For the novice, search engine optimization can be baffling. We all know that Google is the dominant search engine out there, but it still seems odd that web developers and marketers alike periodically panic when the search engine giant mentions seemingly harmless terms like Panda or Penguin. So we’re hoping to clear up some of the confusion! After this blog, you should have a better idea of all those cutely named updates connected to Google.
Understanding Google’s SEO Algorithms
Before we start, it’s important to understand a few basics about Google’s algorithms. As you probably know, the site determines which websites rank highest for specific search terms based on a variety of factors, which range anywhere from relevance (how often does the keyword appear?) and popularity (how many other sites link to it?) to performance (how fast does the site load?)
Google determines these factors with an algorithm that constantly “crawls” millions of websites and calculates their relevance to every possible search term. While that algorithm is private, mysterious and highly guarded, marketers have over the years determined some of the general factors that influence it, such as the ones we named above.
As you might imagine, that quickly turned into a problem. For instance, if you know that listing your keywords more often might lead to improved search results, you might be tempted to “stuff” as many keywords into your site as you possibly can. Unethical tactics termed “black hat SEO” began to emerge, and Google had to act to preserve its legitimacy. Enter Panda.
Google’s “Panda” was first released in 2011, and aimed to shut down exactly what we described above. The algorithm update is designed to determine the authenticity and actual relevance of a website, and has been updated periodically since it first emerged four years ago.
The first update was said to punish over 10 percent of all search queries, who saw significant decreases in their Google rankings as a result. Its current iteration (version 4.2), released just this month, is said to only influence between 2 and 3 percent of English language search queries – which shows just how much more effective Google has become since 2011.
Of course, while Panda was a step toward a more legitimate search ranking, it wasn’t the perfect solution. So in 2012, Google rolled out another algorithm update in an effort to increase the positive change toward higher-quality websites in its search rankings initiated a year earlier.
The update quickly became known as “Penguin,” and unlike Panda (which more generally dealt with determining which sites had higher-quality content) aimed specifically to cut down on black hat SEO tactics. Like Panda, Penguin is periodically updated to stay current, though unlike Panda even the most strict update only affected around 3 percent of search rankings.
Together, Penguin and Panda are Google’s main strategy to increase the quality of websites shown in its search rankings.
Pigeon, another algorithm update that was first introduced in 2014, also was designed to increase relevant search results. But unlike Panda and Penguin, this one was not out to punish websites who didn’t comply with Google’s Webmaster rules. Instead, Pigeon gives local search results precedence over national results, using GPS tracking and distance calculations to determine whether a user should see local businesses over national corporations when searching for products.
As you might imagine, Pigeon has proven to be a game changer for local businesses, who have received significantly increased web traffic as a result.
Of course, location proximity isn’t the only factor in determining search results relevance. Google is well aware that mobile internet usage is overtaking its desktop counterpart, releasing a statement this year that the majority of its users now use the service from a mobile device.
So earlier in 2015, Google released another update to its algorithm. Termed as “Mobilegeddon” by worried marketers and developers, the update has begun to rank websites that are optimized for mobile devices of all sizes higher than those with a static, desktop-optimized design. It’s yet another step in Google’s mission to deliver the most relevant, high-quality websites possible to its users.
Finally, it’s important to understand that even though Panda, Penguin, Pigeon and “Mobilegeddon” are probably the most famous of Google’s algorithm updates, they are far from the only ones. A mere look at the change log of Google’s updates throughout the years reveals names like Pirate, Payday Loan and more.
If you get confused by all the names and updates, we don’t blame you. But if you want to make sure your website is not only in compliance with all of Google’s algorithm twists but also ready for what may come in the future, contact us! We’d love to take a look and help you improve your site with our expert SEO Consulting Service.