Wednesday, November 16, 2005

On the Google Jagger Algo Update - Part 1

There has been a major update of Google’s ranking algorithm, changing the way the search engine orders search results. Atul Gupta of RedAlkemi discusses the consequences for webmasters.

By Pandia Guest Writer Atul Gupta

Google does minor algorithm updates almost on a monthly basis. Once in a while, it implements a major algorithm update.

If there is one thing search engine marketers and website owners fear, it is a major algorithm update, especially by Google. Well, much as we may like it not to happen, its here. Google has recently done a major algorithm update, nick named the “Jagger” update series.

The last major Google algorithm update, called the Florida update, happened in November 2003 and created quite a stir with website rankings.
Big changes in rankings
Like the Florida update, the Jagger update has done the much feared “blender” act. It has churned the top-ranking websites and turned them into a list of unrecognizable pulp.

Google has been the favorite amongst the web community searching for information. Most feel that the search results have always been highly relevant. It would therefore be safe to assume that whatever algorithm Google has, works just fine.

So why does Google need to re-engineer its perfect-looking algo so drastically? Has it not heard the saying “if it works, don’t fix it”?

Beating the spammers
From Google’s standpoint, the reason is simple and valid. Well, for starters, the web is ever-evolving and the algo always needs to be adjusted in order to provide the best results. Google has engineered an algorithm which they believe will reward good sites and rank them well for its viewers.

Google, like most other search engines, keeps this algorithm a closely guarded secret to prevent it from being exploited.

However, the SEO community is constantly at work trying to rank their sites well. Using calculated guesswork, logical thinking, special tests and extensive trial-and-error methods, they gradually figure out what the algorithm likes and dislikes.
Armed with this knowledge, it is not difficult to work on websites to rank them high in SERP (Search Engine Result Pages), irrespective of whether the site deserves to rank at the top or not. This kind of algorithm abuse results in ‘less than desirable’ websites displacing good sites from the top ranks, contaminating the Google index.

Consequently, following the Kaizen philosophy, Google needs to re-engineer its algorithms to keep what it believes are bad sites out of its top ranks. Naturally, major algorithm updates upset the current high-ranking websites and sends a lot of SEO professionals back to their work-bench in order to start all over again.

The timing
What is interesting to note is the timing of the algorithm update. When Google updated its algorithm in November 2003, there were large scale allegations by website owners that Google intentionally upset the rankings of popular websites just before the Christmas shopping season to force them into buying Google AdWords paid advertising in order to sustain the visitor traffic.
While Google claims that the algo update decisions are not influenced by the AdWords team, it is difficult to understand why they would once again choose a critical timing just before Christmas shopping season to update their algorithm.
The stakes are very high and this is business after all. Google earned $1.57 billion in Q3 of 2005. If 2003 pre-Christmas algorithm update effect is any indication, I estimate that Google would record revenues of over $2.05 billion in Q4 of 2005.

Jagger history
The Jagger 1 update pre-shocks actually started with a string of back-link updates that began in September 2005 and continued into middle of October 2005.
In mid October, Google updated its PageRank database for public view. Usually updated once a quarter, the PR update always creates a stir.

While most SEO professionals heavily play-down the importance of PR in ranking, the legacy of its importance is so deep-rooted in the minds of most webmasters, that it is difficult to shake it off as an insignificant ranking parameter.
[PageRank is Google’s measure of the “popularity” of a web page, based on the number and quality of incoming links. The Editor.]

It is believed that the second phase of the Jagger update — Jagger 2 — is now complete and replicated to all the data centers of Google. However, you may still notice some fluctuations in the rankings as things stabilize for each update.

We are now at the threshold of the third phase of the Jagger update, which is expected to initiate sometime in the second week of November 2005.

The changes
From what we have studied so far, Google has re-engineered several aspects of its algorithm. Amongst other aspects we will know as things roll out, we believe it has altered the impact of the following:
1. Value of incoming links
2. Value of anchor text in incoming links
3. Content on page of incoming links
4. Keyword repetitions in anchor text
5. Age of the incoming links
6. Nature of sites linking to you
7. Directory links
8. Speed and volume of incoming links created
9. Value of reciprocal links
10. Impact of outbound links / links page on your website
11. Sandbox effect / age of your site, domain registration date
12. Size of your site’s content
13. Addition and frequency of fresh content update
14. Canonical / sub domains, sub-sub domains
15. Multiple domains on same IP numbers
16. Duplicate content on same site or on multiple domains
17. Over-optimization, excessive text markup
18. Irrational use of CSS

We are studying various aspects of the Jagger algo update and are closely monitoring the impact of changes in each of the above mentioned parameters and many more not mentioned here.
We shall be discussing the impact of each of these aspects in the next parts of this article, which are likely to be written once the Jagger 3 update and our study of it is complete.

In the meanwhile, we’d like to give out a word of caution – If you have suffered drop in your website rankings, do not do any drastic changes on your website until the Jagger 3 update is fully implemented and stabilized.

There is a delicate balance and inter-dependence of all these parameters that can bring back your ranks once the Jagger 3 update is completed.

About the Author: Atul Gupta is the founder and CEO of RedAlkemi.com (formerly known as SEOrank.com & PugmarksDesign.com), an internet marketing, e-commerce, graphic design, web & doftware development services company.

He has about 20 years of experience in the field of graphic design, visual communication, web development and search engine marketing services. He has spent the last nine years of his career devoted solely in pursuing search engine marketing and web development activities.

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