Sometimes during meetings people will say to me “hasn’t SEO all changed now since update x” or “it doesn’t work any more does it?”. They get this impression from various sources. Including the never ending spam emails from companies in lands far away offering SEO services. Sometimes they offer “penguin compliant SEO Services” that are apparently somehow different from the SEO service they offered before and are now super important.
Despite all this a bunch of sites still show up every time you do a search and the majority of those sites are the same sites that came up before. In fact, Penguin updates 1, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 2, 2.1 and 3 all combined only effected the rankings of about 4% of all websites. It turns out the sky isn’t falling whenever Google announces an update. 96% of sites went on as normal.
Sometimes, usually within a few months after an update I will meet with companies that are adamant that before update x they were on the first page for everything and now they have lost all their rankings. These companies are never the ones who monitor their rankings on a regular basis. What really happens is they they only decided to check their rankings for the first time in years because they heard their was a Google Update that was going to mess everyone’s rankings up. It is much more likely that their rankings have been in slow decline for a long time.
How do we know everything won’t change?
Google took a big step forward in organising the internet by basing rankings on more than just the content of each website. They looked at what other sites were linking to your site and what they were saying about your website. Like a popularity contest where each link to your site is a vote. Some votes count a lot more than others depending on the popularity of the site making the vote. Like getting a recommendation from an expert in your area instead of just Joe Blogs.
Google will always work in this way because there is no alternative way to gather opinions on the popularity and authority of billions upon billions of web pages. You can’t survey people on the street on which site should come first, second… tenth for the hundreds of millions of different search terms that people type in every day. Google doesn’t know if you recommend a particular website to someone you were talking to at the bus stop. This is what Google is trying to emulate, where you would probably end up anyway if you asked a bunch of people instead of using a search engine. So rankings will always be decided via this online popularity system.
When Google performs an update it is merely to improve the quality of those results, usually to catch people trying to cheat the system. Sometimes to take in to consideration new sources of links like social networking sites or to make Google more efficient at showing the right results. It is extremely unlikely Google would ever make change so that rankings do not rely on links any more. The larger the internet gets the harder it is to find any possible alternative way to calculate the importance and popularity of all those billions of pages.
So algorithm updates will happen but the majority of results will often be unaffected as the most popular / relevant / authoritative page has not changed. Unless it turned out that page had been undertaking some shady practice to make it appear that way and then the owner of that page may have something to worry about.