Quick Guide to Google’s ‘Farm’ of Algorithm Updates

Google Updates

Google’s algorithm looks at hundreds of different factors with the goal of providing users with the most relevant and high-quality content. When a major change to the algorithm occurs, Google gives a name to that update. There are several large Google Algorithm updates that we monitor and track, some of which include Penguin, Panda, Hummingbird, and Pigeon. Each controls a different aspect of how your website ranks in search engine results.



The Penguin algorithm controls linking. It seeks to promote sites with quality links and prevent websites with bad or unnatural links from ranking. If your website has a high amount of backlinks (websites that include a link pointing back to you) Google will view it as a high-quality authority site because it’s being referenced repeatedly across the web. However if these links don’t appear naturally on other websites, and are fake, self-made or purchased, the Penguin algorithm will affect you. It’s important to note that bad links on a page of your site will cause Penguin to mark your whole site as untrustworthy and you’ll see a decrease in your SERP ranking. It’s better to have a few quality links from authority sites, than a large number of links from low-quality sites and risk getting hit by Penguin. If you regularly create quality, useful content, you should be able to get authoritative links from well-respected sites naturally.

There is an update of the Penguin algorithm expected around the end of Q1 2016. Penguin 4 will work in real-time, which means the effects of the filter (demotions and promotions in rankings) will happen much faster than in the past. Digital teams should be on the lookout for the Penguin update to rollout.



The Panda algorithm is in charge of placing high-quality websites at the top of SERPs, and making sure low quality or spam sites remain at the bottom. It’s primarily concerned with onsite content and attributes. Panda scans for pages that are original, timely, written by industry experts or authority figures, aren’t covered in ads, have little to no spelling/grammar errors, and are overall helpful and beneficial to users. To rank well with Panda, a best practice is to regularly create new and useful content.  It’s important to scan your website for duplicate, outdated, or low quality pages and update your content on a regular basis. The Panda algorithm effects whole sites or large sections of a site, not just a single page. If your website is hit by Panda you will have to wait until the next Panda update to recover, which could take more than a month.

In January 2016, Panda was integrated into the core Google algorithm. Like Penguin, Panda used to be a separate filter that effected specific parts of the greater Google algorithm. Now it’s integrated fully into the core of the algorithm, meaning it will affect all websites as a core ranking signal. Panda will now be a major ranking element, and the quality of websites will be a primary factor of ranking adjustments.



The purpose of the Hummingbird algorithm is to help Google better understand user’s search queries. When it first arrived in 2013, Hummingbird was an evolution of Google’s entire algorithm. It seeks to improve users’ experience through accuracy, rather than focusing on individual website quality like the Penguin and Panda updates. Hummingbird looks closely at queries and makes assumptions about what users are really looking for. For example, if you searched for “Best pizza places in town”, Hummingbird will figure out that you’re looking for restaurants that serve pizza, even though the word “restaurant” wasn’t used in the query, and will retrieve accurate results. To rank highly in the Hummingbird algorithm, a best practice is to create content that answers or provides a solution to users’ questions instead of simply generating content around your industry keywords.



Pigeon is Google’s local search algorithm. When it first arrived in mid- 2014, it improved how Google interprets location cues by bringing together the local algorithm with Google’s core algorithm. Pigeon integrates Google maps, Yelp-specific queries, and local directories with Google Search. The algorithm also improved Google’s distance and location ranking parameters, meaning it can provide more accurate results from location-based search queries. For example, if you search “pizza place in the South End” on your phone, but you happen to be standing near the border of the South End and Back Bay, Google won’t only bring up pizza restaurants in the South End, it will extend its search to Back Bay and provide the areas that have the closest pizza to your location. Pigeon primarily effects small or regional businesses, hospitality, restaurants, and schools rather than global organizations. To optimize your website for Pigeon, best practices include being listed on directories such as Yelp, having an updated Google+ profile, and optimizing all social profiles with a precise location within your region, such as your specific neighborhood.


If you’re interested in learning more details about Google’s major algorithm updates, check out these sources:

  1. https://support.google.com/webmasters/topic/6001971?hl=en&ref_topic=6001981
  2. https://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2011/05/more-guidance-on-building-high-quality.html
  3. https://moz.com/blog/google-algorithm-cheat-sheet-panda-penguin-hummingbird
  4. https://searchenginewatch.com/sew/news/2203630/google-s-rating-guidelines-adds-page-quality-to-human-reviews
  5. http://searchengineland.com/google-hummingbird-172816

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