You will come across the terms Panda, Penguin, and possibly Hummingbird while reading about SEO. It’s almost impossible to talk about the industry without mentioning one of them.
Let’s take a look at what they are to give you a little bit of insight on why people keep talking about Google’s algorithm zoo.
What is Google Panda?
Google’s Panda algorithm was the first one of their algorithms to be given a cute and cuddly animal name. Panda was released into the wild in 2011 and it assesses the content of a webpage to try and determine its quality.
Panda detects websites that have “thin” content, duplicate content, spun content, or just generally low-quality content full of grammatical errors. Any sites that it determines to be low quality are demoted in the SERPS. The penalty Panda provides is usually sitewide, so if you have a few bad pages your entire site can suffer a harsh response.
At first, Panda was not part of the main algorithm and was a periodic update that Google ran manually. This meant that every now and then Panda would come along and mix up the SERPS dramatically. However in early 2016 it was announced that Panda is now part of the core algorithm constantly checking for content quality.
What is Google Penguin?
Panda only focuses on content that is onsite, and Penguin only concerns itself with content that is offsite – in other words, links.
Ever since SEOs discovered that creating backlinks was a way to get your website higher in Google, they have been gaming the system. People were creating all kinds of low-quality links (in huge quantities) to try and get to the top.
Google’s core algorithm got better at detecting these links as time went on, but spam was still working and it was ranking people easily. More needed to be done.
Penguin was Google’s answer and it changed the way Blackhat SEOs operated. It was a complex update that is still not fully understood. But we do know that mainly it was assessing link quality and anchor text
Anchor text was being abused by SEOs after they figured out using KW rich anchor text would make a link more powerful. Having a large amount of links that contained a KW was a red flag that earned webmasters a slap from penguin. Over optimized anchor texts remain one of the most dangerous tactics in linkbuilding today.
Powerful links are always better than weaker links, but pre-penguin weaker links still had some value. It was often harder to get 1 awesome link than it was to create 10,000 links by using automated software. Of course everyone preferred 1 awesome link, but 10,000 automated links would still provide benefit. Penguin changed this and large numbers of low-quality links are now seen as a red flag and will earn webmasters a Google slap.
Like Panda, Penguin used to be a periodic update but now it is part of Google’s core algorithm.
What is Google Hummingbird?
Hummingbird is the name Google has given to its core algorithm since it updated it in 2013. Hummingbird was unique as it represented a fundamental change in the way Google’s main algorithm worked.
What this means is if Google was a car engine, Panda and Penguin would be the oil filter and the air filter – Hummingbird would be the name of the whole engine.
Hummingbird altered the way the results for “conversational search terms” were displayed. It attempted to understand the meaning behind the words that were being searched.
So for example, if you searched for “Honda Maintenance NYC” it would understand that Honda is a car, and you needed mechanics in NYC. Google could do this before Hummingbird, but it did it by (advanced) string matching instead of attempting to understand the intent.
Despite Hummingbird being such a huge change to a core part of Google’s algorithm – it didn’t actually cause as much chaos in the SERPS as Panda or Penguin did. It transitioned into the core algorithm reasonably peacefully.