In 2013, Google introduced its new wave of algorithm updates, which caused a great deal of concern among businesses that are almost exclusively dependent on having a high ranking on the search engine. The Penguin 2.0 update penalised websites that used poor link-building practices, while the previous 2012 update focused on punishing websites using ‘black hat SEO’ techniques, a tactic designed to artificially inflate a website’s ranking much more quickly than the more responsible (and correct) long term SEO methods.
It would be reasonable to assume that penalising websites that create irrelevant, low quality links is essential to ensuring that Google’s search results remain relevant to its users. Today, websites must offer better user functionality and flexibility to maximise their target audience and achieve customer retention. Therefore, Google’s latest update can improve the user experience in two key ways:
Making businesses improve their site structure
The design and navigation of a website has an overwhelming impact on its SEO performance because it will determine how users behave on it. For example, people who type in specific search requests on Google and click on a website link are looking for a specific piece of information. Naturally, like most consumers, they have very limited patience because they expect to be able to find the information they need at the simple click of a button.
Punishing poorly designed websites
If a website is difficult to navigate or does not provide the instant access to information required, people are more likely to click away quickly. If the average user only spend three seconds on a web page that contains 500 words, this is a clear signal to Google that there is something wrong with either the website’s targeted keywords, its design or the quality of its content. By penalising businesses that do not have a user-friendly websites, what people see on the top of Google’s search results are the best-designed, easy-to-use websites.
Google updates – designed to boost revenue or enhance the user experience?
One fundamental point to remember is that Google is really a marketing company disguised as a search engine. It receives much of its revenue from direct advertisements via Google Adwords and has to constantly introduce new features and products to beat-off competitors and remain the number one information resource on the internet.
However, according to Matt Cutts from the Google Search Quality team, Google did not deliver its Panda and Penguin updates to boost its revenue. Cutts says the search engine’s main focus was to ‘return the best user results’ rather than to increase profit, which is irrelevant because Google will ‘make money, whatever’. Of course, data shows that the search engine’s annual revenue increased by 32 percent in the first quarter of 2011 compared to the first quarter of 2010 – and the Panda update was launched in February 2011.
Clearly, the more Google adapts to new search trends, the stronger its market dominance and the better the overall ‘user experience’. After all, 69 percent of Google’s revenue is generated from sites that it owns.