Overview of Google Algorithm Updates

Overview of Google Algorithm Updates

If you are concerned with the amount of traffic to your web site, you probably have some understanding of the effect Google’s algorithms can have on that traffic. When these algorithms are run, web sites can often be penalized, sometimes severely, for a wide variety of different reasons. If this happens to your web site, the consequences can be devastating.  You might see your traffic reduced by half or even more, depending on the type of penalty you are given.

It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with these algorithm updates, so you can understand how best to avoid them. Unfortunately, while Google sometimes lets the webmaster community know about some of the information of an update, they keep the precise details of these algorithms strictly guarded, so that web sites cannot try to get around them. While it is true that these updates often penalize web sites that deserve it, it is also common for perfectly reasonable web sites to be hit as well. This could mean that your web site might suffer unexpectedly the next time the algorithm is run.

Although it is sometimes possible to get in touch with Google and have penalties lifted from your site, this process can take a very long time and may eat into your site’s marketability very quickly. The best way to handle these algorithms is to avoid getting penalized altogether. Below, you can learn about each of the updates and see what you can do to avoid getting penalized by them in the future.

Panda Update

Google Panda Takes a Bite out of Low Quality Content

Panda has been around since 2011, and it was one of the first Google algorithm updates. While it used to be run more frequently, it usually only comes up a few times a year now, although it still remains one of the most widely recognized of the Google algorithms. When the algorithm is run, web sites get penalized and traffic on those web sites immediately suffers. The problems can be repaired, but the web sites must wait until the next time the algorithm runs in order to have the penalties lifted.  This means that, your site could go several months seeing almost no traffic if you are hit with a penalty from this algorithm. This is why it is very important to understand what causes penalties from Panda in the first place.

The main focus of the Panda algorithm is to remove low-quality web content from Google search results. However, this is a pretty vague statement, and the interpretations of what makes content “low-quality” are broad. Of course, Google wants to keep it this way so people cannot simply cheat the system and work around the algorithm, but unfortunately, this means that well-meaning web sites might easily get caught up in a penalty while trying to avoid just that.

Google has provided a few tips on how to judge whether or not your web site is low quality. For example, ask yourself if you would trust the information on your web site, and if it seems to be written by a source who knows what they are talking about. Figure out if the articles on your web site are redundant with similar key words, or if there are significant spelling or factual problems with these articles. Determine if your articles are original or simply piggybacking off of the popularity of other articles or the frequency of search results. Ask yourself if you would be comfortable giving your credit card information to this web site.

These questions can help you narrow down the type of content on your web site, but they still are not a great way to determine whether or not you can expect an algorithmic penalty. Each time Panda is run, individuals throughout the community work together to try to find patterns in the web sites that are hit. Much of the time, sites with short article content or the type of content that seems like it was not written by a human (but instead by software) are the hardest hit with penalties. Plagiarized content also receives a penalty.

When a web site is hit with a Panda penalty, usually portions of the site are penalized. The only way to tell that you have been hit is to pay close attention to your analytics. If you notice your traffic significantly drop off without much warning, chances are good you have been penalized.

It is critically important that the content on your site is original, engaging and well written with your target audience in mind.  Website copy  is an area where you should not skimp on.

Penguin Update

Google Penguin on the Lookout for Spammy Backlinks

Penguin is similar to Panda in the way that it works and what it can potentially do to your web site. However, it is its own separate entity, and it is a little bit different in terms of what it looks for. This algorithm has been around since 2012 and has been run several times since then. It tends to run a few times a year, and it causes penalties to specific pages on web sites when it finds a problem. When that happens, the page in question is removed from Google’s search indexes, and the site’s traffic suffers significantly.

It is very important to understand what might cause your web site to get penalized by the Penguin algorithm. Every time this algorithm is run, your site is at risk to be penalized and severely impacted. Although it is possible to correct the penalty, you will have to wait until Penguin rolls around again before you can see traffic returning to your site.

The purpose of the Penguin algorithm is to look for backlink problems throughout web sites. Although the specifics by which these patterns are judged can be hard to pinpoint—and Google has been very quiet about releasing any of the details—there are some common threads between the sites that are usually penalized. If you understand what can cause a site to receive a Penguin penalty, then you will be better able to avoid that problem on your own site.

There are a few questions you can keep in mind in order to judge your site’s content based on what the Penguin algorithm might notice. For example, check the quality of the backlinks you receive. If you have gotten a variety of different backlinks for your site, these will include well-known, high-profile and high-quality sites as well as lesser-known and lower quality ones. A problematic site would have only very low quality links, or only those coming from high-profile sites, with no variety. This is a red flag and may mean that the backlinks are being generated as part of a private network that is trying to manipulate Google’s algorithm.

Next, pay attention to how many backlinks your site receives over time. Most sites will start off slow and receive more and more backlinks as they become popular. If yours has a significant number all at once and then drops off, it be penalized. These backlinks should also come from a variety of different places, like forums, comments, and posts on other sites. If they all come from comments alone, or all from forum posts, for example, you will receive a penalty.

An important point to remember is that Penguin does not give whole site penalties. Instead, it flags pages that receive penalties, and those are removed from the search engine index. This can still severely cut back your site traffic, however, because you will lose pages that have a lot of backlinks. It can pay to be very careful with your backlinks ahead of time so you do not have to face this problem in the future and have to do a lot of damage control.

You may not realize your site has been flagged with the Penguin algorithm, especially if your traffic did not drop significantly after the most recent update. However, if you noticed yourself losing a lot of traffic right away, this means that Penguin must have penalized one or more of the pages on your site. Check frequently, especially when you believe Penguin is in the process of running. It takes a few weeks to complete the process, so your site may be reached at a later date and you may have some time to save it from some trouble.

If you are unsure if your website has been hit with the Google Penguin algorithm penalty, it is important that you have someone perform an in-depth technical website audit to determine if you have been penalized.

Other Google Algorithm Updates outside of Panda and Penguin

While you should concentrate most of your SEO efforts by staying within Google’s good graces when it comes to Panda and Penguin, should you be concerned about other updates that happen on a regular basis?  Yes!  Read about some other updates that may or may not effect your website’s performance.

Mobile Friendly Update

Google Mobile Friendly Update

This update is quite a lot more straightforward than Panda or Penguin, at least in terms of what it is meant for. At its core, this update is meant to fish out web sites that are not mobile friendly and give them penalties. A mobile friendly web site is classified as any site that can display correctly on a mobile device. There is no in-between with this; the update either deems a web site mobile friendly or does not.

If your web site is not mobile friendly, this can be easily remedied by contracting it out to a competent web design company.. Pay attention to common mistakes that web sites usually make in relation to mobile usage, including using Flash and other software that cannot be seen via mobile. Be sure your site can be read and viewed easily on a mobile screen, and make it responsive enough to resize depending on the type of mobile device any specific viewer might be using. Note that a penalty from this update probably will not damage your traffic too badly overall, but improving your site’s mobile friendliness can increase it.

Payday Update

Google Payday Update

This is a unique algorithm that focuses specifically on web sites in certain markets that are known for being potential scams. These web sites turn up in search results for key words like payday loans, Viagra, gambling, and many others. Essentially, the algorithm pays closer attention to sites in these niches than it does to others, and if anything remotely problematic appears on the site, it will be penalized.

Some less quality web sites in these areas take their chances anyway and tend to make a lot of money before they are penalized. However, if you want to run a legitimate web site in any of these markets, you will need to be very careful about your content and presentation to avoid getting a penalty. This is not a very forgiving algorithm, so it pays to be very vigilant if you operate this type of web site.

Pirate Update

Google Pirate Update

This algorithm focuses exactly on what it sounds like: media piracy. In the past, it was easy for users to search Google and find streaming and torrent sites providing pirated media. Since this algorithm was introduced, however, these search results have dwindled considerably. Now, torrent sites do not turn up in results for movie titles or specific episodes of television series.

This does not mean that these kinds of sites are completely removed, but it does mean that they will be buried far below the search results. If you do not want to get a penalty under the Pirate algorithm, you simply need to avoid offering streams or torrents of copyrighted materials. Although one or two may slip past the radar of this particular algorithm, if you have too many violations, you will notice a big change in your web site’s traffic after this update.

Top Heavy Update

Google Top Heavy Update

This is another, smaller update that first came about in 2012. The purpose of this algorithm is to be sure your web site’s content is user-friendly enough so that any visitor will not lose patience looking for the information that brought them to your site. Visitors do not want to become frustrated or overwhelmed digging through a web site with too much information at the top. If your site is penalized for this, the entire site will be affected, not just specific pages.

Reduce the risk of getting a Top Heavy penalty by making sure the content on your web site is spaced out and easily accessible by visitors. For the most part, this means that ads should not be prevalent at the top of the pages on your site. A single ad at or near the top of the page should not cause a penalty, but horizontal and vertical ad bars that appear before any of the site’s actual content will.


It can feel very overwhelming trying to understand all of these Google updates and algorithms. However, if you plan to make money marketing your web site, you need to be sure you are not going to be penalized by any of them. If you are penalized, your site’s traffic will be damaged and may almost disappear. Keep your site ahead of any of these penalties and you will minimize the troubles that Google’s algorithm updates can bring.

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