Google Zoo Algorithms Explained

There have been ranking shakeups in the last three years, and if you are starting to see a decline in your website traffic, it’s time to put it whip your SEO campaign back into shape. The changes you are seeing are likely caused by Google’s introduction of Panda, Penguin, Pigeon, and Hummingbird—or what SEO specialists call the Google ‘zoo’ (because they are all named after animals, in case you missed that). This article will explain these key algorithm changes, why they may affect your website, and most importantly, what you can do about them.

Should you be concerned about these changes?

Yes—especially if you rely on your website to bring in potential leads and customers. Whether you are doing your SEO yourself pr have employed an SEO agency to take care of everything for you, having a clear understanding of these changes is absolutely crucial. The strategies implemented to optimize your website three years ago may no longer be the current best practices. In fact, many of the previously acceptable SEO activitiesmay now be working against your rankings.

Even if your website hasn’t noticed a drop in traffic, it’s always prudent to be aware of Google’s new rules and standards. By understanding what signals Google values, you can further improve your SEO and bring in more traffic going forward.

Google Panda: What is it and why is it important?

The Panda algorithm was initially rolled out in the early months of 2012. It measures the quality of a website by looking at the following factors:

  • Overall content quality and usefulness
  • Bounce rate (how many visitors view only one page of the site and then leave immediately)
  • Click through rate (number of clicks to your website from the search results page)

Prior to Panda, the dominant SEO recommendation was to use keywords many times in titles, meta tags, and the main body of the content so that Google can understand what that page is about. This principle was abused, however, to the point that some pages contained nothing but strings of keywords repeated senselessly. Panda put an end to this shady practice by measuring content quality.

So what should you do? Be sure to get rid of (1) pages that are overstuffed with keywords, (2) pages that don’t contain useful information, and (3) copied content. Audit all your pages and retain only those that are readable, interesting, and informative. The key is to provide your potential customers with the details that the need to understand how your products and services can help solve their problems. Google loves informative pages—and more importantly, your customers will appreciate them, too.

Google Penguin: What is it and why is it important?

Announced in April 2012 and followed by several refreshes until 2014, the Penguin update was designed to assess the quality of inbound links (links to your website from other websites). If a high quality website links to yours, you get a plus point; conversely, if low quality websites link to you, your rankings suffer. The wrath of the Penguin was most severely felt in May 2013 and October 2013.

Before this update, SEO was all about building links by the numbers—the more websites link to you, the better. Where those links came from did not matter. Thousands of low-quality directories, forums, article sites, and blogs were established for the sole purpose of link building.

The rollout of Penguin put a stop to these ‘link farms’ and penalised unnatural links—those that it deems to have been built for the purpose of manipulating search rankings. The most recent Penguin updates target forum spam, low-quality online directories, and link networks.

Anyone who has ever tried tospam build links (or paid an SEO firm to do so) has been hit by Penguin one way or another. The links that used to be effective at boosting your rankings may now be doing the opposite. Even if you did not actively seek out links, you might be surprised at how many inbound links point to your site—many of which you probably didn’t solicit.

So how exactly can you recover from a Google Penguin penalty? The solution is simple—at least in theory. Removing bad links that point to your website should resolve the problem. This is easier said than done, though. This mammoth task involves several steps and countless man hours.

  1. List all incoming links using specialist tools.
  2. Review each of those links and decide which ones are ‘bad.’ This often involves looking at each website manually and making a quality judgement.
  3. Improve all good links. Ensure that the anchor texts on each link are varied. You will need to manually contact the webmaster of each site to adjust them for you.
  4. Banish the bad links. Contact the site owners and request removal. Some directories will require a fee for removing your link.
  5. For links that you are unable to remove, submit ‘disavow’ files to Google. This asks the search engine to disassociate your site from those links. Although Google encourages this, there is no clear information on whether it truly makes a difference.
  6. Start building good links. To do this,create content that other high-quality websites will organically want to link to.

Google Hummingbird: What is it and why is it important?

Rolled out in September 2013, Hummingbird focuses on reading the ‘intent’ of users whenever they search. Hummingbird is designed to analyse each word in the search query to gain a full understanding of what the user is looking for, and then determining which pages best match that intended meaning. In doing this, Hummingbird looks at factors like:

  • the user’s location
  • the device being used to make the search
  • the timing of the search
  • topical information

A vital part of the Hummingbird search algorithm is RankBrain, a machine-learning artificial intelligence (AI) tool that helps process search results more intelligently. This AI system ‘teaches itself’ just like a human brain does, and is designed to get better and better over time.

The effect of Hummingbird is often not drastic; it is likely to creep in over time as RankBrain makes clearer connections, and becomes smarter at understanding intent. To ensure that your website thrives in the age of Hummingbird, the quality of your content must be top-notch. Conversational style writing—which reflect what human users are asking—seems to be well received this new Google algorithm.

Google Pigeon: What is it and why is it important?

In July 2014, Google launched Pigeon for US English results. The aim of this update is to provide more relevant,accurate, and useful local search results tied closely to traditional ranking signals. This new algorithm, according to the search giant, is designed to improve location and distance ranking parameters.

This change affects search results within Google Web Search and Google Maps Search, connecting them in a cohesive manner. It also yields more precise results for Yelp queries and gives greater recognition local directories such as Urbanspoon, TripAdvisor, Zagat, OpenTable, Kayak, etc.

To rank well locally, implement the following Pigeon SEO strategies:

  • Take an inventory of reviews about you, as well as your listings in local directories
  • Fill in gaps where essential profile information may be missing
  • Update your profiles with solid and balanced keywords
  • List your business on Google Maps and Google Plus
  • Refresh your regularly (starting a blog might help)
  • Ask customers to give you reviews on sites like Yelp and Google Plus

If you know nothing about local search, it may be time to bring in local optimization specialists to ensure that your website is not being outranked by competitors who know how to use Google Pigeon to their advantage.

Looking Ahead

As a website owner or SEO specialist, you need to know how this‘Google Zoo’ is affecting your website and what changes and updates you can do yourself to help it recover and thrive. It’s always a good idea to talk to a knowledgeable internet marketing and SEO firm to get the best tool and advice.

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