Google’s April Updates: Bigger & Tiered Index, Document Ranking, Sitelink Changes & More

Google Logo - StockIf it’s the first Friday of the month, it must be time for Google to share its latest list of search quality updates. And, like clockwork, Google didn’t disappoint today — the company has posted a list of 53 changes that affect search results.

This list is particularly interesting because of all the upheaval happening this month, what with Panda updates 3.5 and 3.6 occurring in an eight-day span, along with the Penguin update and a Google screwup related to parked domains. Yeah, April was a crazy month for SEO folks.

As always, there’s a lot to digest and the most important items don’t always reveal themselves right away. But here’s a look at the items that caught my eye after a first read-through of Google’s blog post.

Bigger, Tiered Index

Perhaps the biggest news is that Google has increased the size of its base index — the collection of web pages and documents it can show as search results — by 15 percent.

Similarly, Google also says it’s launched a new “index tier.”

Increase base index size by 15%. [project codename "Indexing"] The base search index is our main index for serving search results and every query that comes into Google is matched against this index. This change increases the number of documents served by that index by 15%. *Note: We’re constantly tuning the size of our different indexes and changes may not always appear in these blog posts.

New index tier. [launch codename "cantina", project codename "Indexing"] We keep our index in “tiers” where different documents are indexed at different rates depending on how relevant they are likely to be to users. This month we introduced an additional indexing tier to support continued comprehensiveness in search results.

That sounds almost like Google’s old “supplemental index” system that launched in 2003, and it may be tempting to say the supplemental index has returned, or something along those lines. But, as far as I recall, Google never said the supplemental index was going away; it said they’d stop using the “Supplemental Results” label on search results that came from it.

SEO & Ranking Updates

Google has also announced numerous updates that relate to how documents are ranked, updates that sound like they’re at least related to — if not part of — the larger Panda and Penguin updates that are already well known.

Improvements to how search terms are scored in ranking. [launch codename "Bi02sw41"] One of the most fundamental signals used in search is whether and how your search terms appear on the pages you’re searching. This change improves the way those terms are scored.

Keyword stuffing classifier improvement. [project codename "Spam"] We have classifiers designed to detect when a website is keyword stuffing. This change made the keyword stuffing classifier better.

More authoritative results. We’ve tweaked a signal we use to surface more authoritative content.

More domain diversity. [launch codename "Horde", project codename "Domain Crowding"] Sometimes search returns too many results from the same domain. This change helps surface content from a more diverse set of domains.

If I were to guess, I’d think that the first two items above could be related to “spun” content — one of the practices that Google likely considers to be a hallmark of low-quality content. But that’s just a guess on my part.

The last two items — authoritative results and domain diversity — almost sound contradictory. At least to me. On a Friday afternoon during a long week with international travel.

Sitelinks Updates

There are several changes related to Google’s sitelinks and “megasitelinks” — the additional links that show up below a top-ranking result for some queries.

If you spend time trying to optimize for sitelinks (and if you have an authoritative site, it’s probably a good idea to be doing that), these changes are worth reading closely. Here are those changes, word-for-word from Google’s post:

“Sub-sitelinks” in expanded sitelinks. [launch codename "thanksgiving"] This improvement digs deeper into megasitelinks by showing sub-sitelinks instead of the normal snippet.

Better ranking of expanded sitelinks. [project codename "Megasitelinks"] This change improves the ranking of megasitelinks by providing a minimum score for the sitelink based on a score for the same URL used in general ranking.

Sitelinks data refresh. [launch codename "Saralee-76"] Sitelinks (the links that appear beneath some search results and link deeper into the site) are generated in part by an offline process that analyzes site structure and other data to determine the most relevant links to show users. We’ve recently updated the data through our offline process. These updates happen frequently (on the order of weeks).

Less snippet duplication in expanded sitelinks. [project codename "Megasitelinks"] We’ve adopted a new technique to reduce duplication in the snippets of expanded sitelinks.

The first item seems to be saying that sub-sitelinks may show up instead of a text snippet, which I think means that some search results could have two layers of sitelinks — megasitelinks below the main result, and then sub-sitelinks below one of the megasitelinks. I’ve not seen anything like that yet.

Local-related Changes

There are a couple changes related to local/geo searches and search results.

Improvements to local navigational searches. [launch codename "onebar-l"] For searches that include location terms, e.g. [dunston mint seattle] or [Vaso Azzurro Restaurant 94043], we are more likely to rank the local navigational homepages in the top position, even in cases where the navigational page does not mention the location.

Country identification for webpages. [launch codename "sudoku"] Location is an important signal we use to surface content more relevant to a particular country. For a while we’ve had systems designed to detect when a website, subdomain, or directory is relevant to a set of countries. This change extends the granularity of those systems to the page level for sites that host user generated content, meaning that some pages on a particular site can be considered relevant to France, while others might be considered relevant to Spain.

In the first item, Google seems to be saying that it’s able to able to identify the correct local result for specific navigational searches — such as a search for a specific local restaurant — even if the site/page is poorly optimized for local search.

It’s reminiscent of the “Venice” update earlier this year which involved Google launching ways to better correlate web pages/documents to their locations.

Miscellaneous Updates

In addition to the items I’ve highlighted above, read through Google’s post for these other items that caught my eye:

  • A change that should reduce amount of paginated results showing on a search results page.
  • Two changes related to snippets, including one which promises to show more text from the beginning of pages.
  • Three changes related to freshness — fresh results and freshness signals, and one that ignores fresh content if it’s deemed low quality. (There’s also an Autocomplete change designed to reduce the visibility of low-quality results.)
  • A change that Google says will help it show more informative/concise titles in its search results. (For what it’s worth, just about every SEO that I know wishes Google wouldn’t change titles at all.)
  • Improvements in how Google uses previous search activity to determine your intent as you continue to search.

That’s a lot to digest and something else may have caught your attention as being important. The comments are open, so let us know what stands out for you as you look through Google’s April search changes.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: Sitelinks | Google: Web Search | Top News


About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • Franz Enzenhofer

     ”NoRot” seems to be huge, it was mentioned 2x

  • Russell Jensen

    I saw some dramatic traffic increases across three sites I manage. One of which I don’t do any SEO for, it just sits there stagnant. Still trying to figure out which Google change caused it.

  • seotraffic

    Yes Even I have seen sudden increase in the traffic , I have not even optimized that website properly still m getting good traffic. m a bit confused

  • Megan

    As far as i m a concerned, i feel that what matt cutts said has now come true. He said even if you don’t do any SEO you still can rank or get traffic.  Which clearly means that if your site has  Top quality content – real content, appealing website then i feel that google would give such sites more traffic. Now here i have a point should we focus more on quality links or more on quality content or do no SEO.  

  • Seo Traffic

    Quality Content can Help you in earning Natural Backlinks , If you write quality content, other internet users may in turn link back
    to that article on your web page. Matt Cutts often advice website owners and search engine optimizers to do so. When a good number of links are pointing to your site , your website will rank high in all major search engines.

  • Marcus Miller

    Great content still needs SEO and that is even more true for smaller sites. Just what ‘great content’ is as well needs more clarification, it needs to be truly useful and ideally not already available and for most businesses, they simply don’t have those skills in house. SEO is, slowly, moving in a more positive, content driven direction though and that can only be a good thing. 

  • Daniel

    It appears that my blog is being recovered from the recent update. 

  • Peter Kern

    Wow! You just discovered America! And your name is Seo Traffic? Hahaha

  • Seo Traffic

    Peter Kern , thanks for giving me another chance to reply. I simply love commenting on blogs ;)  KEEP LAUGHING BRO !

  • Moinul Alam Ruman

    People talking about quality contents, interesting contents etc, but most of the e-commerce sites don’t have contents, for example, online shops don’t have much content, only products to view, auctions sites displays products, and a very little contents, so what about these sites? Its pathetic what Google are doing, they want e-commerce sites to come to their “Adwords”, its only for the sake of their marketing. If they are going to rank content sites rather than relevant ecommerce site, the webmasters of these sites would have to start adwords campaign. People are not looking for information all the time, most of the times they want to get something quickly, they don’t want to read whole bunch of words. Google is totally manipulating the internet, and as there are no law to protect them, they are doing what they want to do, totally pathetic. 

  • Nelson Dias Dos Santos

    I think it’s great that we all get a chance now — without SEOing the heck out of our sites and pages. To answer your question (sorry for chipping in Russell:)) I think one should still take optimization into account, but high-quality content takes the cake — content that benefits the reader/customer. The main thing is to strike a balance — regular quality content + natural backlinks, SEO, and everything else in fact. ;)

  • The Article BOSS

    This should actually be seen as an opportunity by websites (e-commerce sites) such as these. It forces online businesses to interact with their customers, which in turn will bring more business. You don’t have to go the Adwords route if you play it smart. See the glass as half-full I always say. :)

  • Web Designer, London

    I must confess, a couple of years ago I was one of those people who wrote primarily for search engines. I was still writing original content and spending time on it however in my copy I was a bit too concerned about SEO. At around some time last year, I stopped focusing on SEO completely and my focus in primarily on curating good content. There have so many SEO algorythm changes, panda updates, etc that I think ultimately this will be the only strategy that will work.

  • Avi Jit


  • stephan uys

    I am all for good quality, original, fresh, regularly updated and exciting content that get’s social responses and creates a buz with friends and the online community sharing such content.  But how much of all of this can be done by “plumbing services small town usa” or “electrician in tiny town UK” ? 

    Some topics just do not lend itself to some of these new algo requirements.  Must “plumber small town USA” sit behind his PC and post original, fresh and unique content that is going to create a buz and people are going to link to by themselves, to his website every night after he is done plumbing for the day?  Realy?

    Why not just show wikepedia results for everything that is on the Internet?  People obviously do not look for services and products online, just “original, unique and exciting” content to share with the friends online.

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  • cutey

    It’s crazy just how many updates we’ve been getting lately.

  • Serpitup

    It almost seems as if Google is on the verge of real time results. They have talked about “Fresh” content in nearly all of the recent updates. It could be that relevant high quality “Fresh” content will be the game in the coming years. This will definitely benefit bloggers and mega blogs ….

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  • michaelgerrard

    You are completely correct. Most local businesses just want to be found, not to constantly update and try to educate the world. Google Places is completely flawed. Google does not rank the local site – just includes the big players. So, what’s the local business supposed to do? It’s all about bullying businesses to use Adwords.

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  • Fergal Byrne

    “More authoritative results. We’ve tweaked a signal we use to surface more authoritative content.”

    I really feel this has given an unfair advantage to the big guys. So much for leveling the playing field.

    Honestly Google is basically teaching us SEOs how to run a business. People that try and brand themselves and actually consider themselves a business will do better in the long run.

  • Matt McGee

    Who says that only “big guys” can be authoritative? There are small business owners out there creating authoritative content, believe it or not. :-)

  • Megan

    I know quality content is great, but what about the algo its not able to detect the links which is relevant. This algo was actually developed to reduce rankings for those sites which were doing blackhat. Now i feel that google has targeted heavily on the link structure but doing so there algo has failed to detect the relevant links. Here is an example
    type “buy sunglasses” in and u will get to see on 1st page which actually redirects to another url  and you know what is the TITLE as seen in search “StoryCog – Projects”   what a joke? . This is redirected url

    And then u can also see a forum network54 in the 1st page. Now is this what you called “webspam update” ?

  • eCommerce

    There wasn’t any bigger updates other than Google Penguin. The next is about title, hope Google doen’t change at all..!

  • Admin

    I think google does indeed need
    better update again for his algorithm because why, an awful lot of web
    spam which is still prevalent in the index search page of google. Google New Penguin is BETA.

  • Marsha Crom

    Google’s new changes just killed the feed of all the items with calculated shipping on one of the websites I sell on.  “If it ain’t broke DON’T FIX IT”!

  • Sohal Khatwani

    So many updates each month it is hard to keep a track of them. Had a competitors site jump up a few places thanks to the updates. I am sure they are not doing any SEO but they now appear 3rd for a company’s name. It clearly shows SEO is really dynamic..

  • Mohammad Shadab

     I saw the minor traffic change on my blog.

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  • Diane Gracely

    I agree, when I go to an online store I am going there to SHOP. I want to find the product or products I am looking for, order them, and leave the site. I don’t want to have to read a bunch of CONTENT before I can FIND the products I am looking for, order them, and leave the site. So what is an e-commerce site to do? Do they still have to fill their web site with LOTS of content to keep up with Googles changes?????

  • Diane Gracely

    I agree, when I go to an online store I am going there to SHOP. I want to find the product or products I am looking for, order them, and leave the site. I don’t want to have to read a bunch of CONTENT before I can FIND the products I am looking for, order them, and leave the site. So what is an e-commerce site to do? Do they still have to fill their web site with LOTS of content to keep up with Googles changes?????

  • John

    It is the same story with classified sites. Google screwed us.

  • Michael Belk

    I do not do any SEO call it crazy but I am waiting on the dust to settle before I waste my time.

  • Tips to get back your ex

    I don’t know yet if these changes are good or bad but one thing I can say that most of the authority sites are getting more advantage and small niche sites are gone from the first page. Observed this in many niche, don’t know what is the case with you guys.

  • Jemmy

    Thanks that’s good info for me, one more question about improvements to local navigational searches? can you explain me in details ? Bebo Kobo

  • Andy Brown

    More authoritative results was definitely the most important update among also of them, to me at least. With Google Penguin update, I’ve seen results from big sites (e.g Yahoo) ranked a lot better than before. 

  • maggy kurt

    and in description you can see keyword stuffing as well…
    “storycog media communications consultancy uk video film
    science stem engagement training consulting workshops project
    management education”

  • maggy kurt

    ya small owners like wikipedia who occupied 46% of searches on first page..

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  • The Article BOSS

    I see what you’re saying. Looks like some manipulative black-hatting to me — which still works by the way, but offers short-term benefits normally. In their defense, they do sell sunglasses.

    We need to keep the following in mind:

    1) There will always be spam/spammers, and dodgy SEOers
    2) Google will not always be able to detect/eradicate them/it completely. Nothing we can do.

    –Neither will any other search engine for that matter. Why? Because there is normally a loophole, and where there’s a loophole there’s always an opportunist looking for one. :)

  • The Article BOSS

     Yup, that’s good old fashioned cheating.

  • The Article BOSS

    To answer your question… Yes — one just has to be smart about it.

    One shouldn’t think of it as posting fresh content for Google, but rather for potential customers. And ‘content’ isn’t just sitting there writing content for your site, it could mean marketing or anything else. A smart entrepreneur makes use of any and all opportunities available to him/her and capitalizes.

    Interacting with your customer brings new clients and return business, that’s the bottom line, doesn’t matter how you do it. Yes, it can be tedious, but you can outsource any kind of work these days. You can do quite a bit with “plumber small town USA” if you think out the box.


  • Tom Petryshen

    Matt, the Keyword stuffing classifier improvement could also easily account for sites that include large lists of links that repeat the keyword with a different identifier. The most common is similar to:

    1) Seattle Real Estate
    2) Peuget Sound Real Estate
    3) Tacoma Real Estate
    4) Repeat for next 25 locations….

    It’s not only keyword stuffing but it’s also unusable.

    Cheers.. Tom

  • Md Uzzal Hossain

    wow your post is so useful for me.i like your post,keep it.thanks
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  • Funny Jokey

    With all the 53 changes on algorithm, we can see the fluctuation… I presume its not done in good way

  • Peter Elmhirst

    If they’re for a term which was seo’er dominated then I would guess your increase in traffic would probably be because competing sites had their link values adjusted and they decreased in rank pushing you up (depending on how clean your seo tactics were for the 2 sites you were working on). I saw this with a bunch of my sites which had no seo work as well.

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