2017 had barely begun before Google revealed its plan to start issuing penalties to mobile pages that featured “intrusive” interstitials was fully operational. However, it was last year’s algorithm updates that gave the most significant indications as to where the world of SEO could be heading.

And because search engines are known for slow and incremental implementation, marketers won’t know how their techniques and tactics will be affected until now. So, here’s our expert SEO run down of Google’s biggest algorithm updates of 2016.

Core algorithm updates

In the second weekend of 2016, a number of sites witnessed major fluctuations in rankings, which sparked rumours of a Penguin update. There was also speculation that the swings were due to Panda integration, but Google staffers dismissed both suggestions claiming it was just an update.

AdWords placement

A major change to the appearance of the SERP occurred in February, when Google removed right-column ads. It also bumped up the number of ads in the top block to four, which pushed organic results below the fold, even on desktops. As a result, marketers have already witnessed an impact on CTRs.

AMP listings

Also in February, Google started displaying an AMP news carousel at the top of mobile results. This was part of the search engine’s promise to dramatically improve the performance of the mobile web. Since then, AMP adoption has continued to grow and expand.

Mystery update?

Despite the fact that major SERP tracking tools such as Mozcast, SERPmetrics, RankRanger, and AWR all recorded spikes during May, Google did not confirm the introduction of any major update.

Mobile friendliness

One update Google did confirm in May was the increased impact of mobile friendliness as a ranking signal for search results. However, this didn’t adversely affect the marketers that foresaw the online influence mobile would eventually have.

Possum

In an attempt to diversify local results and clean up spam, Google introduced the update Possum, which increased city limits, put greater emphasis on the physical location of searchers for rankings, and filtered businesses using the same address.

Image shakeup

September saw organic results undergo substantial change after half of the images dropped out of search results. Some claimed it was connected to the Penguin 4 rollout, but Google kept quiet.

Penguin 4

After a two-year hiatus, Penguin returned to the fold in September. It joined up with the core search algorithm and went real-time in the process, while links from spammy pages were devalued rather than penalising the entire site.