SEO Guide Chapter 8: Ranking Updates

While you've learned the basics of SEO, it's time to summarize our guide with the three Google updates that have had SEOs frustrated and angry for three years now. While it’s easy to get frustrated with Google for these updates, the truth is they are necessary and vital to keeping the dirtiest web spam out of the rankings.

Remember, search engines operate on the premise that search rankings should reflect an answer to a search query. There are hundreds of thousands of potential sites that could answer a query and therefore search engines need

* To weed out sites that are not relevant to the query
* Compile a list of related websites
* Rank those sites in a manner that addresses the query from best to least.

It’s not easy for any search engine to do this, which is why search algorithms are so complicated and always evolving. Nobody other than the engineers know the exact algorithm but we do know some things that are influential to search rankings including:

* Links: number of links, quality of links, anchor text
* On page factors: Page speed, page design, title tags, etc.
* Content: content frequently updated, content is informative and engaging
* Brand metrics: brand mentions, citations for brand name, etc.

Knowing these factors, let’s dig deeper into Google’s three algorithm updates.

Google Panda

Panda was the first update and it was introduced in February 2011. Since then there have been several updates and refreshes to the Panda update. Panda is primarily an on-page and content algorithm update aimed at taking out sites with stagnant, or low quality content. In addition, Panda targeting sites with severe on-page issues, which resulted in a poor user experience

Many sites that were hit by Panda:

* Had advertisements that were obtrusive
* Were thin affiliate websites
* Had duplicate or spun content
* Had outdated content

Google provided webmasters with a large series of questions to help webmasters evaluate whether or not their websites were within the search engine's quality guidelines. Some of the questions include:

• Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
• Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
• is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
• for a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
• Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
• Would users complain when they see pages from this site?
• Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?

These are just some of the two dozen or so questions webmasters were instructed to ask about their websites. Overall, Panda addressed the on-page issues of most websites and for most webmasters it was a wake up to call to produce better looking and higher quality websites.


Penguin was the most devastating update to most SEOs and it was first released in April 2012. Penguin aimed to take out several “black hat” SEO tactics that revolved around link building. Specifically several black hat SEO tools were targeted as well as private blog networks and link schemes.

Penguin also targeted websites with a higher volume of links with a high anchor text ratio of keywords. In other words, a site with a 90% anchor ratio to a term like “weight loss supplements” was obviously obtained through black hat methods whereas a higher quality health site would probably have less than 1% of its’ backlinks with an anchor text of weight loss supplements.

Google continues to update Penguin and each time Penguin seems to eliminate more black hat SEOs.


Hummingbird is the newest algorithm update and while its' exact function is not entirely known, Google has released enough information for SEOs to know that mobile is now incredible important. Responsive mobile designs are now an important aspect to SEO after this update, which we have emphasized several times.

In addition, it seems Hummingbird also introduces contextual search. In the past, Google just used to take a query and evaluate intent based on the most important keywords. Now Google’s Hummingbird update has begun to look at the relationship between two or more terms to interpret the context behind the query.

What's Next for SEO?

Google and other search engines are constantly adapting and you can expect future algorithm updates to occur each and every year. The only way to prevent yourself from getting hit by these algorithms is by building a real brand that relies on several sources of traffic. Otherwise, one algorithm update can wipe you out entirely and destroy all your hard work.

or go back to last chapter:

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