Whether you’re new to SEO or you’ve been there long enough to master it’s every nook and cranny, there’s a perennial search phenomenon spearheaded by Google that you should always look out for. These are the developments and updates that come in the form of search algorithms, the step-by-step procedure and calculation employed by Google to ensure that the results returned by a search query are fresh, relevant, and of high quality.
So far, four of the most common search algorithms launched by Google include Caffeine, Panda, Penguin, and their latest system, the Hummingbird. Read on to find out more about how they work and how you can optimize your website so that when these algorithms are updated, you will know how to safeguard your site from being penalized.
What Search Algorithm is and How it Works
Google’s commitment to turning up only the most pertinent and helpful results in the most coveted first search engine results page (SERP) has driven it to program and implement search algorithms to discern which websites are deserving of the limited number of slots. As far as search engines are concerned, the algorithms carried out by Google are meant to identify and select the top results according to specific ranking factors.
The algorithms are programmed, run, and tweaked by engineers, and those that pass their series of tests are hooked up to search spiders or bots. These bots trace the links found on every website and follow where the links lead to. It’s also the job of bots to index what they see and store this information in a massive virtual database (think 100 million gigabytes).
It’s long been a running joke among search marketers and other specialists with Internet-based fortes to prepare their sites, as well as their clients, whenever Google announces an imminent algorithm update or a new system altogether. The tall tales are warranted by horror stories experienced by websites that have been found to practice suspicious SEO techniques and post low-quality content. Google’s search algorithms are notorious for throwing flawed websites, even if they used to have high rankings, to farther SERPs in favor of those that publish great content and uphold the search engine’s webmaster guidelines.
This is something you wouldn’t want to happen to your website or your clients. The thing is, you wouldn’t be able to predict if, and when the algorithm will hit you, so it would be wise to prepare for when it strikes.
In 2009, Google released Caffeine, a search algorithm meant to scrutinize the architectural structure of the websites on their index and those of the ones that have yet to be crawled. Site infrastructure factored into the rankings, and this allowed Google to update its search index to a much more dynamic and organized way of cataloging the millions of links found in its database. This change wasn’t necessarily felt as Caffeine was supposed to be an under-the-hood update and to primarily benefit Google in turning up search results.
Rolled out in 2011 and is still active to this day, Google Panda was created to target sites that publish low-quality content and penalize them if possible. It was during this update that content was considered king, as it played a central role in the analysis and evaluation of websites. On its initial release, the Panda searched Google’s index for sites that had duplicates, hefty advertisements, and other erroneous techniques, such as the employment of black-hat SEO.
Fortunately, those who were penalized by Google Panda had a chance to recover. However, it was asserted that rewriting what was deemed poor content wasn’t going to cut it. Instead, SEO specialists had to ensure that their articles and other pieces of content were not simply original; they should contribute actual value should they be added to the Web.
Today, Google has released 25 updates for Panda alone, and a 26th update has been confirmed in July this year. However, there has been no word yet as to whether this update will be circulated or if it’s been on the move already.
After identifying and penalizing the websites that had poor content, it was time for Google to focus on and correct maligned SEO practices. In 2012, the search giant rolled out Google Penguin to regulate websites that were considered spammy or overly-optimized. The Penguin targeted sites that manifested keyword stuffing as well as those that practice black-hat SEO. On the other hand, this algorithm rewarded the sites that use white-hat SEO and that are of high quality in a generic sense.
Penguin 1.0 and the first series of updates that followed the original algorithm also focused on sites that make use of manipulated links so that they could generate traffic. It also penalized sites that contained links that were irrelevant to their industry or niche. This year, Google refreshed Penguin yet again, and it has started digging deeper into websites for spam and dubious link-building tactics, such as buying links under the pretext of attracting natural traffic.
Taking flight just in time for Google’s 15th anniversary, the Hummingbird update was designed to embody the special characteristics of the creature it was named after: for one thing, speed, and another, precision. The Hummingbird has been unleashed since August, but Google didn’t announce it until the day before its 15th anniversary on September 27.
One of the significant upshots of Hummingbird is that Google was able to refresh not just its index but its search engine as well. However, they also retained important elements, such as the search algorithms they previously created.
Said to be affecting around 90% of all searches made, the Hummingbird was made to operate in a new fashion of delivering results. For instance, by using Google Voice, you can look up the best cinema to watch movies. With the Hummingbird running, Google will understand that what you’re looking for is cinemas instead of films. If you key in another query, Google will be able to associate this question with the previous one, making your search an organized one. This is just one of the essential improvements that come with the Hummingbird algorithm, but Google, as always, keeps on testing and tweaking the system wherever necessary.
Bear in mind that Google, unless specified otherwise, doesn’t take down algorithms. Instead, they keep on updating and improving them to ensure the delivery of the most relevant answers to your questions in the fastest time possible. As such, you can’t afford to be complacent even if you’re already enjoying high rankings and generous traffic. Keep working on optimizing your website using legitimate techniques, and always post relevant content to avoid being penalized by these algorithms.