The New SEO - How Google Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird Shaped The SEO Industry

February 12, 2014 Hannah Eisenberg 1 Comment

Cute and cuddly animals have gotten a lot of bad press in the last years: all because Google named its major algorithm updates after Panda (2011), Penguin (2012) and Hummingbird (2013). You might have heard of them, but what are the Google algorithm updates even about? What do you need to know about them?

Panda Updates Penalize Weak Content Sites

Recently I saw a job proposal asking for a SEO expert to embed some keywords in the background to make her page rank #1 on Google. Lots of people still believe that stuffing keywords somewhere will do some ranking magic!

Even a few years ago, keyword stuffing (using the right keywords in a much higher percentage than in natural language) used to be the default go to practice when that was the major ranking factor of search engines. Now the keywords tag is mostly ignored, or only used to detect spammy pages.

The Panda updates also changed the way even well established SEO’s were doing business. Now it was not good enough anymore to have professionally well written, well optimized, unique content. It has to do more, it has to pop, make you want to socially share it. Of course this is much easier said than done, but what it essentially did was to make SEO’s and their clients write with more personality, more flare, take on a certain style. The ones that understood this would also fair a lot better in a future update to the Google Algorithm, Hummingbird, as discussed below.

Google Panda Rewards Good Quality Content on Websites

Basically, Google tries to reward high-quality websites that meet the following criteria:

  • Website provides reader with high-quality content that is unique
  • Avoiding duplicate content
  • Eliminates low quality pages
  • The author is the authority in its field
  • Content is socially shared
  • Has Low Bounce Rates (Visitors who get to the site leave right away)
  • Have a great user experience
  • Avoid keyword stuffing, the same anchor text and
  • Has high-quality backlinks

Google Penguin Eats Bad Backlinks

Another popular tactic to get higher rankings in the SERPs (search engine results pages) was to have a ton of backlinks point to your site. For the most part it did not matter how you got them, where they came from, how relevant they were, or how much authority that site had. Lots of backlinks, or link juice, got you ranking. Google’s Penguin updates, first started in April 2012, tried to put an end to this.

Link building is a major part of the ranking factors for Google’s algorithm, as was proven through testing and even Google’s own admission. However with Penguin, Google wanted to get rid of sites that were using black hat techniques, like link farms and link schemes, to improve their rankings. Now, every back link needs to be investigated for quality and if it does not meet Penguin standards, it should be disallowed.

Still even today, with all the Penguin updates, link juice is still a way to make money for a lot of back-hat SEO's. For instance you can go onto Fiverr and search for link building, and find some who for $5 will get you at least 20,000 guaranteed live backlinks, but probably more like 35,000. You can also add on to this gig, get also 200,000 verifiable backlinks from blog comments for an extra $40. You also get a detailed report. Makes no sense SEO-wise, but people are buying it every day, and giving great feedback about it.

PenguinEatsBadLinks

What do you need to do to stay in good favor of Penguin?

Penguin likes natural progression in link building. It penalizes sites that are over-optimized for a few keywords as well as sites that use low-quality and duplicate content. What is considered best practice today is to naturally build links from authoritative and high quality sites. Of course you can be very aggressive and hire a reputable link building company to do it for you. This way you can be assured that a majority of your links will send the right signals to Google that these links are legit and were not paid for (at least directly).

Google Hummingbird

With many Penguin and Panda updates, so did another animal that caused dread among those vying for top spots in the SERP’s, the Hummingbird. Google’s Hummingbird, which was announced at the end of September 2013, but probably started in late August, was their biggest revision to their algorithm in over 10 years. It changed the way it matches websites to search results, in relation to the way people have changed how they search over time. Especially recently with voice recognition software like Siri from Apple and Google Now.

More and more people, (like my mom and dad for instance) talk into their iPhone and droid, respectively, to send emails, texts, search the web and whatever else they can do on their phone without having to type into it. Of course they are not alone as voice recognition becomes better at understanding not only what you say but what you mean. Which is where Hummingbird comes into effect. It has taken into account the way people speak and what they mean.

For instance, if you wanted to find an Italian restaurant to eat at tonight, on your computer you might type in “Italian restaurant near me” or “Italian restaurant reviews my city, state” or something along those lines. Now with Siri and Google Now, you might say “let me see some reviews on Italian restaurants” (knowing that your phone knows where you are) or “I want to make a reservation at an Italian restaurant tonight”. However, these voice searches did not work properly for me until I refined them with my city and state. The search “let me see some reviews on Italian restaurants” brought up pictures of Italian restaurants, which nearly took over the whole entire area above the fold on my screen, then Yelp reviews of restaurants in California. Not too helpful to someone in New Jersey.

Content is King

Don't try to game the algorithm. Google employs a ton of super smart people who live and breathe search engine algorithms. If you try to cheat, you will lose in the long-term. The only way to consistently and in the long-term rank higher is to invest in awesome, unique and valuable content. If you provide value to your customers, you will provide value for Google.

A study by the Content Marketing Institute shows that in 2014, 91% of the B2B marketers will invest in content marketing. 58% of the companies will increase or significantly increase their content marketing budget, which currently is about 39% of the overall marketing budget.

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