Penguin, Panda, Hummingbird and Google

A guide to understanding Google’s algorithms.

As Google continually updates, refines and tweaks its search engine algorithm, website owners look for strategies that will withstand the many changes and keep them within the algorithms’ parameters. That is no easy task as not only to business owners need to stay on Google’s good side, but they must also try to do what’s best for their consumers as well as do what is necessary to beat the competition.

Search engine result page rankings can be tough to crack. Companies turn to various strategies in order to fight their way to the top of Google’s results list. However, not all of these strategies are approved by Google, which means a new update can take your website from the top 5 on the first page of results and bury it past page 3. So, what can you do to stay ahead? Understanding Google’s intentions and expectations for its algorithm updates can help you find techniques that will prevent your site from being penalized while staying in the race with the competition.


Launched in 2012, Penguin took aim at websites that used low-quality link building practices. A lot of business were affected, large and small, and some still have not recovered. Sometimes referred to as the Black Hat SEO update, Penguin has been tweaked to search out and penalize sites that participate in link schemes (buying into a network of backlinks or simply buying the links), building sites that lacked quality in order to enhance a link network, relying on comment spam to create links, and other tactics that are considered Black Hat SEO techniques.

Why does Google care about the quality of links? As a search engine, Google wants to provide relevant, informative results to search queries. When a site ranks highly but does not contribute to the conversation or include the information necessary to answer a query, users become frustrated.

How can you keep your site from being penalized by Penguin? Only link to high-quality sites, and when asking a site to link to your website, make sure it is credible as well. It’s best to create a network of links that are relevant to the information your site presents, so stick to your industry, niche or content topic.


Google Panda was released in 2011 and it has been updated regularly in order to differentiate between low-quality and high-quality websites. This algorithm update is Google’s attempt to look beyond key words and focus on whether a website is informative, providing updated content; well-designed, keeping advertisements at the top of the page to a minimum in relation to content; and easy to use so that users can navigate the site quickly and find the information they need.

It’s easy to understand why Google would place preference on websites that follow the guidelines to becoming and maintaining high-quality content as it allows the search engine to better serve users and aids them in finding the most relevant, helpful links. And in case website owners are unsure how to define “high-quality sites” or what is expected of them, Google has provided an extensive list of questions that can help determine whether a site provides good content. Some of the questions address the content at hand directly, but many ask that you look at the entire website and judge whether it is a site to be trusted.


Taking flight in 2013, Hummingbird has helped revolutionize the way search engines examine a search query and return results. Hummingbird is meant to take a look behind the keywords and focus on the intent of the search or the contextualization of the search query. While some websites suffered with the release, this update was less about penalizing specific kinds of sites and more about better serving users by answering the unasked question. If Google can look past a search that is keyword heavy and understand the intention behind the query, then it can better provide relevant results.

Hummingbird also placed importance on having a website that caters to mobile devices. Whether responsive design or mobile design, websites that were optimized for mobile users saw a jump in the rankings with Hummingbird’s release. This is likely due to the increase of mobile device use, and websites who were already providing their mobile users an easy way to browse were rewarded.

Hummingbird is a truly forward-thinking release. With this update, Google could prove the importance of paying attention to user behaviors by providing users with search results that match their browsing habits and returning more relevant links to queries.