Google’s March Updates: Anchor Text, Image Search, Navigational Search & More

google-g-logoGoogle’s latest round of search quality updates is now available, and — at the risk of sounding like a grumpy old SEO — this month’s seems even more difficult to grasp than normal. There are a lot of words in this month’s list of 50 changes, but it appears to me that there’s not really a lot of explanation.

So be it, though. The monthly updates are a welcome thing from Google’s search team, and they’re always good to get discussion and speculation going.

With that in mind, here are a few of the items that stand out to me on first perusal of Google’s blog post.

Anchor Text Tweaks

There are two items on the list that make specific reference to how Google processes anchor text. Here they are, word-for-word from the announcement:

Tweaks to handling of anchor text. [launch codename "PC"] This month we turned off a classifier related to anchor text (the visible text appearing in links). Our experimental data suggested that other methods of anchor processing had greater success, so turning off this component made our scoring cleaner and more robust.

Better interpretation and use of anchor text. We’ve improved systems we use to interpret and use anchor text, and determine how relevant a given anchor might be for a given query and website.

The first mentions a specific classifier (i.e., signal) that’s been turned off; the second mentions a new way (signals?) for determining anchor text relevance.

Your guess is as good as mine re: what exactly that means. Comments are open if you want to speculate or tell us (and other readers) what you’ve noticed lately regarding links and anchor text.

Image Search Changes

There are also a couple items related to image search, and more specifically related to the quality of the pages on which images appear:

More relevant image search results. [launch codename "Lice"] This change tunes signals we use related to landing page quality for images. This makes it more likely that you’ll find highly relevant images, even if those images are on pages that are lower quality.

Improvements to Image Search relevance. [launch codename "sib"] We’ve updated signals to better promote reasonably sized images on high-quality landing pages.

In one case, lower quality pages are rewarded; in the other, “reasonably sized” (I read that as “smaller”) images on better quality pages are rewarded. I think.

Indexing Symbols

Google is no longer ignoring several punctuation marks and symbols. As the owner of a website whose name begins with the @ symbol, I love this one. (It used to be that searches for “@U2″ led to the official site,, not my independent site.)

Improvements to handling of symbols for indexing. [launch codename "Deep Maroon"] We generally ignore punctuation symbols in queries. Based on analysis of our query stream, we’ve now started to index the following heavily used symbols: “%”, “$”, “\”, “.”, “@”, “#”, and “+”. We’ll continue to index more symbols as usage warrants.

I would think this will also benefit searches for Twitter usernames, for example. And maybe hashtags? Haven’t checked on that. Feel free to ignore me.

Navigational Queries

There are a pair of updates regarding navigational queries:

Improvements to results for navigational queries. [launch codename "IceMan5"] A “navigational query” is a search where it looks like the user is looking to navigate to a particular website, such as [New York Times] or []. While these searches may seem straightforward, there are still challenges to serving the best results. For example, what if the user doesn’t actually know the right URL? What if the URL they’re searching for seems to be a parked domain (with no content)? This change improves results for this kind of search.

Better handling of queries with both navigational and local intent. [launch codename "ShieldsUp"] Some queries have both local intent and are very navigational (directed towards a particular website). This change improves the balance of results we show, and helps ensure you’ll find highly relevant navigational results or local results towards the top of the page as appropriate for your query.

On that second one, I did a search for the word “twigs.” When my location was set local to my hometown, Google showed results for a local restaurant named Twigs at the top of the results page. When I changed my location to New York City, it showed an East Village hair salon named Twigs. Results related to actual twigs (branches) were further down the page. If that’s what they’re referring to, this is an interesting change.

Other Changes Worth Reading Closely

Here are a few other things that caught my eye:

More accurate short answers. [project codename "Porky Pig"] We’ve updated the sources behind our short answers feature to rely on data from Freebase. This improves accuracy and makes it easier to fix bugs.

Improvements to freshness. [launch codename "Abacus", project codename "Freshness"] We launched an improvement to freshness late last year that was very helpful, but it cost significant machine resources. At the time we decided to roll out the change only for news-related traffic. This month we rolled it out for all queries.

Better indexing of profile pages. [launch codename "Prof-2"] This change improves the comprehensiveness of public profile pages in our index from more than two-hundred social sites.

There are also several updates related to synonyms and universal search results.

But what stood out to you as you read through the 50 search updates for March? Comments are open.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: SEO | 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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  • Chris Edwards

    The freshness really hurt my traffic. I have a few articles that I wrote a year ago that were high ranking and getting great traffic. The content was still relevant and up to date. The updates hurt these older pages in rankings thus affecting my my traffic. Since my site is a blog, these articles show in Google with a post date, however, the content is updated once a month with updated items. Before, this was not an issue since freshness didn’t seem to matter. Now, not sure what to do. 

  • Chris Edwards

    Although my site took a dive on my older content, the freshness has not really helped me in my own searches I have made. I find myself having to select “Past Year” in order to get relevant articles for terms I search for. I do know that my own articles went down in rankings due to freshness. LOL sorta feel shafted on this one. 

  • Josh Kohlbach

    I’d like to know how Google determines if the page is fresh. Obviously it wouldn’t be just looking at the post date, but also the date that it first discovered the page and how long ago the content was updated significantly.

    At some point though, Google’s gotta give us some credit for building pillar article type content. It’d be interesting to see if this older content would still pull rank if it had lots of relevant links to it.

  • Bill Wynne

    Doesn’t seem to me that there is a lot you can do to meet their updated guides. As you said, there is nothing specific. So just keep doing good ole natural writing with a keyword emphasis.
    That’s my plan.

  • costini

    Intetesting article thanks for sharing. The confusing part in the non disclosure of anchor text changes. The question is what would make the system more robust?? The web has two schools of thought when anchor text turn into quality driven google traffic. — between words or not

  • Warren Redlich

    My second biggest site took a moderate hit (down roughly 30%) starting about 2 weeks ago. Whatever it was had little or no effect on my other sites, which are all different but still in the same ballpark. Maybe I haven’t updated this one as much? Wondering …

  • Praveen Nair

    It is confirmed that Anchor text for a specific link is not useful anymore but what the pattern changed, still undisclosed and then what i thing 
    for anchor text relevancy I think google is pushing toward the author tag for content  . 

  • Χρήστος – Αναστάσιος Κωστούρος

    It is as simple as it sounds. The anchor text metrics are now checking the targeted’s website revelance based on “that” anchor text which means:

    1) The desired linking anchor text must be found in the website’s domain name or within website’s title or h2 or content.
    2) Synonyms of the anchor text.

    Thats all. You cannot “seo” for a website which sells leather beds and have it having anchor texts for “love”. There is no way a bot could identify the keyword before anchor text or after anchor text in a linking profile since there is no such algo created. If that was the case, adobe wouldn’t rank #1 for “click here”. And yes, having adobe ranking for “click here” does not means that it has a huge linking profile with “click here” but in their own website, all their products have the “click here”.

    So, this is the conclusion.

    Assuming you have a website selling beds with an internal page of leather beds, which is present in the main page of your website. If you now seo for “leather beds” on the main domain, the internal page will appear. This is the new thing they did which is so cool and it is simple.

  • Tennistas

    Im not a big fan of this update. The problem now here is (in Holland) that local linkdirectories become more important. So Google gives the directories more traffic, and through those directories the searcher will go to the website they are looking for. Like a search engine inside a search engine. 

  • Joseph Gourvenec

    Hi All,


    Anchor Text Tweaks

    My interpretation of the Anchor Text tweets is simply better contextuality.  1. Link – surrounded by
    relevant copy / content.2.The page it links
    to is also relevant and contextual to the inbound link/s


    = improved signals for
    improved relevance


    If that makes sense





    Kind Regards,

    Joseph Gourvenec

    SEO and Search Specialist

    Twitter: @josephgourvenec



  • Rob Willox | WebMedia SEO

    I agree that the more information to explain what they are doing or attempting to do tends to confuse more than enlighten and if I was being cynical, that may well be the intention.

    I say that as if they were to be exactly specific and say ‘do this’ and ‘this will happen’ it might open up the opportunity for far more abuse and there is always the high probability that some will attempt to game the system rather than take it on board and improve their content and make it more relevant and more indexable to help improve the serps.

  • Massimo Foletti

    Mr G is sometimes a nightmare

  • Graphic Design Elite

    Unfortunately due to the abuses of our SEO predecessors, Google provides very vague information about their updates, most likely so that SEO managers won’t exploit the new rules for personal gain like has been done in the past. Balance that of course with attempting to programmatically serve the best page possible with every search… 

  • E_3

    I hadn’t even considered that benefit. Great point.

  • Miguel Blanco

    One SEO expert is now suggesting we use a lot of url links plain without anchors. Does anyone else here see this as something we should do? From what I gather it seems what google is doing is making anchored links less important than they were before, and maybe this is in order to minimize the affect internet marketers have by using anchor texts a certain way to gain rankings, especially those that use software to create such links in articles etc.

    The more I read about google updates it seems a big part of what they are trying to do is fight the influence SEO experts and internet marketers are able to have. But it will never really work, we’ll just adjust to the new rules. (Though google is forcing us to keep in our toes.)

  • Mobila Bucuresti

    Anchor text works. The main factor I have noticed in anchor text working is making sure the anchor text varies while still having the same keywords in there as much as possible. Also just as important, the uniqueness and relevance of the content it is linking from.

  • Katherine Andes

    I’m excited about the punctuation indexing. Very cool. Hope it’s true. 

  • Bikram Kawan

    Confusion in alt is always for me mostly in wp blog.

  • Ram Babu SEO

    Google seems to working hard something even more cleaning their system to provide best results to the users! these some onpage would be the best sorted practices we can apply to earn online business value

  • Searchen Networks ®

    Very likely something to do with when not to utilize the anchor text, similar to no follow.  If “nofollow” appears, the anchor text is not utilized. If this new characteristic is found or not found, anchor text is utilized. What they are looking for is whether or not a specific piece of content which contains a link has a characteristic which indicates it is promotional in nature, at which point, they will not take the anchor text into consideration. 
    It goes beyond the content itself.

  • Friendship SMS

    I expect anchor text data will be combined more with the contextual content surrounding the tags. Also think by ‘reasonable’ size images they mean of decent resolution and size, not small images such as thumbnails. Very interested to see feedback and findings from others on the impacts.

  • ditoroin

    Excellent improvements.

  • Market Samurai

     Exactly! It would be nice to know which are those 200 social sites google considers to be most important.

  • AdwordsAgencySA

    Yes this is the one that I would love more information on…

  • AdwordsAgencySA

    Its one thing to say it, its another thing to get clients to buy into it, especially SME’s that don’t have time.

  • Tonya Becker-Haddadeen

    LOVE IT! Thank you Search Engine Land for another great post about SEO and Google!

  • Terry Lamb

    Everyone can keep speculating on what Google is doing organically and I’ll keep crushing it with PPV – Oh, look out there goes another shiny Google object; go get it.

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