Google Algorithm Updates: What’s in Them for You?

If you’re on Twitter, you’ve probably encountered tweets like this:

This was just last week. Panicking yet?

Google denied a Penguin update—that’s about the extent of what they’ve said—but a major Google update did happen just recently. Webmasters and other practitioners have reported changes in rankings.

Every month, Google rolls out one or two updates to their algorithms. Sometimes people become aware of these updates, sometimes not. But, all of them affect something, just not always search ranking results. How do you leverage such algorithm updates to your advantage? Are your SEO strategies ready for these changes?

Here’s a short discussion on the most popular major Google algorithm updates:

Panda, 24 February 2011

This monthly rolled-out update has penalized thousands of sites since its launch in 2011. The idea behind Panda is to assign quality scores to webpages, and in the process hit the spammy and poor-quality ones with penalties and down-ranks. It was initially used as a Google filter, but early this year it became an official part of the ranking algo. Panda still does not hit search results real time, but its addition to Google’s recent updates for SEO ranking means more updates are happening, and more often.

Here’s what will happen if you’ve been hit by Panda:

Panda, 24 February 2011

Pro tips: Avoid spam, keyword stuffing, duplicate content, and plagiarism. Whenever you upload content, ask yourself first if it has quality and if it serves your website’s users and visitors. Always take into account user experience.

Penguin, 24 April 2012

Unnatural link profiles took a hit when the Penguin rolled into town. Manipulative linking techniques have since suffered penalties and loss of credibility. Down-ranking is a direct result. Penguin, unlike Panda, is still not incorporated into Google’s core ranking algorithm—but it will be eventually. Google will also make it real-time, which means penalties will be handed down left and right with more speed.

Look at how a Penguin penalty affects your traffic as compared to a Panda penalty:

Penguin, 24 April 2012

Pro tips: Audit your website for manipulative links, or those links from spammy sites. Links from purely SEO link-building sites are also Penguin bait, so avoid them. Linked sites that are not topically relevant are also suspect.

Hummingbird, 22 August 2013

Hummingbird is not a penalty algorithm update by nature, unlike the first two above. Its job has to do with ranking, based on a more advanced interpretation of search queries. Google realized that most people use longer, more conversational searches instead of keywords alone to arrive at what they really want faster. It made the search engine smarter, able to interpret intent rather than mere keywords. Keyword synonyms have also been optimized. Instead of just finding search results with the keywords in them, you now see suggestions without the keywords but are a closer match to what you may be after.


Source: Yoast YouTube Channel


Pro tips: Upload original content that brings users value. Don’t rely on exact-match keywords; do some intensive keyword research and focus on concept rather than exact-match. Stuffing your webpages with keywords will hurt it, not help it. Always keep improving with user experience in mind.

Pigeon, 24 July 2014 (US)

This has to do with serving up results to the user based on the user’s location. Right now, it only affects searches in English. It has brought the local algorithm closer to the core algorithm. Pigeon strengthened results for local businesses, as Google is able to determine which of them is closer to a user at the time the user made a search.

Here’s what Mike Blumenthal has to say about the Pigeon algorithm:

The bottom line in all of this? Searcher behavior is changing and Google is changing right along with it.

Pro tips: Set up your Google My Business page properly. Remove poor quality backlinks. Look into local directories where you should be featured. In other words, help Google help your local customers find you.

Mobile Update, 21 April 2015

This is like a Pigeon, but for mobile. Webmasters and tech experts around the world called it “Mobilegeddon” when it was rolled out. It changed search rankings for users of tablets and smartphones. This update gave a ranking improvement to webpages optimized for mobile searches. Before this update, a website’s mobile friendly or unfriendly nature did not merit page level. This, however, does not affect desktop searches.

So, is there a mobile update happening this year?

Pro tips: If you’re building a new website, build it for mobile first, desktop second. If you have a website already, make it mobile-friendly. Mind how your website appears on a smartphone screen: can you still read it without eyestrain? Is it equally user-friendly on landscape and portrait views? Focus on responsive design. Use this guide to build a mobile-friendly site.

RankBrain, 26 October 2015

Google has launched a machine learning system to further improve the serving of best-matched results in response to the meaning of a query: RankBrain. It’s not exactly an algorithm,  but it’s one of the hundred signals of Google’s algorithm. RankBrain is self-teaching, which means it gets better over time. While it does take into account the SEO mainstays like links and optimization, it puts a higher premium on webpage relevancy to a query based on indexed pages’ features.


Pro tips: User experience is the major factor that matters here. The relevance of your site to the user’s query brings it a higher ranking. Do not ignore your competition; research on them instead. The more content your site has that is relevant to a query, the better.

Google has been rolling out these massive algorithm updates for years, making the search engine more powerful and intelligent than ever. While these updates have the power to change the outcome in your bid for online relevancy, it would be unwise to build, write, and produce for the search engine. Focus on quality and providing your users the value they deserve, and stay on top of their behavior. Everything else will follow.



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