Overview: Overall Gist:

The Google update from the 17th to the 20th of February 2004 resulted in significant changes to the search engine’s results. It is dubbed ‘Brandy’ by WebmasterWorld.

Algorithm overview:

It mingled with a slew of new elements. Some pre-‘Florida’ results appear to have been incorporated into the ‘Brandy’ update (another major update at the end of 2003). Google’s index was stored in several data centres around the world. Some of the old data centres have been taken offline since ‘Florida,’ and experts believe that Google has kept the old SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) preserved for the last few months.

Update impact:

If you’re a Webmaster, these changes were depressing to read — optimising your site for Google had become much more difficult. However, you could take several practical steps to improve your short and long term ranking.

  • Synonyms: Because LSI appears to be so important, it is critical to begin carefully reviewing the information architecture of each major section of your site and increasing the use of related words. It is also necessary to re-examine the title tags to incorporate this concept; good title tags include synonyms and avoid repetition of the key phrase.
  • Outbound Links: Provide links to authoritative sites on your topic. In the case of travel insurance, these authority sites could include the State Department, major skiing directories, etc. It will help with LSI, making it easier for Google to define the neighbourhood. You could also engage in link swaps with other businesses to benefit from an on-topic, LSI-friendly link.
  • Inbound Links and Link to Us Pages: Sites must develop a link development strategy based on what we’ve just said. Set up links with university websites (.edu or .ac.uk), as these appear to be valuable given Google’s information bias. A budget must be set aside to purchase links and create mini-sites.

What the Google Brandy targets:

  • Index Size Increase: Googlebot, Google’s spider, has had a busy few weeks — at the time of the update, Google announced that it had hugely boosted the size of its index.

However, to improve the index size, Google may have had to re-include some previously dropped pre-Florida results.

  • Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI): This is a notable new technology in which Google has long been interested, and its incorporation has been planned for some time.

It all comes down to synonyms. When analysing your page using LSI, Google may effectively remove all instances of the search keyword in favour of a close examination of other words. Take, for example, the search term ‘travel insurance.’

LSI-based algorithms will search for words and links related to skiing, vacations, medical, backpacking, and airports.

  • Links and Anchor Text: Links have always been the essence of Google, but the engine’s focus is shifting. Page Rank (PR), Google’s unique ranking system, is gradually losing importance in favour of the nature, quality, and quantity of inbound and outbound link anchor text.

If PR is reduced and the wording of inbound links is improved, this may explain, to a large extent, the current situation of many sites.

Previously, PR was spread, and other pages benefited from internal linking structures. Most people, for example, will link to a site’s homepage. Webmasters must now work harder to attract links that point directly to the relevant pages of their sites, using anchor text that is relevant to the specific pages.

Furthermore, outbound links appear to be used by Google to determine how useful and authoritative a site is. For example, successful directories use direct links to the sites rather than dynamic URLs.

  • Neighbourhoods: Links must come from related topic sites (the higher the PR, the better); these links will be used to define your ‘neighbourhood.’

For example, in the case of travel insurance, large insurance companies may purchase links on vacation-related websites to improve their ranking.

These companies will actively pursue targeted inbound links from various websites. As a result, Google perceives their neighbourhoods as narrowly focused.

  • Traditional tag-based optimisation is being downgraded: clever use of the title, h1, h2, bold, italics, and italics tags, as well as CSS, is no longer as important to a site’s ranking as it once was.

It’s fascinating to hear Sergey (co-founder of Google) discuss this because he’s the one who’s usually quoted about how people manipulate his index.

Why & How to Track Google Algorithm Updates
SERP layout changes due to the update

Google had made significant efforts to devalue traditional SEO techniques favouring LSI and linking, which are far less prone to manipulation by the masses. Google optimisation was much more difficult than it used to be. Success necessitates hard work and, possibly, the expenditure of funds to build a good mini-site network and purchase links on relevant pages. However, the index can still be manipulated.

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