There are probably many of you out there who are confused by the effects each of the major Google algorithm updates can have on your site. This article will provide a reference to each algorithm and how to recover from them if your site has been hit.
What is a Google Algorithm?
Let’s start from the beginning. The Google algorithm is hugely complicated and will continue to be so as Google tries to provide the best search results possible. When search engines first came about, they relied heavily on things like the meta keyword tag, whereas nowadays the algorithm looks at hundreds of different factors. Many of which are hot topics of discussion as to whether they are in fact a ranking factor, for example Google+ 1’s.
Since the launch of “Caffeine” in 2010, search engines are updating several times a day, as opposed to every few weeks or months when they were first created. Most of these changes go unannounced however when there is a very big update, Google will announce it and usually give it a name. Welcome the Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird algorithms.
What is the Panda Algorithm?
The Panda Algorithm which launched in Feb 2011 was a pretty huge deal and affected a large number of sites. The purpose of the algorithm was to promote high-quality sites higher up in the SERPs and likewise demote the lower-quality sites. The algorithm typically affected sites across the board, rather than just certain pages. While no one really knows what factors Google uses to determine quality, the focus should be on creating the best site possibly for the users. A few examples of important factors to look at in terms of Panda are:
- Thin Content: A page with thin content is one which adds little to no value to the user. Having a few of these kind of pages is not going to cause you huge problems, but if a large proportion of your website has pages with very little/ unhelpful content, then Google may deem the whole site to be of low-quality.
- Duplicate Content: Likewise, content which has been copied from other sources, or is exactly the same/ very similar to content on your own site will be looked at unfavourably.
How to Recover from the Panda Algorithm?
The Panda algorithm is refreshed monthly, however this won’t be announced unless there is a major change to the algorithm. If you had been hit but have made the necessary changes to your low-quality or duplicate content, then as the algorithm refreshes you should see improvements. If you have a huge amount of pages, it may take several months for you to see improvements as Google re-indexes the whole of your site.
What is the Penguin Algorithm?
The Penguin algorithm which launched in April 2014 is to demote sites which are deemed to have an unnatural backlink profile, usually built in order to try and gain an advantage in the SERPs. There may be other factors but links are known to be the most important factor.
Why are links so important?
Think of a link as being a “vote” for your site. The more authoritative a site is which links to you, the more weighting that link will have. However, SEOs quickly realised that building a lot of lower quality links could also be quite effective. And so would therefore go and create lots of links from easy to get websites like directory listings, article submission sites and forum posts etc, all using target keywords in the anchor text.
These kind of links are exactly what the Penguin algorithm is trying to detect. In a way Google is putting a “trust factor” on your links, and consequently if it determines a large proportion of your link profile to be untrustworthy, then the whole site is likely to see a drop in rankings.
How to Recover from the Penguin Algorithm?
Just like Panda, the Penguin algorithm is periodically refreshed, re-evaluating sites each time, however less often than the Panda algorithm. The last update was as long as 8 months ago, in October 2013, which means there may be one coming soon. In order to recover, or even protect your site from the next one, you need to identify all of your unnatural links and either try to remove them, or ask Google to no longer count them by using the Disavow Tool.
Effects of the Penguin algorithm can also sometimes be confused with a manual unnatural links penalty. These are not the same thing and you do not need to submit a reconsideration request in order to recover, as these changes are done algorithmically.
What is the Hummingbird Algorithm?
The Hummingbird algorithm which was announced in Sept 2013 but was rumoured to have already been live for a month, was an overhaul of the entire Google Algorithm. Unlike Panda and Penguin which are like new parts to the algorithm, Hummingbird was like a whole new algorithm thats goal was to better understand how users search. There is speculation that this was necessary to Google’s voice search to be more effective.
How to Recover or Improve after the Hummingbird Algorithm?
What Google are trying to get webmasters to do in light of this algorithm is to create content which better answers users queries, as opposed to trying to rank for certain keywords. Technically, this is what we should already be doing!
The aim of the game here is to be able to produce content which answers people’s questions. And to be the best content of its kind. Doesn’t sound so hard does it?