Search Engine Updates : Spot Them Before They Happen
Over the past few weeks we’ve seen all the major engines update in some form. From major Google updates to minor MSN And Yahoo updates. Sometimes these updates catch website owners off guard.
While the search engines are getting better at letting people know that updates are happening, sometimes they don’t always let us know in a timely fashion if at all. In today’s entry I look at some ways in which I’ve noticed updates before they happen. These are some indicators you too can employ to watch for potential updates.
It wasn’t too long ago that you could set your watch (almost) by a search engine update. And at that time Google was the one most watched. For a few days during the end of the month and spilling into the next month Google would do a complete update of it’s index. Those days are long gone in favor of a constantly updating index, however they do throw in major updates here and there to keep us on our toes.
Similarly, Yahoo! Also does that all inclusive update occasionally. Before I go into the indicators for these two lets take a look at the third of the big 3:
MSN – MSN launched their own crawler based search engine earlier this year. They claim to use a neural network to help index pages and improve results over time.
They also subscribe to the belief of an perpetual update where new content is added as its found, and results are tweaked on the fly.
However, in monitoring MSN since its inception I’ve found occasions where there have been updates which are noticeable. I think I’ve even discovered how you too can watch for them.
Usually, just before a shakeup of MSN’s results, there’s a dramatic change in either pages indexed or back links for a bunch of sites.
Usually I check these factors across all the engines for my clients on Monday mornings, first thing.
And almost without fail, before a major MSN change I will see pages or back links indexed drop from a high number to a low number or even 0. It isn’t the usual change you see in MSN – where new pages or links are added a few at a time. This is a major change in the numbers.
In every case I can think of this precedes a major update by a few days to a week.
In other words, if my client had 15,434 pages indexed, it would drop to 27. This was a precursor to an MSN update. Conversely if the client site went from 15,434 to 15,994 I wouldn’t consider that as an update indication.
Yahoo! – There are a couple indicators for Yahoo! That I’ve noticed in the past.
For one thing, they do something similar to MSN. That is you will see a change in the days leading up to the update. For example, for one of my clients, their back links had remained steady at just under 1 million for the past few weeks. Then in the weeks leading up to the most recent update they began to drop. Now they are at about 760,000 – a 25% loss in back links.
Similarly, the indexed page count followed a similar pattern. For this same client the indexed page count sat around 2.3 million for the past few weeks. 2 weeks before the update it dropped to 1.8 million then to 1.5 million the next week. Now it’s back up to just under 2.3 million.
One other thing I’ve noticed with Yahoo! is that they seem to plan major updates every 3-6 months and these updates take place either just before or just after their earnings report.
I’ve noticed this for the past couple years now and for a few updates you could almost gauge how drastic an update it was going to be based on their earnings report : if Yahoo! had a good quarter then the impact on search engine rankings as a result of the index shift was greater.
These days, however, Yahoo! only seems to have one or two major shakeups per year, with a series of smaller ones throughout the year.
Google – Google, of course, is the engine most people watch.
And while Google too has moved to a perpetually updating index, much like MSN, they do have major updates when algorithms are tweaked.
In fact, we have just completed one such update. And as with previous major updates, I was expecting this one.
There were similar indicators as with MSN And Yahoo! In that there was a subtle shift in the number of back links indexed, but the largest indicator for me was the recent doubling of the index.
You see, back when Yahoo! proclaimed ‘Ours is bigger’ Google retaliated with a massive crawl and index. In almost every case I’ve seen the number of indexed pages roughly doubled.
But since many of the sites in question didn’t actually have that many pages I new an adjustment was coming.
At the end of October, the week before Halloween I noticed that the back link counts for all my clients changed significantly. To me this was the beginning of the update, yet no formal announcement from the “traditional” sources happened until a few days later. That’s when Webmasterworld began calling it Jagger. It was still a few days after that that Matt Cutts acknowledged the update on his blog.
And this isn’t the first time I’ve noticed updates before official announcements, this is about the third Google ‘major’ update that has been preceded by either a page or back link count change.
So what does this mean (if anything?)
As you can see, in all three cases there are good indicators preceding an update.
Either you see major changes in links or pages indexed, or even a positive earnings report after which an update happens.
Granted this is by no means scientific. This is just observations I’ve made on a couple dozen client’s websites over the past few quarters.
But when I see the same things happening to these clients at roughly the same time, this to me is an indicator. One which I will be sure to pay attention to in the future.
One final note, I’ve also noticed in Google that updates seem to follow themes. In other words, the update doesn’t happen all over at once. Sure different data centers update at different times, but the update seems to hit different parts of the index at different time.
For example, I don’t see rankings changes on legal sites at the same time as rankings changes on rental sites. They always happen a week or 2 apart.
These changes don’t seem PageRank or authority based but do seem to revolve around the theme or topic of the sites.
Therefore, if you do see changes happening with your site, check your competitors and you may also see changes affecting them. But if you don’t see changes happening with non-related sites, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t an update, it could just mean that it’s already affected those other sites or hasn’t hit them yet.
Columnist Rob Sullivan is an SEO Specialist and Internet Marketing Consultant at Text Link Brokers