Google Updates

Algorithm updates chronologically

1PandaLaunched: Feb 24, 2011 – Rollouts: ~ monthly

2PenguinLaunched: April 24, 2012 – Rollouts: May 25, 2012; Oct 5, 2012; May 22, 2013; Oct 4, 2013; Oct 17, 2014; September 27, 2016; October 6, 2016; real – time since

3PirateLaunched: Aug 2012 – Rollouts: Oct 2014

4HummingbirdLaunched: August 22, 2013

5PigeonLaunched: July 24, 2014 (US) – Rollouts: December 22, 2014 (UK, Canada, Australia)

6Mobile Friendly UpdateLaunched: April 21, 2015

7RankBrainLaunched: October 26, 2015

8PossumLaunched: September 1, 2016

9FredLaunched: March 8, 2017

Google Panda is an algorithm used to assign a content quality score to webpages and down-rank sites with low-quality, spammy, or thin content. Initially it was a filter rolled out monthly , but since January 2016 got incorporated in the core algorithm and is now applied to search results in real time.

What it penalizes:

  • Duplicate content
  • Plagiarism
  • Thin content
  • User-generated spam
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Poor user experience

How to stay safe:

  1. Internally duplicated content is one of the most common Panda triggers – so check for duplicate content across your site regularly.

Take down the duplicate pages, or use a 301 redirect or canonical tag. Alternatively, you can block the pages from indexing with robots.txt or the noindex meta tag.

  1. External duplication is another Panda trigger – so check for plagiarism.

If you suspect that some of your pages may be duplicated externally, it’s a good idea to check them with Copyscape. Copyscape gives some of its data for free (for instance, it lets you compare two specific URLs), but for a comprehensive check, you may need a paid account.

  1. Check for content that provides little original value aka “thin content”.

Word count on any page is tied to the purpose of the page and the keywords that page is targeting. Too many thin content pages (<250 words) may get you in trouble.

  1. Stay clear of keyword stuffing

Over-optimization of a given page element for a keyword is a bad practice that should be avoided.

Google Penguin down-ranks sites which are using manipulative link tactics.

Since late 2016 Penguin got incorporated in the core algorithm and is now applied to search results in real time. Penalties and recovery are now faster.

What it penalizes:

  • Links coming from poor quality, “spammy” sites
  • Links coming from sites created purely for SEO link building (PBNs)
  • Links coming from topically irrelevant sites
  • Paid links
  • Links with overly optimized anchor text

How to stay safe:

  1. Look out for any unusual spikes in your link profile

A sudden increase of bad backlinks could be a problem. Monitor link profile growth regularly.

  1. Check for penalty risks

The stats that Penguin likely looks at are incorporated into SEO SpyGlass and its Penalty Risk formula.

  1. Get rid of harmful links

Contacting the webmasters of the linking sites could be a tedious work. A good alternative is to disavow the links using Google’s Disavow tool. This way, you’ll be telling Google to ignore those links when evaluating your link profile.

Google’s Pirate Update was designed to prevent sites that have received numerous copyright infringement reports from ranking well in Google search.

What it penalizes:

  • Pirated content
  • High volume of copyright infringement reports

How to stay safe:
Don’t distribute copyrighted content without the owner’s permission.

Google Hummingbird is a major algorithm change which intention is to interpret conversational searches and provide search  results that match the intent of the searcher.

What it effects:

  • Exact-match keyword targeting
  • Keyword stuffing

How to stay safe:

  1. Focus on related searches, synonyms and co-occurring terms to diversify your content. Don’t rely only on short-tail terms you’d get from Google AdWords.
  2. Speak the same language as your audience.
  3. Try to sound like a human. Search engines can process natural language now.
Pigeon created closer ties between the local algorithm and the core algorithm, meaning that the same SEO factors are now being used to rank local and non-local Google results. Pigeon led to a significant decline in the number of queries local packs are returned for, gave a ranking boost to local directory sites, and connected Google Web search and Google Map search in a more cohesive way.

What it penalizes:

  • Poorly optimized pages
  • Improper setup of a Google My Business page
  • NAP inconsistency
  • Lack of citations in local directories

How to stay safe:

  1. Do your on-page optimization properly.
  2. Set up a Google My Business page.
  3. Make sure your NAP is consistent across your local listings.
  4. Submit your business to relevant local directories.
Mobile Friendly Update (aka Mobilegeddon)
It affects only mobile searches. It makes sure that mobile optimized pages rank higher in the search results.

What is at risk:

  • Lack of a mobile version of the page
  • Improper viewport configuration
  • Illegible content
  • Plugin use

How to stay safe:

  1. Implement responsive design.

Take the mobile friendly test to make sure you pass Google’s criteria

RankBrain is a machine learning system that interprets the meaning behind queries, and serve best-matching search results in response to those queries. RankBrain has a query processing component and a ranking component. It identifies the relevance features on the pages in the index, and arranges the results respectively in SERPs.

What it penalizes:

  • Lack of query-specific relevance features
  • Poor user experience

How to stay safe:

  1. Pay attention on your pages’ user experience factors in Google Analytics, particularly Bounce Rate and Session Duration and try to provide content that valuable.
  2. Spy on your competitors for on page  features that can have a positive effect on user experience.
After Possum, the closer you are to a certain business physically, the more likely you’ll see it among local results. Paradoxically, Possum also gave a boost to businesses that are outside the physical city area. Additionally, businesses that share an address with another business of a similar kind may now be de-ranked in the search results.

When you are at risk:

  • Sharing a physical address with a similar business
  • When you have competitors whose business address is closer to the searcher’s location

How to stay safe:

  1. Do geo-specific rank tracking. After Possum, the location from which you’re checking your rankings plays an even bigger part in the results you get.
  2. Expand your list of local keywords. Since Possum resulted in greater variety among the results for similar-looking queries, it’s important that you track your positions for every variation separately. it’s becoming even more important to optimize your listings specifically for local search.
Fred affected content sites (mostly blogs) with low-quality articles on a wide variety of topics that appear to be created mostly for the purpose of generating ad or affiliate revenue.

What it penalizes:

  • Low-value, ad-centered content
  • Thin, affiliate-heavy content

Advice for staying safe – watch out for thin content.