What do pandas, penguins, and hummingbirds all have in common? Not much, unless you happen to be familiar with the ongoing updates to Google’s search algorithms. If you are, then you know that these three animals are also the names of updates to Google’s popular search engine. These updates have gone a long way towards changing the way that Google ranks websites, and that in turn has had an impact on digital marketing, and businesses around the world. After all, if a company has worked long and hard to develop its online presence and acquire a high ranking spot on the search returns page, any small change to how things are done with the search engine will create waves. Here’s a quick look at the three major animal-themed Google updates that have been released, and what they could mean for your organization.
Panda was first released back in 2011. The purpose of Panda was (and still is) to identify sites with low quality or duplicate content, and to remove them from the upper-ranking spots on the search returns page. As such, Panda is basically a content quality filter. Anything that is automatically generated, or features articles or content that is redundant, uninformative, unspecific, or full of spelling, grammatical, or factual errors, could potentially fall under Panda’s withering judgement. At the same time, sites that feature an overabundance of ads can also have their rankings slashed. For many companies, Panda was the first in a series of wake-up calls warning them that the entire search engine optimization (SEO) game was about to change. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, companies should strive to feature original, high quality content with a minimum of distracting advertisements if they want to impress and retain their customers. Panda simply made it a bit easier for internet users to do what they’ve always done in the past—avoid sites that don’t have what they want. Of course, before Panda, many users would have to discover for themselves that a site was low-quality, before deciding to avoid it in the future. Now, Panda figures that out for them, and hides the sites in question so far down on the ranking page that no one will ever find them. This only really becomes a problem for legitimate sites that rely on duplicate content for a reason (such as e-commerce sites that often recycle product descriptions), and for sites that may only have one or two low quality pages, but have their entire site penalized regardless. At the same time, once a site has been identified and come under condemnation from Panda, it can be next to impossible to ever recover previous rankings.
While Panda may have been an attempt to remove low quality sites from top search rankings, Penguin, which was released in 2012, takes a more aggressive stance against sites that intentionally utilize unlawful ‘black-hat’ techniques. Black-hat SEO uses unethical spam-related methods to increase search engine ranking. These techniques began to be used back in the early 1990s, and by the mid 1990s, they had become so prevalent that the effectiveness of search engines was substantially reduced. Modern search engines include warnings about the use of such techniques in their terms and conditions, but many sites still rely on black-hat SEO to drive traffic. Penguin is an update that actively locates these sites and reduces their ranking accordingly. Companies whose sites are penalized by Penguin need to turn away from their black-hat tactics and work to earn links organically. Real, high quality links will help improve a site’s Author Rank, which will help the site score higher in search rankings.
The most recent of Google’s algorithm updates, Hummingbird takes a step back from the idea of penalizing, and instead works toward improving search returns in general. By using a more complex understanding of human language, Hummingbird reduces Google’s dependency on keywords. Instead, it takes into account syntax, word order, and other possible variables in a search request. Thus, when an internet user decides to search for “Home automation providers,” they’ll be more likely to be directed to a site for a legitimate company rather than end up someplace completely unrelated that just happens to also include those keywords. For businesses, this can be a real blessing. After all, the best that a company can hope for is to be connected with potential customers who are interested in their services. Of course, those businesses that attempt to take advantage of the system may find that it’s gotten quite a bit harder to trick visitors into accessing their pages.