The Google Bourbon update

by | Sep 22, 2016 | SEO & Digital Marketing | 0 comments

As we launch our new Digital Marketing and professional SEO programs, we look back into this piece of Google history from 2005.

Update: As we launch our new Digital Marketing and professional SEO programs, where we handle most of SEO technicalities on behalf of our clients, we look back into this piece of Google history, in an article we originally wrote in June, 2005 following a major Google algorithm update.

On May 20, 2005, Google has rolled-out one of their bigger updates since their inception seven years ago. The new update is nicknamed “Bourbon”.

Normally, Google updates are considered a good thing because they tweak their algorithm slightly to keep on the cutting edge of fighting spam. However this update has caused thousands of legitimate sites to loose their rankings, even disappear from the Google index, therefore it is dealt from the Search Engine Optimization Industry (SEO) with great skepticism.

Google is asking webmasters and web site owners to be patient with the Bourbon update until the update is completely rolled-out and all Google servers (there are thousands of them) properly receive the update.

Even now, weeks after the completion of the update, fluctuations in Google rankings are still experienced and webmasters are struggling to understand why.

There is speculation within the Webmaster community that the Bourbon update didn’t go as planned and that there might be bugs in the new algorithm. Others speculate that one of the purposes of the new update is to give higher rankings to pages that include the Google AdSense program, in an effort to increase Google revenue through their AdWords program.

So far, it looks like the Bourbon filter/algorithm adjustment has gone after the following:

  • Duplicate Content – Including the same or very similar content on more than one page, even on different domains/subdomains.
  • Non-thematic Linking – Having links to pages which contain content irrelevant to the source page’s subject matter,
  • Low Quality Reciprocal Links – Links from “bad neighborhoods”.
  • Fraternal Linking – Creating a network of sites, which all link back to the same “master” site in an effort to boost the master site’s rankings,

Some webmasters speculate that the post-Bourbon Google seems to have gone wrong with their duplicate content detector. The same webmasters claim that there are many examples of Google restricting the original page to the “similar results” filter and instead assigning “authority” to the duplicate page.

However, upon reviewing a number of sites negatively affected by Bourbon, we have discovered that at least some of them have a number of things in common – basically two or more of the factors listed above.

Although no one knows for sure exactly how the post-Bourbon Google ranks web pages, there are a few lessons to be learned:

  • Do not include reciprocal links with any sites that contain content irrelevant to your own pages’ content.
  • Do not include reciprocal links with “bad neighborhoods”. For example linking to gambling sites or sites about Viagra – notorious for creating spam – might not be a good idea.
  • Stay away from networks of “similar” sites, designed specifically to boost rankings of a Master site that all sites link to.
  • For advanced users: Redirect non-existing pages using the 301 redirect status code call.
  • For advanced users: In some case, displaying the same content for both and might hurt you because Google is considering this as duplicated content. In Apache web server on the Unix world, this is easily fixed with a technique called “mod-rewrite“. Consider the following code:
    RewriteEngine on
    RewriteBase /
    RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^yoursite\.com [NC]
    RewriteRule ^(.*)$$1[R=301,L]
  • Think like Google – they are looking for “signals of quality” in an effort to present their users with the best search results. What such signals does your site have? “Relevant content” is one crucial factor. If one of your pages is about “reverse osmosis” make sure you write content specific to “reverse osmosis”.
  • If your site isn’t ranking well in the post-Bourbon Google, re-assess your strategy following as closely as possible all current findings from the SEO industry.




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The Google Bourbon update