Big Brother

Dancing the Google Dance | And a One Algo Change, Two Algo Change, Go!

You know – people talk about how SEO isn’t one of those things you can do once and then reap the benefits forever (I say people, but I mean SEO professionals).

You know – people talk about how SEO isn’t one of those things you can do once and then reap the benefits forever (I say people, but I mean SEO professionals).

We’ve talked about how search engines are constantly updating; it’s what they do. Spammers get more sophisticated, darn them; search engines have to evolve to combat spammers. Optimizers, marketers and site owners have to change to combat the evolution of the search engines. It’s a vicious, vicious circle.

Consequently, you have thousands of optimizers bracing themselves when rumors of another algorithm change rolls out. You have SEO professionals suffering Post-Traumatic Search Syndrome; they scream, “SEO is dead, is dead” every time algorithms change. It’s not their fault; it’s shellshock.

Those who’ve been around for a long time simply sigh. Major update or minor update, they know it’s simply time to do the Google Dance again.

Do the Dance – Dancing the Google Dance

A long time ago, back in ancient times (before the days of rolling updates), Google updated in bits and pieces. A major index update could take several days to complete. Meanwhile, you might see mild to wild fluctuations in the SERPs. 10 times a year, Google called all its data centers together, along with its index, cache and secondary indexes, and threw a big shindig – the Google Dance.

In August 2003, Google changed the way the index updates, from piece meal to rolling updates. In other words, Google is constantly updating; it’s only when the updates are major that most people really notice. – And some of Google’s updates have really been noticed…

If the updates of 2002 had names, it’s so far back in the annals of history nobody knows what they are. However, an update in September of 2002 was so horrific it caused people to cry on Webmaster World that PageRank was DEAD.”

Now, from what I could gather (which wasn’t much), this little update lowered search quality instead of raising it. Gasp – 404 pages showed up in the top 10! Of course, most of the people complaining were bloggers who, after finding out it was no longer as easy to manipulate Google’s results (Microsoft’s home page was #1 for “go to hell”), realized they didn’t have as much power as they used to.

Google Dances With Cassandra

It seems like Google learned its lesson, because the Cassandra update (2003) was a Google Dance with real foot-stomping movement. With Cassandra, Google targeted multiple links from the same site (the practice of cross-linking) . In thread after thread, SEOs and DIYers start tearing apart the changes. Here, important factors start to come out:

  • Link Text
  • Navigational Structure
  • Page Title
  • Links from different sites

Hmm… a couple tasty C blocks, anyone?

After that, we have the Dominic update, which ended up being a sort of “your guess is as good as mine” kind of thing. Everybody could see something was going on – search results were swinging wildly – but there seemed to be no real rhyme or reason. The 2002 update was mentioned as a related oops, as in, “This reminds me of that crapdate in ‘02.” However, once Esmeralda came along, things settled down.

Now, Cassandra, Dominic and Esmeralda came one right after another: April, May June. By the time Esmeralda wound down, optimizers, marketers and website owners were all happy to take a break. For four months, all they had to deal with was a little bit of movement here and there; the Google Dance, as they had come to call it, was no longer a matter of spasmodic movement across the floor.

Florida Update– Presidential Fail

The Florida update is probably branded in some veteran SEOs’ minds, and could be a partial reason for Post-Traumatic Search Syndrome. People concerned with ranking and indexation got up in the morning, turned on their morning Google and freaked out.

Pages that had been ranking high suddenly ceased to exist in the indexes. Relevance dropped; on-topic connections were as solid as baby Swiss cheese. Some of these sites didn’t even do anything to deserve it. The Hilltop Algorithm gets involved and the Austin update, and all of a sudden, all the easy SEO techniques were useless.

Sigh – gone were the days of free for all link farms. Stuffed Meta tags became a thing of the past. Hidden tags, invisible text… and a partridge in a pear tree.

Google, Jagger and Serious Changes

Okay, so Florida and Austin (2003/ early 2004) were a little bit murky – at least if you talked to optimizers. As we all know, however, Google never has cared about optimizers; they care about the searchers. They care about relevant results.

For the next two years, they went about tweaking here, twitching there, and otherwise trying to clean up the SERPS, return relevant results and combat spam for innocent searchers everywhere. In other words, they went about their divine, and yet civic, duty.

The Jagger update, which could safely be called the granddaddy of the SERPs we now know and love, was a serious change for SEO. One site makes a comment (which we absolutely love), “Search engine optimization has become more difficult than ever!”

HA! This was six years ago. It’s one of those, “you have NO idea” kind of things. Anyway, WebProNews had a good write up about it, listing quite a few things that may have/did change. (While reading, we found a fantastic little article from the Search Engine Watch blog, for those that want to reminisce or see what the olden days were like).

Mayday, Mayday –Suggest a Local Place for Caffeine! (i.e. Google 2010)

Good updates, poor updates, relevant, small or big, Google’s been busy. In 2009 alone, they made over 500 changes to the search algorithms. That’s a lot of changes.

In February 2010, Google sends out the message, “We’re updating our indexes, folks. We’re giving them a shot of caffeine.” Now, it’s important to note that Caffeine wasn’t an algorithm change. In actuality, Caffeine updated the search engine’s infrastructure. With the new index, not only are you getting “fresher” results, but your new page is being indexed faster, too.

Should we mention the Mayday release? Long tail query traffic lost for some, other sites getting jumps in ranking and traffic… the ensuing panic… Ah yes, and the smell of a new YouTube video from Matt Cutts on how to cover your butt if your site lost in the rankings. Ouch.

Then Google Places gets more emphasis. Video results start showing up – IN THE EFFIN results, mind, which sent the SEO world into a tizzy. Let’s not forget Google Real Time Search… not a true update, but a definite change, you might say.

Google says, yes, social counts affects ranking, and wasn’t that a kick in the tender parts for those who said social media was a crap idea.

Welcome to 2011 – Another Site Bites the Dust and Google Goes Nuts

You know, we’re only a few months into 2011. That’s just wild, because a lot has happened this year, and not all – or mostly – in updates. JCPenny, anyone? How about Overstock?

Then you have the Google Social Search update – all of a sudden, social isn’t just a signal, it’s a friggin RANKING FACTOR for personalized search! Yeah, yeah, so Facebook still isn’t in the results, but that’s SO not the point. The point is, your target market can be influenced by their peers, not just by your SEO campaign.

Let’s not forget the buying of BeatThatQuote and consequential penalization. WTH – but okay. Google has a reputation to maintain, they now own the site and it defies their own standards. Cool. How about the minor algo change Matt Cutts mutters about in a short blog, mentioning a potential 2% change? This algorithm targeted low quality scraper sites.

Finally, we have the Panda update, aka “Farmer” update. A full 12% of US results have been affected. The actual sites that lost out have shocked a lot of people. I’ll bet you, somewhere people are saying, “Associated Content? Oh, well yeah, sure. That makes sense – but Merchantcircle? OMG!”

Again, the way we do things is changing. For example, those who still link out to content farms might rethink that. Article submission, which hasn’t managed to die yet, is another technique that just bit the dust finally (not to be mistaken for submitting a single article to a legitimate place or guest blogging). These two are just the first two we can think of.


We didn’t cover all of the updates, but did try to gather enough for a solid overview. The point, as we walk through Google history, is to realize how fluid you – as an SEO professional, webmaster, site owner, search marketer – need to be to keep up with the fluctuations in search. It’s not a stable space to fill as an industry. You have to be flexible, on your toes, and willing to change your tactics.

We’re on the front lines, people. Researching, defining and creating any kind of SEO strategy is the first step in attacking the enemy. We may call it the Google Dance, but it’s war, plan and simple – where competing businesses can die a cold hard death if we win.

What do you think Google’s next update will target? Anything specific? Share your prognostications with our readers!

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34 Responses

  1. Pingback: Historical View of Google Confirmed Updates - Virtual Visibility Media
  2. I stumbled onto this article today, and it made me laugh. The comment about “SEO is dead” is still be repeated each ever week even 3 years after this article was posted. SEO is only dead if you try to survive solely on tricks, loopholes, and the blatant spamming. Building a high quality site, with original and thoughtful content will never go out of style!

  3. Everybody knows about SEO but there are very few people who know a little bit of Google dance. And I am also one of them. I just wants to know about Google Dances With Cassandra. There is no doubt that you have written everything but i did not understand this part.
    Thanks regards
    Sanjeev Singh

  4. There will always be nay sayers when people say SEO is dead and yes 2013 now is deff much harder to try to control your rankings. The days of spamming back links and automated link building are over. For me I will stick to hand built relevant related link building with high authority and trust.

  5. I’ll create a conjecture – I really hope Google goes after individuals that buy up (and have connections to) multiple domain systems to get multiple links on other site’s home pages (usually hidden in garbage text). You are able to hardly look for back links on the site anymore without having exactly the same. Maybe getting rid of the advantage of PR can help eliminate this.

  6. I read about the point which stated about the dance getting over in minutes these days.

    I have a site and it ranked on the 1st page for keywords like “send flowers”, “flowers delivery” etc. for 6-7 hours on Google India for 3 days and then went back to the original ranks. Then it went to worse ranks yesterday (4th page) and is now on 2nd page again. This has now been going on for 5 days.

    What kind of signals are these? I wish the www2 and www3 were up and running. Atleast, this heartbeat would have ebbed.

  7. An SEO Company should always stay on top of the latest Google algorithms lest they fall behind the pack, and offer less than quality services to their customers. Daily reading of Matt’s cutts blogs and videos never did anyone any harm either.

  8. I totally agree with you: SEO specialists should be creative, they have to come with new ideas to improve traffic on their websites. Thank you for sharing this article and keep up the good work!

  9. You could certainly see your skills in the article you write. The world hopes for even more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe. All the time go after your heart.

  10. I never thought that Google had a lot of updates from the past few years. I thought Google Panda Update was their 2nd update. This just tells us that Google is constantly updating their Algorithm in order to stop spam and provide quality results to their searchers. I’m curious and quite fearful when’s the next update. I hope it won’t affect the ethical link builders out there.

  11. Im still pretty new to SEO and I had no idea they had so many updates. Thanks for the information as it answered quite a few questions I had. Question… Does google announce when they do updates or is it up to SEO companies like level343 to figure it out? Thanks Again

  12. I’ll make a prediction — I hope Google goes after those that buy up (or have connections to) multiple domain networks where one can get multiple links on other site’s home pages (usually buried in garbage text). You can hardly search for backlinks on a site any more without running into the same. Maybe removing the benefit of PR will help eliminate this also.

  13. I am rather new to SEO, I started being a site owner in 2010 and this article just brought me up to speed!

    Any who.. Yeah google new changes keeps making my site lose search results. Jumped from 600 to 30 in one day.. This happened last month and it came back up to speed within a week.

    Today it seems to happen again. Anybody has anything to add to this?

    1. Hi, Lanh – Might we suggest you run your site through Page Speed Online? Your site is fast, but has some issues that might inhibit spiders from fully crawling your site and browsers from rendering correctly.

      In looking over your home page, it appears the page is missing a large amount of relevancy. For example, your page title “Below Deals | Rock Bottom Prices!” – “Deals” is a generic term. You could be talking about business deals, or financial deals or or or – you get the picture. As well, depending on what terms you’re targeting for ranking, you might want to rewrite your titles so the brand name is last. Suggested reading: 10 Building Blocks of Great Meta Tags and The #1 Traffic Builder – Hint: It’s Probably Not What You Think

      Also, we suggest using SEO Quake and looking at the key term density of your pages. On the home page, as an example, “deal” shows up 9 times, but “coupon” only shows twice – with a whole bunch of non-related (in terms of search) terms. You can get SEO Quake for Firefox and Opera here and for Chrome here. As another example, the “Freebies” page has tons of repeat content on it, due to the Sharpie offer.

      Of course, these are all only suggestions based on a brief scan of one or two pages of your site. Without an in depth audit, we can’t pinpoint with exact accuracy why your site is having issues. However, the issues we’ve pointed out, if resolved, may help.

  14. Hi Friends,
    I use Google Webmaster Guidelines for our websites like Title tag 70 characters, Meta description tags 156 characters and also follow link guide but still my website not come on search result. Can you give me some ideas or additional guidelines for better ranking position. I have seen lots of website come on first page but they are not follow Google Webmaster Guidelines why they not penalized by Google.

    1. Robert – your site is actually coming up in the search … for me, using, it comes up on the second page, 15th position for the flights-to-newyork page. You might do an A/B test on your page layout, putting the paragraph text first. I wouldn’t suggest just changing – test first… Having the text in the offer box helps (instead of using all javascript, for example), but Google likes to see text surrounding the key terms – not just “Heathrow, New York, Direct/InDirect”.

      In re: Google Webmaster Guidelines – they ARE just guidelines. There are several things you can do that aren’t specifically mentioned in Google’s guidelines and still not step outside of them.

      All in all, the best advice I can give is to test, test, and test some more. Hope this helps and good luck with your site!

  15. If this artcile was written 2 years earlier… Orz

    Google is definitely not gonna stop dancing for sure, as that’s what make Google the best search engine in the world, and also something that make us all SEO specialists so important.

    Keep up the good work fellows, and be proud of contributing to make the internet a better place 🙂

    SourceSquare | Search Marketing Strategies

    1. Hey Kelvin thanks, that is a very nice thing to say… We encourage facts, proven theories and sometime we stumble upon a brilliant idea. That’s the beauty of this Internet, people like you that are encouraging us to move forward!

  16. WOW! One of your best write-ups yet, my friend! I get a kick out of all the mumbling and grumbling over every update and change. Like you say, Big G ain’t out to please US… they’re out to please searchers. Sure, I find some of the changes frustrating too, since they always seem to come before I’m ready for them, but hey… that’s life in the fast lane, right?
    You want a prediction? I’ll give you one that I’ve been making since last summer:

    Pagerank is going away!

    Now I know that a lot of SEOs are laughing, rolling their eyes or feeling sorry for poor old demented Doc, but I think it’s happening already. “Rank” is going to be a moving target, that changes with every single search. Call it “relevancy rank” if you like, ’til Google gives it a proper name. But the old PR that we’ve known for so long will soon be a faded memory, much like many of the other things you mentioned.
    Now I’m going to sit down and be quiet, before the orderlies make me take some more meds. 😉

    1. Doc, you say that to all the pretty girls online… lolol Thanks Doc. Personally, I hope PageRank dies a miserable death. I’m not sure it will happen since human nature likes to see “winners” I could bring in Sheen into this conversation but I would rather not. You get what I’m saying though, people like eye candy, they like drama, and they like to see badges of honor etc. The way I see it is if you are good you don’t need to show off to the world. You don’t need no stinking “rank”, if we can only convince all the sheeple out there to stop looking for it.

  17. What really pisses me off is that many SEOs gave good content no attention at all and now they´re like wild saying you should redirect this and noindex that – ok, technical stuff NOT MAGIC – plain technical stuff.

    If they only got their heads out their ***** earlier and stopped to see content as an inconvenient… but no.

    As for the update being effective. I still get ranking sixt for valentine´s day (US proxy). And this site´s content nutritional value equals the one of a glass distilled water + ads (the site owners vitamins).


    1. Klaus, well put. I was having a conversation with my writer/SEO/coder/everything under the sun Jahnelle about this very topic. Organic, well written content should have ALWAYS been part of any SEO efforts. What I don’t get is what part of this is the “Information Highway” did they not get? At the end of the day in my personal opinion what and how we are selling ANYTHING online depends on the content. The search engine optimizers that forgot about that back in the day well Ooops too bad for them. I’m actually proud to say Panda helped us. But then again I never doubted Google would notice… eventually lolol. Tchüss bello

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