Mostly every day, Google introduces changes to its ranking algorithm. Some are tiny tweaks; others seriously shake up the SERPs. This cheat sheet will help you make sense of the most important algo changes and penalties rolled out in the recent years, with a brief overview and SEO advice on each.
Launch date: February 24, 2011
Duplicate, plagiarized or thin content; keyword stuffing
Panda was a filter rather than part of Google’s ranking algo, but in January 2016, it was officially incorporated into the core algorithm. Panda rollouts have become more frequent, so both penalties and recoveries now happen faster.
How to adjust: Run regular site checks for content duplication, thin content and keyword stuffing. To do that, you’ll need a site crawler, like SEO PowerSuite’s Website Auditor.
To check for instances of external content duplication, use a plagiarism checker like Copyscape.
If you have an e-commerce site and cannot afford to have 100 percent unique content, try to use original images where you can, and utilize user reviews to make product descriptions stand out from the crowd.
Launch date: April 24, 2012
Spammy or irrelevant links; links with over-optimized anchor text
Google Penguin’s objective is to down-rank sites whose links it deems manipulative. Since late 2016, Penguin has been part of Google’s core algorithm; unlike Panda, it works in real time.
How to adjust: Monitor your link profile’s growth and run regular audits with a backlink checker like SEO SpyGlass. In the tool’s Summary dashboard, you’ll find a progress graph for your link profile’s growth. Look out for any unusual spikes: those are reason enough to look into the backlinks you’ve unexpectedly gained.
The stats that we know Penguin takes into account are incorporated into SEO SpyGlass’s Penalty Risk formula. To check for penalty risks, go to the Linking Domains dashboard, navigate to the Link Penalty Risks tab, select your links, and click Update Penalty Risk. When the check is complete, check with the Penalty Risk column, and make sure to look into every link with a score over 50 percent.
Launch date: August 22, 2013
Keyword stuffing; low-quality content
Hummingbird helps Google better interpret search queries and provide results that match searcher intent (as opposed to the individual terms within the query). While keywords continue to be important, Hummingbird makes it possible for a page to rank for a query even if it doesn’t contain the exact words the searcher entered. This is achieved with the help of natural language processing that relies on latent semantic indexing, co-occurring terms and synonyms.
How to adjust: Expand your keyword research and focus on concepts, not keywords. Carefully research related searches, synonyms and co-occurring terms. Great sources of such ideas are Google Related Searches and Google Autocomplete. You’ll find all of them incorporated into Rank Tracker’s Keyword Research module.
Launch date: July 24, 2014 (US)
Pigeon affects those searches in which the user’s location plays an important part. The update created closer ties between the local algorithm and the core algorithm: traditional SEO factors are now used to rank local results.
How to adjust: Invest effort into on- and off-page SEO. A good starting point is running an on-page analysis with Website Auditor. The tool’s Content Analysis dashboard will give you a good idea about the aspects of on-page optimization you need to focus on.
A good way to start with off-page SEO is getting listed in relevant business directories. Not only do those act like backlinks, helping your site rank; they rank well in Google themselves. You can easily find quality directories and reach out to webmasters asking to get listed with LinkAssistant.
Launch date: April 21, 2015
Lack of a mobile version of the page; poor mobile usability
Google’s Mobile Update (aka Mobilegeddon) ensures that mobile-friendly pages rank at the top of mobile search, while pages not optimized for mobile are filtered out from the SERPs or seriously down-ranked.
How to adjust: Go mobile and focus on speed and usability. Google’s mobile-friendly test will help you see which aspects of your page’s mobile version need to be improved. The test in integrated into WebSite Auditor so you can check your pages’ mobile friendliness quickly. You’ll find it in Content Analysis > Page Audit, under the Technical factors tab.