Google Algorithm Change for December 2011, which will impact in late 20111 to early 2012
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Google Algorithm Update - December 2011

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The latest Google algorithm change is summarised below. I've (mostly) selected the ones which affect on-page SEO, plus a couple of other interesting updates, and followed each one by a comment.

In case you are not aware, in a bid to be more transparent, Google has been publishing a monthly list of algorithm changes for a while now. Of course, Google will never publish the entire ingredient list, but we can at least appreciate the fact that they are sharing SOME of their strategies and changes.

As well as attempting to be transparent, I'd suggest this also done in a bid to stop the constant speculation about algorithm changes they make by search engine optimisers - who don't always get it right!

Image Search landing page quality signals

Google Algorithm Change
[launch codename "simple"]
This is an improvement that analyzes various landing page signals for Image Search. We want to make sure that not only are we showing you the most relevant images, but we are also linking to the highest quality source pages.
Comment: Images play an important role in search. You need to manage your image optimisation as well as you manage your copy, or page optimisation. It all works hand-in-hand to help give you a better Google "reputation" and more relevance to searches. This change will see more importance placed on images which are surrounded by relevant text.

Better spam detection in Image Search

[launch codename "leaf"]
This change improves our spam detection in Image Search by extending algorithms we already use for our main search results.
Comment: The more accurate spam detection is, the better. When you search for (eg) "handmade jewellery Australia", or perhaps "handmade rings Australia", you want images to display which actually match the search.

Improvements to image size signal

[launch codename "matter"]
This is an improvement to how we use the size of images as a ranking signal in Image Search. With this change, you'll tend to see images with larger full-size versions.
Comment: I've noticed this change quite a bit lately. Often you would have seen images in Google Image Search which are tiny. This change seeks to address that problem. As evidenced by the aforementioned search phrases about jewellery, the first two search results in each are images which do not appear in the destination (a justweb® page), but are in fact linked to from thumbnail images on that page.

More relevant sitelinks

[launch codename "concepts", project codename "Megasitelinks"]
We improved our algorithm for picking sitelinks. The result is more relevant sitelinks; for example, we may show sitelinks specific to your metropolitan region, which you can control with your location setting.
Comment: "Sitelinks" are those sub menu style links which appear under a lot of website search results (search for the name of a business and it is likely you will see "sitelinks"). This algorithm update will see those links more targeted to search queries and searchers' locations.

Soft 404 Detection

Web servers generally return the 404 status code when someone requests a page that doesn't exist. However, some sites are configured to return other status codes, even though the page content might explain that the page was not found. We call these soft 404s (or "crypto" 404s) and they can be problematic for search engines because we aren't sure if we should ignore the pages. This change is an improvement to how we detect soft 404s, especially in Russian, German and Spanish. For all you webmasters out there, the best practice is still to always use the correct response code.
Comment: Any 404 error is not good, but now they are improving their detection of "soft" 404s, so hopefully some of these will disappear. You should always check your Webmaster Tools error pages for soft 404 reports and, if possible, fix them.

More accurate country-restricted searches

[launch codename "greencr"]
On domains other than .com, users have the option to see only results from their particular country. This is a new algorithm that uses several signals to better determine where web documents are from, improving the accuracy of this feature.
Comment: In the past, if you select (eg) "only show results from Australia", foreign search results still filtered through. This update will hopefully look closer at website location information and only display results from the country requested.

More rich snippets

We improved our process for detecting sites that qualify for shopping, recipe and review rich snippets. As a result, you should start seeing more sites with rich snippets in search results.
Comment: I've witnessed this taking effect already. For example, showing review rating stars and review authors using rich snippets - and it happens VERY fast. Itís a great way to get "noticed" in search results (SERPs), but ensure you don't "abuse" the system, and ONLY use ratings etc. if warranted. Remember, it is a privilege (in my opinion) to be selected as a news, review, shopping, video, or image source by Google.

More accurate byline dates

[launch codename "foby"]
We made a few improvements to how we determine what date to associate with a document. As a result, you'll see more accurate dates annotating search results.
Comment: You have probably noticed dates appearing next to Google search results for some time now. These are great for determining the chronological relevance of a page to a search you've performed. For example, if you are looking for information on SEO, an article dated 5 years ago may (or may not) be of too much assistance.

Related query improvements

[launch codename "lyndsy"]
Sometimes we fetch results for queries that are related to the original query but have fewer words. We made several changes to our algorithms to make them more conservative and less likely to introduce results without query words.
Comment: This is just a bit of "housekeeping" by Google - trying to ensure their search results are more accurately matched to a user search.

Encrypted search available on new regional domains

Google now offers encrypted search by default on for signed-in users, but it's not the default on our other regional domains (eg: for France). Now users in the UK, Germany and France can opt in to encrypted search by navigating directly to an SSL version of Google Search on their respective regional domains:, and
Comment: OK, now this is a change which I do NOT agree with. What it means for website managers/owners is they can no longer determine through Google Analytics what keywords are used to arrive at their website, IF the user is logged in or using encrypted search. Instead, the phrase "(not provided)" will appear in your analytics. Very helpful - not! So the more that encrypted search is adopted, the less accurate reporting will be. And the end game is.....?

Faster mobile browsing

[launch codename "old possum", project codename "Skip Redirect"]
Many websites redirect smartphone users to another page that is optimized for smartphone browsers. This change uses the final smartphone destination url in our mobile search results, so you can bypass all the redirects and load the target page faster.
Comment: Considering how much mobile browsing costs in Australia, this will be a welcome addition. But until people who build websites (for themselves or as a job) realise that many more people will be browsing their website on mobile devices, so 2 megabyte images are NOT cool, mobile browsing bandwidth usage will be kept high.

Better lyrics results

[launch codename "baschi", project codename "Contra"]
This change improves our result quality for lyrics searches.
Comment: Important for music fans and music websites. Song lyrics are very popular search strings, so again, more housekeeping to weed out the "rubbish".

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