Google’s May Updates: Inorganic Backlinks, Page Titles, Fresh Results & More

google-g-logoGoogle’s latest batch of search quality updates is online, and offers some insight into a variety of search- and SEO-related topics.

Though some of Google’s monthly updates have included more than 50 items, this one comes in at 39. But it looks like there’s still plenty to digest.

Here’s a look at what stands out for me after a first read of Google’s blog post.

Inorganic Backlinks & Penguin

There are two items that would appear to be closely related to one another:

Better application of inorganic backlinks signals. [launch codename "improv-fix", project codename "Page Quality"] We have algorithms in place designed to detect a variety of link schemes, a common spam technique. This change ensures we’re using those signals appropriately in the rest of our ranking.

Improvements to Penguin. [launch codename "twref2", project codename "Page Quality"] This month we rolled out a couple minor tweaks to improve signals and refresh the data used by the penguin algorithm.

The fact that they’re listed separately suggests that the item about “inorganic backlinks” is not actually part of the Penguin algorithm. So what does the first item mean? I think Google might be saying that the signals it uses to detect link-related spam/schemes have been “appropriately” applied to other parts of the ranking algorithm, perhaps to help detect other types of spam/schemes. The wording isn’t clear, which is pretty much par for the course with these monthly updates. (I envision the search quality and webspam teams reading my recaps and your comments and chuckling at our attempts to figure this stuff out.)

Page Titles

A friend emailed me a week or so ago to ask what was going on with Google changing and editing his company’s page titles in the search results. I mentioned that Google had discussed this back in January, and that I was unaware of anything new.

How wrong I was. Google lists three changes in May related to how it displays page titles:

Trigger alt title when HTML title is truncated. [launch codename "tomwaits", project codename "Snippets"] We have algorithms designed to present the best possible result titles. This change will show a more succinct title for results where the current title is so long that it gets truncated. We’ll only do this when the new, shorter title is just as accurate as the old one.

Efficiency improvements in alternative title generation. [launch codename "TopOfTheRock", project codename "Snippets"] With this change we’ve improved the efficiency of title generation systems, leading to significant savings in cpu usage and a more focused set of titles actually shown in search results.

Better demotion of boilerplate anchors in alternate title generation. [launch codename "otisredding", project codename "Snippets"] When presenting titles in search results, we want to avoid boilerplate copy that doesn’t describe the page accurately, such as “Go Back.” This change helps improve titles by avoiding these less useful bits of text.

The first item there is what my friend was emailing about. Pages that had two-to-three long-tail keywords in the page title were being edited, and Google was displaying only the first keyword phrase in its search results. This was for an e-commerce site that sells items which can be described in a few different ways; Google apparently didn’t like seeing several keyword phrases in its search results.


Not sure if fresh content and fresh search results are important to Google? I’m pretty certain that every monthly update Google has published (they began back in November) has included something related to trying to make search results fresher. Keep that in mind. Here are the four freshness-related changes announced today:

Better detection of major new events. [project codename "Freshness"] This change helps ensure that Google can return fresh web results in realtime seconds after a major event occurs.

Smoother ranking functions for freshness. [launch codename "flsp", project codename "Freshness"] This change replaces a number of thresholds used for identifying fresh documents with more continuous functions.

Better detection of searches looking for fresh content. [launch codename "Pineapples", project codename "Freshness"] This change introduces a brand new classifier to help detect searches that are likely looking for fresh content.

Freshness algorithm simplifications. [launch codename "febofu", project codename "Freshness"] This month we rolled out a simplification to our freshness algorithms, which will make it easier to understand bugs and tune signals.

In addition to the above, there are several items related to Google’s Autocomplete feature, including one which will show some Autocomplete suggestions as “Related Searches” within the search results page and another that aims to reduce “low-quality predictions” from Autocomplete.

Also look for several items related to how and when sports-related answers are displayed, including showing such answers more often.

And the very first item on Google’s list, called “Deeper detection of hacked pages,” indicates that hacking notices are now showing up on deeper, internal pages that may be compromised, not just when the home page URL appears in search results.

Your turn: What items in Google’s post caught your eye? Comments are open.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: SEO | Google: Web Search | SEO: Titles & Descriptions | 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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  • Larry Chrzan

    Wonder if those inorganic backlinks were affecting inorganic rankings… Anyone hungry for some fresh content… or… fresh pineapples?

  • Taylor Toussaint

    [project codename “Social Search”]  – More and more Google+ integration.

  • ic web design

    Google + is being slowly enforced on people 

  • cgh85

     it most certainly is.

  • Ryan Burnsworth

    That is great info.
    I noticed the Page Title thing a week or so ago also.
    I was looking for one of my webpage in search, and it only had one keyword | Site Title
    Thought that was weird, because the Page Title is obviously different, and that was just once keyword from it.
    Now I get it. :)

    Thanks for the post Matt.

  • Gareth_Sear1

    Thanks for the update Matt! With regards to the title tag I noticed last night on my econmerce website that they are amending my description snippets and including the price in there. Anyone else finding this?

  • Thomas Klein

    Its obviously that freshness becomes one of the key elements for good rankings.

  • Gareth_Sear1

    Thanks for the update Matt! With regards to the title tag I noticed last night on my econmerce website that they are amending my description snippets and including the price in there. Anyone else finding this?

  • 1918

    Another “feature” that sacrifices search quality… “significantly improves the efficiency of our scoring infrastructure with minimal impact on the quality of our results.”

  • Star Padilla

    Google+ is definitely being enforced. The GA blatantly states the social sites/networks they ‘support’ .

  • William Slawski

    Good to see Tom Waits and Otis Redding  represented. Whoever is working on alternative titles updates for Google deserves a raise, or at least a commendation.  Looking forward to the codename arethafranklin and the samcooke updates now.

  • Karl Ribas

    Thanks for the update Matt. The changes to how Google handles page titles is a bit disturbing for the very same reasons your friend mentioned. I’m not sure I like this.

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  • Keli E

    We had some page titles changed in the SERP (brand name with a ® was used instead!!!) last week… happened to two sites, same industry and city.  Today… bamm… old titles are back. 

    SEO changes, death and taxes!  Count on it :)

    Keli E

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  • Don Halbert

    These latest updates are really something. I’ve been having a go at G for the past month over sites they sandboxed (aged) by mistake because of some sites that legitimately linked to my clients however they placed the links in the “blogroll” of a site with over 77k of indexed pages. 

    Guess what Google thought? Yea…u got it.

    Another incident (separate to the one above) is where Google sandboxed a site of mine then one day later congratulates me on a massive influx of traffic from an article that was getting over 800k pageviews in 3 days. 

    They claimed it was “unnatural linking”…

    WTH? A Russian forum (massively popular) decided to pick up the story and share it on their forums along with linking to my original article and video on the subject…yet again…another 40+ thousand links coming in. 

    End result was me blowing a gasket on them and calling them a bunch of Nazi’s – maybe that might get me results? LOL.

    PS: I did tell them however that with these kinds of updates, they leave themselves wide-open for negative SEO by competitors. Which sux.

  • David Johnstone

    I hope that these last few months will just be a blip for Google and they will correct their mistakes.  Off-page factors shouldn’t carry negative ranking influence.  If they DO continue along these lines, then we might as well give up trying to run a business online.

  • blinicorovi

    Positions of one of my site dropped dramatically today :(
    I guess that’s inorganic links problem agein, although I tried to follow recomendations about “non commercial anchors”, google changes make me feel bad :(

    Am I alone with my dropped positions or no?

  • Jaclyn

    My ńeighboŕ’s mŏther-iń-ląw Maḱes $8O houŕly on the laptoṗ. She has bėėn out of w0rḱ for 7 Ṁonths but ląst Ṁonth her ińcome wąs $8734 just worḱińg on thė laṖt0Ṗ for a ƒew hours. Gŏ to this web siṫe and ŕead morė.. CashLaz&

  • igor1

    Nope, you sure are not.

  • Jason Diller

    This is kinda what happened to meta descriptions a few years ago, isnt it?

  • helpstring

    They have to, or let it die wave-style.

  • RatliffSandy

    Have you ever wanted to earn cash online? That’s why I would like to tell you a website where the owner shares all ways of making money online. Did you know that you can make money trying products or clicking ads? Then you should visit ====>>> ⇛⇛⇛⇛► (Click At My Name For Link)

  • Max Lehmann

    That is great info. But google changes make me feel negative… SEO competitors could easily crash my website, with tones of bad links and google will punish my site..

  • astrageeks

    Thanks for the update Matt.Freshness becomes one of the key element for good page ranking.

  • astrageeks

    Thanks for the update Matt.Freshness is the key element for good page ranking.Thanks for the information that you have provided.

  • Anton Koekemoer

    As long as Google is still the #1 resource for obtaining information, everything that they say that can impact your SEO should be taken note of. Wave didn’t have an impact on SEO, Google+ does.

  • sharithurow

    Hi all-

    Regarding Google’s title updates…

    At first, I was a bit miffed about it. Because, as website owners, I believe Google (and any search engine) should respect how we choose to label our own content.

    Then, after thinking about it for awhile, are we truly getting better at labeling our pages (titles being an example of a label)? Maybe not. Some overzealous and overenthusiastic SEO professionals might build pages for every keyword combination they can muster without truly considering how both humans and search engines read these titles. That is one end of the spectrum.

    At the other end of the spectrum are people who do not realize that they are generating substandard titles or no titles as page labels. 

    So in spite of my initial miff, I understand why Google made the decision to alter titles. I don’t agree with everything about it, but I acknowledge that they are trying to deliver more accurate search listings. Google won’t get it right every time. And personally, I haven’t seen title modification be overtly egregious.

    I wish there were some kind of national or global initiative to genuinely teach people how to search more accurately (better queries) beginning in grade school. Not only query formulation but also evaluating search results. That way, students would know how to use the web search engines properly.

    I also wish there were some initiative to teach people how to label content appropriately. I have seen multiple curricula of college/university web design courses (and web development courses). Labeling doesn’t seem to be a topic that is taught.

    My 2 cents.

  • Nate White

    It would be nice to have a feature in Google Webmaster Tools showing which page titles have been changed, an explanation why, and tips on how to adjust your titles to meet Google’s standards. I don’t want Google holding my hand. If they want webmasters to meet a certain standards level then it’s their responsibility to point us in the right direction.

  • ChexSystems Info

    Google tells us not to over-optimize, yet they do it with their own search engine.

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