Penguin, Panda, Pigeon, Hummingbird: What’s It All Mean?

To hear an SEO specialist talk about Google, you’d think that the whole search landscape was actually some sort of crazy animal kingdom. Even people who know that the names refer to algorithms rather than furry — or feathery — friends often have a tough time understanding the precise differences between the four. Need a cheat sheet to get you through the SEO search language? Here’s a quick guide.

Panda: Originally rolled out in early 2011, Google Panda was designed to improve search results by down ranking sites that contain low-quality content. This was in direct response to old-fashioned SEO tactics that brought users to a page but didn’t provide much in the way of content or navigation once they got there. Panda deals mostly with on-page issues like duplicate content and keyword stuffing, and it uses a set of guidelines that include spelling and grammar, credibility, consumer value and overall trustworthiness. We’ve seen several updates since the initial launch, but those guidelines still stand.

Penguin: Hot on the heels of Panda, Google Penguin hit the landscape in 2012 as a direct response to black-hat link tactics. While this algorithm complements Panda’s quality guidelines, it specifically targets link activity and can punish a site if Google believes that it’s involved in link trading, buying or spamming. This requires site builders to keep an incredibly close eye on the quality and content of their off-page links.

Pigeon: This latest player in the algorithm world is all about local search results. Launched in 2014, Google Pigeon connects site and map searches, boosts results from directories like Yelp, Trip Advisor and Kayak and adds weight to businesses with neighborhood-based keywords. Some business owners saw a traffic increase after the rollout, but others reported a decrease if the keyword themes were especially widespread.

Hummingbird: Another complement to Panda and Penguin, Google Hummingbird landed in late 2013 as a way to hone two crucial areas: mobile responsiveness and contextual search. Not only does this algorithm reward mobile-content strategies, but it also interprets search queries to provide results that align with conversational meaning rather than specific words.

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