Internet Marketing
Published December 07th, 2016 by

Major Changes to Google Search Algorithm – Here’s What You Need To Know

Over the past few months, Google has released some major updates to its search algorithm and Keyword Planner.

If you’ve noticed a shakeup in your Google Analytics during the past 4–8 weeks, it may have been because of September’s Penguin and Possum updates.

In this article, I’ll discuss changes made to the Google search algorithm, their Keyword Planner and how you should be reacting to these changes in 2017.

Before we begin, if this already sounds intimidating, take a look at Boostability’s free Google Training here:

Possum update

On September 1st, Google released an updated version of Possum which resulted in more positive movements than negative for small business owners.

google updates by boostability

The Possum update isn’t spam related like Penguin or Panda; its key focus is to improve the quality of search results for users making local searches. This means improved map listing for correctly set-up Google Plus accounts and greater visibility in local search.

The new update will give greater weight to businesses that have correctly created a strong, local SEO presence, seeing them rank above other websites that may not be useful to local searchers.

The update will provide a greater significance on the location of the user, showing businesses that are closer to his or her location than before. It wasn’t uncommon to search for a specific product or service and be presented with businesses in different towns or even cities, but the new Possum update aims to change all that.

Penguin update

On the September 23rd, Google announced the release of the newest and ‘last’ Penguin update. Google announced that Penguin is now part of Google’s core algorithm and all updates going forward are made in real-time.

Before this, changes would have had to be made manually and were only updated once or twice a year. These would be the times when Armageddon would break out as a small percentage of website owners would see their website completely disappear from Google.
With all future changes happening in real-time, businesses will have a better idea of what they did right or wrong when implementing their SEO going forward.

Penguin’s main focus is on devaluing low-quality backlinks and content, and aims to penalize a single page on a website rather than the entire site itself.

If you have noticed pages on your website are reaching fewer organic searches than before the Penguin update, then you can regain your page’s ranking by updating the content and creating high-quality, non-spammy backlinks.

Changes to Google Keywords

Arguably one of the biggest changes Google has made this year is to their Keyword Planner.

If you’ve used it recently, you may have noticed that the average monthly searchers are now grouped in much wider parameters.

Major Changes to Google Search Algorithm – Here's What You Need To Know

Google Keyword reports keywords in the following groups:

  • 0-10
  • 10-100
  • 100-1,000
  • 1,000-10,000
  • 10,000-100,000
  • 100,000-1 million
  • 1 million+

When targeting keywords that receive 1,000-10,000 searches per month, it will now become a lot more difficult to gauge whether they are worth targeting due to the huge spread.

Sources have been suggesting that Google is pooling search terms together, providing an even more skewed representation of what the search numbers really are.

For example, terms such as ‘social media marketing,’ ‘social networking’ and ‘social media platforms’ may all be grouped together, giving an un-realistic search amount if you were just looking to target the term ‘social media marketing.’

Major Changes to Google Search Algorithm – Here's What You Need To Know

In a nutshell, with the new changes you will not be able to segment keyword variations, plurals, acronyms, or words that have spaces or hyphens.

The clouds are falling – what should you do next?

Every time Google makes a change, as marketers and business owners we have a tendency to overreact and become worried. But each time Google makes a change, it’s to improve the experience for searchers and advertisers (after all, they make their revenue from us).

Here’s what you should be doing in the next few months in regard to the recent algorithm updates and Keyword Planner changes.

Don’t do anything crazy

First of all, don’t panic.

Keep a close eye on your analytics and monitor individual pages to see if any of your pages have been affected. If you have used white-hat SEO methods then there’s a good probability that you’ll experience no changes, or even an increase in traffic.

If you do notice that certain pages have dropped in rankings and page views, then it’s time to audit and see what is happening. Start by typing the page’s keyword into the search engine to see if newer, better content has taken its place. If so, a simple fix would be to improve the content on your own page to rank where you did before.

If your content has fallen several pages, then check your backlink profile for that page. You may have low-quality links pointing toward it which have been caught by the new Penguin update.

The key thing to note is that these updates are not permanent. You can rectify them and get your old rankings back with a proper SEO strategy.

Change is progress

Whether you’re new to SEO or have been using it for years, change is always around the corner.

Digital is one of the few industries where change is happening on a daily basis. Your mindset should be to embrace it and be ready for change, not to fear it or fall apart each time Google or Facebook releases a new update.

Google will release many more updates to its products throughout the year and even more in 2017. Change is good, and by adapting faster than your competitors it will give you a stronger online advantage.

Start grouping keywords together

With the changes to the Keyword Planner, Google is telling the world that it’s no longer necessary to create several individual pages when targeting terms such as ‘social media,’ ‘social media strategy,’ and ‘social media marketing.’

We’ve all come across websites in the past that use repeated verbiage to target specific keywords, often having several pages on their website that say the exact same thing. Google’s new algorithm changes have put this to bed.

Whereas before you would assign each page a single keyword, now the new changes would suggest that you would be better to assign a single page as many relevant and similar keyword variations as possible.

This may result in less pages for your website, but longer, more informative content that will now rank for several keyword variations rather than one.

Use third-party tools with caution

Certain third-party tools (such as WordStream) rely heavily on the Google Keyword Planner to provide you with keyword variations and relevant matches. With the recent changes, some tools may not have been updated yet and the data they output may not be accurate or as useful.

Both SEMrush and Ahrefs are two online keyword planning tools that don’t directly work from Google Keyword Planner data. Both of these tools could be a useful addition to your online toolkit.

W2ebsite reporting becomes more difficult 2

One of the easiest ways to measure your keyword progress was through looking at the reporting system in your Google Search Console or Google Analytics. Each tool would reveal the exact keywords users typed to find your page, giving you detailed information on which keywords to target for SEO and paid ads.
In the coming months, you’ll notice much fewer keywords being listed as they will be grouped together, making it much harder for you to know which keywords provided your business with the highest intent.

This is going to be one of the biggest drawbacks to the Google Keyword Planner changes. Going forward, you will need to pay attention to other metrics such as CTR and page views of individual pages than the keyword themselves.


It’s quite obvious that Google is making it more difficult for businesses to target a keyword and rank their business on the first page of the search by grouping together relevant search terms.

The goal for Google’s search engine is to provide users the most relevant queries based on their searched words. Will this make it harder for black-hat SEOers and low-quality websites to out-rank legitimate businesses and blogs? Only time will tell.

Have you been affected by either of Google’s two algorithm changes or bamboozled by their Keyword Planner updates? Leave a comment below letting us know your thoughts.

Kelly Shelton

Kelly Shelton

Vice President of Marketing at Boostability
Kelly Shelton has served as our Vice President of Marketing since June 2011. He began his marketing career in 1996 at Financial Freedom International, Inc. where he spent 12 years serving in various executive positions, including Licensee Manager and VP of Marketing. He later served as Marketing Director of Family Financial Education Foundation, a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) organization. Kelly has successfully managed large marketing departments and budgets and has handled major growth in each of the companies he has worked for. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Latin American Studies and Business Management from Brigham Young University.
Kelly Shelton

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