The recent history of search engine optimization (SEO) revolves around a few updates that have been provided by the largest search engine: Google. Nicknamed after cute animals, the recent Google updates of Google Panda, Google Penguin, and the Hummingbird update are well known among all SEO specialists and indicate three of the largest overhauls to take place in how they decide to rank various websites. While some people would consider these part of the past, the fact remains that the changes still affect how websites are ranked and many SEO specialists are still testing to see just how deeply these updates affect website rankings.
If you want to be wealthy, study wealthy people. If you want to learn computer programming, talk to a computer programmer. So it makes sense that if you want to learn about SEO, you need to learn from the best updates that have changed SEO so radically in the past few years.
The Google Panda Update
The first of the three major updates to the Google algorithm was the Panda update, which was said to originally affect approximately 11% of all search engine results. The strong focus with this update was to knock websites with low-quality content out of the search rankings. Spun content, duplicate content, and content that was scraped from other websites was penalized. This wasn’t a smooth process, as there were enough complaints of spammers and scrapers ranking above the sites they ripped off that Google asked for examples from website owners to collect more data and combat the problem.
Google also focused on original low-quality content like poorly written articles that were 100% fluff, didn’t add any good information, used keywords too much, or did not display a native level understanding of English.
Panda first came out in February of 2011, but several updates and revisions were added to this update to further affect the search engine rankings. Small updates were made on average of once a month, and Google’s patent for Panda showed there was “a ratio” that checked links versus quality of page. This revealed that it would only take a few bad pages of content to potentially sink an entire site.
Panda is considered by some to be the “content update” in the SEO world when it comes to Google. The lesson you can learn from this: original, high-quality, and authoritative content matters, and is always going to matter to Google.
The Google Penguin Update
Penguin was the next major Google update. According to Google this update only affected 3% of websites, although there is some dispute about that number among the SEO community. Originally released on April 12th, 2012, this follow up to Panda and the monthly Panda updates tackled blatant manipulation of backlinks, keyword stuffing, and manufactured links. Some of the updates would target very specific things such as the “Top Heavy” penguin update, referring to the penalty that hit sites with too many total ads or too many ads at the very top of the page. The main focus after weeding out bad content from Panda was now to weed out the sites that used keyword anchored backlinks and spam tactics to rank. There were at least 6 known updates to Penguin to tweak the results, and those updates affected an additional 3-6% of search engine results (estimated).
The lesson to learn from Penguin: blatantly manipulating search engine rankings through article marketing, private blog networks, and spamming backlinks was not going to be tolerated anymore. Google has been adamant about this for years, and they’re sticking by it. In other words the links you want need to be branded, genuine, and had better not be coming from a place known to be used by spammers.
The Hummingbird Update
Hummingbird was the third “update” that SEO specialists talk about, and this one was quite a bit different as Google described it as a new revamp of a system – like taking out an old engine of a car and putting in an entirely different, better, and stronger model. It serves the same exact function, but does so in a much better way. The transition was fairly smooth as many people didn’t notice a major difference when the switch happened silently – a full month before they announced it.
However Hummingbird seemed to do three things:
- Better analyzed and separated low quality from high quality
- Has the ability to analyze and determine the level of expertise and authority an article should receive and reward it (or penalize it) accordingly
- Bring context into the picture
The biggest change was Google’s sudden ability to not only focus on words in a search query, but to bring back results that didn’t have those keywords, but were authoritative pages on the same subject, just worded differently. The search engine can now effectively figure out the likely meaning or desire behind a search and return results that meet that specific query. This ability to understand context makes a huge difference in getting expert pages and showing results for related keywords.
While described as a wholesale change, the end results don’t appear to be all that different, just the search engine is better and bringing home what Panda and Penguin were trying to do.
There’s still plenty to learn from these Google updates and if you want to stay on top of the SEO game, then you need to learn from past lessons and continue to work on a website that doesn’t break the rules but delivers to Google exactly what they want and what they’re looking for. Original, high-quality content that speaks with knowledge, authority, and answers questions is critical to getting those top ranking spots in Google. Avoiding the most common SEO mistakes is also as important as ever – as only a few bad pages can sink you.
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