Google has got stuck into 2014 right away by seemingly pushing out a new algorithm update in early January.
A few people have been sounding off about movement in rankings that have been stationary for some time, both minor position swaps and major leaps/falls, which has fuelled speculation about the update although Google are yet to admit anything directly.
Last month they implemented the promise from Matt Cutts at PubCon 2013 that they would be reducing the amount of rich snippets appearing in search results by 15% to combat the rise in black hat tactics that piggy-bag on authorship. The black-hatters were getting around the authorship issues by placing the quality content from the author on a site and linking it back to the author’s Google+ profile, reaping the benefits of the author’s high rank for their site.
So now as well as providing high quality content, authors have to have a recognised social media presence to enhance your reputation as an authority. This makes sense, as analysing a supposed authority’s social circles in Google+ will indicate whether they are active in the industry or trying to spam. This also means that if you are a genuine authority in your field you don’t need to do anything differently, because you will already have the social circles in place.
According to Moz, there was an unnamed update in December last year as well as the Authorship update, this update didn’t seem to affect much so can be ruled out of the current speculation.
The update seemed to still be going on as of last Friday, with reports from many people saying they haven’t noticed any change whilst others are saying they are noticing their sites shuffling. A couple of people have even mentioned that sites that have had no optimization done for months are suddenly leaping up the rankings.
As Google updates its algorithms up to 500 times a year, it’s difficult to pinpoint whether this is a small tweak or if it’s another Penguin-esque update. Many of the minor tweaks and adjustments that cause turbulence for a few days settle after a week or so but may still affect your rankings. If you are using a modern CMS and have a basic grasp of how SEO works then you probably don’t need to worry about the small updates, but keeping an eye on them is advisable for the next week or two.
If it’s important enough to do anything about, then Google usually makes it public a la Penguin/Panda. Albeit this is usually a few days or even weeks after the update has gone live and a lot of the damage or rankings boost has already taken effect.