into new content, you should be fine.


The Rebirth of Facebook’s Newsfeed Algorithm

Facebook's newsfeed algorithm rising from the ashesFacebook’s algorithm to determine what shows up in News Feeds underwent a serious update this year. Once known as EdgeRank, the algorithm shed it’s old name and started using thousands of new ranking factors (close to 100K, apparently) to determine when to include your content in your followers and friends news feeds.

The big takeaway from this update is that marketers are going to have to try harder to get in front of their audiences newsfeeds. In fact, Facebook is suggesting that paid ads are a marketer’s best bet for getting some eyeball time on Facebook.

While this may seem like a powerplay from Facebook, the decisions makes a lot of sense for users. Organic content from individuals is what keeps people coming back to the site. Brands have a bad habit of using their organic posts as self-serving promotions. So, in order to keep users engaged with their feed, Facebook is suggesting logical alternatives in the form of paid ads. It is business as usual for the social media giant and we don’t see too much wrong with that.


Google’s Authorship Update

Subject specific authorities enjoying Google's helpUsing Google’s authorship attribution is a great way to give your search results a boost. Searchers are more likely to engage with result if it features a nice big image of the author and some other kind of social annotation.

As with all nice things, however, Google Authorship was abused by low quality sites. Google responded to the abuse with an update that resulted in a 15% reduction in authorship.

Google is still trying to use subject-specific authorities for ranking purposes and this could be another positive step in that direction. However, it seems like authorship may not be the silver bullet some marketers were hoping. It’s certainly valuable to have, but it will most likely end up being one piece of many.


Google’s Manual Penalties Problem

Terrible marketers getting angry with googleGoogle’s penalization process also found its way to the center of a lawsuit, ICF Technology, Inc. v. Google, Inc.

ICF sought a temporary restraining order to lift a manual penalty for “thin content” that was be being applied against the sites it provides web hosting services for. The court shot down the request. Courts give service providers a lot of leeway when making spam classifications and ICF was not able to offer any compelling evidence to dispute that classification.

So, if you’re a victim of one of these updates or penalties then even the law won’t be able to help you. Your best bet is getting in touch with a good marketer.



Goodbye 2013. You brought some great stuff into this world. You also took some great stuff with you.

As digital marketers, it’s essential that we are able to recall these comings and goings. The pendulum never swings too far to one side. So whatever we’re abandoning to 2013, remember that we’ll probably see it again in some form when the pendulum starts swinging back.

About the writer
Brian Thackston
Brian Thackston
Brian creates exceptional content and enduring publishing strategies that attract and convert. He is also a Nintendo fanatic who is grooving through law school so that he can fight for the freedom of the web.

Most newsletters suck...

So while we technically have to call this a daily newsletter so people know what it is, it's anything but.

You won't find any 'industry standards' or 'guru best practices' here - only the real stuff that actually moves the needle.