November 1, 2008

Google’s Halloween Update

by Brian Turner

Google's Halloween Update

Yesterday a number of webmasters and business owners got an especially bad Halloween fright from Google – their homepages tanked in the search results.

However, this morning the changes were rolled back, and the sites in question are back in position – for now.

Discussions began on Webmasterworld, and suggestions have been variously made that Google has been trying through October to reposition valid ecommerce sites for the seasonal market.

However, yesterday’s changes seriously impacted the homepages of a wide range of sites. A number of small ecommerce sites were affected, as well as some major brands.

Sometimes the homepage merely showed a significant drop – other times they were reported wiped out.

While implementation of a new penalty of filter was feared, the event coincided with a significant data push which saw Google Webmaster Tools data also updated.

So what actually happened – bad data push, or an algo change?

At present it’s impossible to tell, but whatever the cause, Google seems to have been equally unhappy with the results as search results have been rolled back to before the Halloween update.

Google Updates

Updates on Google are generally much smaller affairs than they used to be.

Up until five years ago, Google would update on a monthly basis, a process that affectionately became known as “the Google Dance”.

Then through 2003 Google started to implement a updates on a less predictable basis.

The most infamous of these was the so-called “Florida Update”, which began propagating on November 12th that year, and appeared to be an attempt by Google to bundle a number of changes into a single big update.

The changes to Google results were dramatic. Coming in the holiday shopping season, the changes were potentially ruinous for many ecommerce merchants who considered themselves “whitehat”, and Google was forced to publicly defend it’s actions as “anti-spam” in the world’s media.

While other significant changes have rolled out from Google since, most notably with the changeover to the “Big Daddy” datacentre structure through the end of 2005 and into Easter 2006, updates since then have tended to be much smaller and more frequent, so that they are often barely noticed by most users.

This is one reason why the Halloween update was such a shock to many people – they had simply never seen dramatic updates in Google before.

Google pushes on search quality

Google has an ever increasing number of search signals it can use aside from links, and an increasing stable of patents it can draw on for everything such as indexing and filtering.

It is inevitable that Google will continue to push on search quality as a user centred experience, and SEO remains as much a pro-active art as much as anything.

What will still leave a number of webmasters and business owners concerned is whether the Halloween update really was a bad data push – or a sign of things to come.

UPDATE: Google’s Matt Cutts puts this down to a “bad data push” at Webmasterworld:

I don’t consider those rankings indicative of anything coming in the future. Some data went into the index without all of our quality signals incorporated, and it should be mostly back to normal and continuing to get back to normal over the course of the day.

Discuss this in the Internet Business forums

Story link: Google’s Halloween Update


One Response to “Google’s Halloween Update”

  1. Catalin on November 9th, 2008 10:16 pm

    I think it’s a bad data push, which is unsolved yet (8 days after Matt’s message). I really don’t want to think that this is the new Google algo, as a lot of junk sites comes to top of SERPs. If yes, it means that Google made a big step back in terms of relevance and quality of SERP.

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