7 Google Algorithm Updates Every SEO Should Know


Google Panda

What does it do?

This algorithm update is the most likely to strike you.

Google Panda evaluates websites based on the quality of their content.

Pages with high-quality content are rewarded with higher ranking positions, and vice versa.

It boils down to how good you are with on-page optimization.

What triggers the Panda?

  • Thin content. This doesn’t necessarily mean content with too few words. Need a demonstration? Type “is it Christmas?” in Google’s search bar and see what’s ranking first. The site checks the date and then just says Yes or No in your local language. I won’t encourage you to be laconic like a Spartan, though. When you create content, make sure it provides an explicit answer to the user’s search query.
  • Low-quality content. This means content that hurts you to even look at it, let alone read. Poorly formatted text with grammar errors, huge or otherwise distracting images, design that negatively affects a user’s experience – anything you suspect will rub users the wrong way, will. Their visit to your site should be enjoyable.
  • Unhelpful, untrustworthy content. The kind that doesn’t help the users who found it or causes outright harm. Google has no tolerance for incompetence and con artistry. Strive to be a positive force.
  • Duplicate text. It’s often referred to as “duplicate content”, but Panda really only frowns upon copied chunks of text. Images are fair game. Videos are fair game (except on YouTube). Text is where you should be careful. It’s OK to reuse small bits of text as quotes – if you properly mark them as quotes in context. Reusing text and passing it off as your original work, is a no-go. Do that on enough pages to hamper the quality of your site, and Panda will take action.
  • Article spinning. This refers to attempts to avoid issues with duplicate content by rewriting text from another site. Unfortunately for those who try it, good content also needs to be original, and spinning often lowers the content’s quality as well (especially if you automate the process with software).

How to recover?

Are you positive your site was hit by Panda? Then your course of action is to improve your content’s quality.

If it’s obvious to you which pages need more work, overhaul them: remove all that offends users and the algorithm and put up more of the things deserving approval.

Google Penguin

What does it do?

This is the second algorithm update most likely to hit you. Penguin has a lot in common with Panda, but it evaluates websites for a different factor: their link profiles. Backlinks positively affect a site’s rankings if:

  • They are placed on pages contextually related to your linked pages
  • They are surrounded by content related to your linked pages
  • They point to you from trustworthy sources
  • They come from multiple different domains

Conversely, dubious links from shady sources will negatively impact your rankings. Penguin makes sure of that.

Important note: Google Penguin is not the same as Google’s manual actions for unnatural linking. Penguin is completely automatic and will let its grip on your site when unnatural backlinks are no longer a factor. To deal with a manual action, you’ll need to submit a reconsideration request in addition to purging those links.

What triggers the Penguin?

  • Buying links. It’s a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to acquire links that pass PageRank in exchange for money or products.
  • Lack of anchor text diversity. Text inside backlinks is another factor affecting the quality of your link profile. If this text is the same everywhere, it will look to Google like an attempt to manipulate your rankings.
  • Low quality of links. A backlink will set Penguin off if the content surrounding it is low-quality or contextually irrelevant to the linked page. You can’t always control who links to you, but you should do all you can to get rid of links that harm you.
  • Keyword stuffing. Surprise! You’d think this would be Panda’s territory, since keywords are on-page content. But Penguin also watches for an unnatural use of keywords. Have you ever encountered pages with long, near-meaningless sentences filled with dozens of search queries? That’s what keyword stuffing looks like at its worst.

How to recover?

If the problem is in the backlinks department, you should dig through the ones you have.

The easiest way to do this is to scan your site with WebCEO’s Backlink Quality Check tool.

Once you’ve found all the bad apples in your basket, take them down through any means available.

If you are able to remove them manually, do it. If you can talk to the person who manages the linking domain’s content, do it. For cases when these two options can’t work out, there’s the Google Disavow tool.

Then get the keywords on your site in order if you’ve messed up with them, too. Reduce their numbers until the text looks natural everywhere.

You can scan your site’s pages with WebCEO’s Landing Page SEO tool to check how much of their content in percent is keywords.

Google Pigeon

What does it do?

If you’ve ever dabbled in local SEO, you most likely know about the ranking factors involved in it.

But did you know Google uses them in a separate search algorithm?

Two algorithms – one for traditional web search, the other for local search. Such a divided approach returned less than ideal search results. An update was needed to make the two algorithms cooperate better, and so it was made.

The outcome?

A website’s rankings are now determined by its respective business’ location and distance from the user: the closer, the higher.

In addition, Google shortened its 7-pack and remade it into the 3-pack. It was certainly a great help to users… But for businesses, it’s now a priority to compete for those precious three positions.

What lies in post-Pigeon SEO?

There isn’t much you can do about the distance between your business and the user. But to attract the users who are close enough, there’s everything in your power to help your site appear higher in search.

Strengthen your ranking positions as you normally would with SEO:

  • Create high-quality content related to your niche.
  • Use keywords that include your location.
  • Optimize your site for mobile devices.
  • Build links from reputable sources.

Optimize for the local search algorithm, as well:

  • Use text, images, and videos in your content that are strongly associated with your location.
  • Create listings on business directories and Google My Business.
  • Include NAP (name, address, phone number) citations in those listings and on your own site.
  • Gain positive reviews and testimonials from your customers.
  • Leverage structured data on your site’s pages.

Google Hummingbird

What does it do?

Unlike Panda and Penguin, the purpose of Google Hummingbird wasn’t to change how websites are ranked – at least not as directly.

Hummingbird aimed to improve search itself: by interpreting the user intent behind a query, it made the algorithm return webpages that would be the most qualified for the task. The context around keywords became just as important as the keywords.

What lies in post-Hummingbird SEO?

Hummingbird started the era of semantic search as we know it.

How to meet its standards?

The key lies in understanding what exactly users want to find when searching online.

Most of the time it’s obvious, especially if the query is in the form of a question. Provide answers in your content and be generous with details, synonyms, and contextually related words.

It’s highly recommended to thoroughly research the subject before you write about it; that way, you will possess all the necessary vocabulary and the means to use it correctly.

Be careful: the point is to help your audience, not confuse them. You don’t want to come off as a pseudointellectual who tries too hard to fit in.

Where to find semantic search-friendly keywords and phrases?

Wikipedia is a great example of a site optimized for semantic search (and it was even before Hummingbird). Thanks to being rich with information, its articles almost always satisfy user intent behind one-word and “what is” queries – because that’s precisely what Wikipedia is for. The same is true for other search results that appear for such queries.

Google Payday Loan

What does it do?

Payday Loan shares a few things in common with Google Panda and Google Penguin, but it’s not to be confused with them. It’s a separate update in its own right. It rolled out in 2013 when Google decided to drain the swamp of pornographic, casino, and high interest loan sites.

This update was straightforward and simple. It targeted sites using high-risk SEO methods (such as spammy links) to rank for the above mentioned keywords: sites with pornographic content, high-interest loan sites, casino sites and so on.

Naturally, sites that were optimized for those queries without resorting to spam techniques were not affected – in fact, some have reported an increase in their traffic when their competitors were downranked.





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