Algorithm Updates vs. Data Refreshes

Google launched the latest major update to their search algorithm on May 22.  This update is actually the fourth Penguin-related change that Google has rolled out, but since it’s an update to the algorithm rather than just a data refresh, they called it Penguin 2.0 rather than Penguin 4.

In addition to rolling out the Penguin 2.0 update, Google’s Matt Cutts has also mentioned plans to provide relief for sites that have been impacted by the Panda update.  With all of the changes Google has been implementing recently, I figured that now is a great time to remind everyone of how algorithm updates differ from data refreshes. In a video released earlier this week about misconceptions in the SEO industry, Matt touched on the subject, suggesting that many webmasters get the two confused.

“When you’re changing your algorithm, the signals that you’re using and how you weight those signals are fundamentally changing,” Matt said. “When you are doing just a data refresh then the way that you run the computer program stays the same, but you might have different incoming data, you might refresh the data that the algorithm is using. That’s something that a lot of people just don’t seem to necessarily get.”

Google frequently updates its algorithm, and sometimes these updates have major effects on a lot of sites.  In a blog post that dates way back to 2006, Matt summarizes an algorithm update as the following:

Typically yields changes in the search results on the larger end of the spectrum. Algorithms can change at any time, but noticeable changes tend to be less frequent.

He summarizes a data refresh as this:

When data is refreshed within an existing algorithm. Changes are typically toward the less-impactful end of the spectrum, and are often so small that people don’t even notice. One of the smallest types of data refreshes is an index update, when new indexing data is pushed out to data centers.

Data refreshes happen more often than major algorithm updates. Matt uses a car metaphor to show the difference between the two.  He compares an algorithm to changing a part in the car, whereas a data refresh is more like changing the gas.  I don’t know about you, but I pump gas a lot more than I change out my car’s parts.  Data refreshes happen all the time, he says.

Google’s overall goal when updating an algorithm or refreshing data is to make the site better for users, whether it’s by eliminating web spam or low value web pages and by providing more relevant results.  I think it’s safe to say that these changes are not going anywhere, as I doubt Google is about to get lazy on their mission.  As a search marketer I’m just glad that they often provide a heads-up on what to expect and give tips on how to protect your site or help it recover after it’s been affected.  As long as webmasters and search marketing professionals play by Google’s rules, their site has a much better chance of surviving the devastation of the updates and refreshes.

Watch the full video about misconceptions in the SEO industry here:

Algorithm Updates vs. Data Refreshes by

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