Do Google’s Algorithm Updates Affect Every Business Niche Equally?

Jan 20, 2015

Yes and no might not be the most popular answer but it’s probably the most accurate. While Google has in the past seemingly targeted certain business categories such as payday loans, online Viagra sellers, and gambling sites, there is a little more to it than a simple dislike for the way some people earn their living.

Googles Algorithm Updates

In the cases cited above, Google was not targeting any particular business category per se but rather the spammy SEO practices that happened to be so prevalent in these niches. While many individual websites within the payday loan, online pharmaceutical and gambling verticals suffered devastating financial losses due to their disappearance from the search engine results, they were in clear violation of Google’s accepted webmaster practices.

Here’s one important fact about Google that bears repeating. Google sees its primary mission as providing a quality experience to the search engine user as opposed to providing websites with free traffic. Does this mean that Google hates webmasters? Of course not, but you’re never going to feel any Google ranking love unless your website provides genuinely useful and relevant content for the search engine user.

Why Did the Penguin Update Hurt Small Businesses?
Google’s Penguin update targeted a number of questionable linking practices that many webmasters had been using to unfairly game the search engine results. These practices included:

  • Low quality backlinks from spammy sites.
  • Over-optimized anchor text.
  • Paid links.
  • Irrelevant links.

In Google’s eyes, poor quality search results means unhappy users, so the offending websites simply had to go. Unfortunately, many smaller businesses were hit particularly hard not because Google chose to target them, but primarily because the typical small business has fewer resources than a larger company. Limited resources not also affects the ability to hire qualified SEO consultants in the first place, it makes it difficult to hire additional help for a quick response to an SEO emergency such as a new algorithm update.

Did Google’s Pigeon Update Target Certain Local Niches?
The intention of the Pigeon update was to bring additional organic search components to local search. Many of the big directory sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zagat, and Yellow Pages gained traction in the local search results with the Pigeon update due to their authority as a trusted source of local business listings. A number of local verticals including food, lodging, and education experienced improvement of up to 30 percent in local results; other local niches such as real estate, employment, movie theaters, and insurance suffered a dramatic loss of rankings – in some cases as high as 68 percent.

Why some local niches advanced in the rankings while others were decimated remains a mystery, but it was definitely not the result of any deliberate move on Google’s part to punish certain members of the local business community. Google algorithm updates have been known to sometimes have unintended consequences that have to be addressed in subsequent updates, and perhaps this is what happened with the Pigeon update.

How to Protect Your Website from Future Google Updates
Even though it’s impossible to accurately predict the nature and timing of future algorithm updates, there are a few things you can do to weather the storm.

First and foremost, you need to start thinking more like Google and less like a webmaster. Focus your energies and resources on building a website that provides the best possible user experience. This means quality content and natural link building.

While Google maintains a strict veil of secrecy around its ranking algorithm, it does from time to time share what it believes will make for a great user experience. Watch for these important clues about future updates by following the official Google blog at googleblog.blogspot.com and the webmaster blog at googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com.