The Ultimate Google Algorithm Cheat Sheet

  • By Siobhan Snaith
  • 06 Aug, 2017

Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird

The Google algorithm is incredibly complicated and it gets even more complicated when Google tries to provide searchers with the information that they are looking for. When the search engine system was first created, search marketers could easily find ways trick the search engine into thinking that their site was the best to rank .  This was normally done through the meta keyword/tag section of the site.

Since then, Google has evolved and the algorithm now takes into account hundreds of different factors in an attempt to show the most relevant pages at the top. The Caffeine update launched in 2010 and now search engine results change on a daily basis. With Google making over 600 algorithm changes every single year, it can be difficult to stay at the top. 

This drives marketers crazy as they try and figure out what the changes are, and how they can come out on top by the time it is implemented. With sites being monitored closer than ever, in this post, we’re going to have a look at the three biggest updates over the last couple of years. When Google makes a really big change to their algorithm, they usually give it a name, i.e. Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird.

What’s the Panda Algorithm?

 The Panda algorithm launched in February 2011 and it was a huge deal. Panda was launched to try and get high quality sites higher up in the search result page. The aim was to lower any spam sites and this was originally thought to target backlink farms and unnatural backlink patterns. In reality, it targeted on-site quality. Sites were hit by Panda very hard, and some are still trying to recover. If you want to find out if your site is considered to be “low quality” or not, then take a look at the Panda guidelines below, as published by Amit Singhal from the Google team.

  • Can you trust in the information in the content?

  • Is the topic written by someone who knows the topic well?

  • Does the site have duplicate content?

  • Would you feel happy entering your credit card details on the site?

  • Does the content have spelling errors?

  • Is the content being written to try and anticipate search engine trends?

  • Is the content original?

  • Does the content provide value?

  • Is the content edited well or produced in haste?

  • Does the content provide a comprehensive description of the chosen topic?

  • Does the content provide insight beyond the obvious?

  • Are there a lot of advertisements?

Thin/Duplicate Content  

A thin page is considered to be a page that has very little value to those who read it. It doesn’t mean that it has to have tons of content, but it does mean that it needs to be super helpful if it is shorter. If you have lots of pages that are indexed and you only have a sentence or two on each page, then Panda could see these pages as being low quality. You also have to look out for duplicated content. If you take content from other sites, Panda will make sure that your site pays the price.

Recovering from Panda

Google refreshes the Panda algorithm monthly, and when this happens, Google takes a look at each site to find out if it is a quality site or not. If you have been hit by Panda then you should do everything you can to remove content that is thin or even duplicated. When the Panda refreshes, you should see a huge improvement.

Of course, it can take a couple of months for Google to recognise your site and the improvements that you have made. Instead of refreshing the algorithm, Google might do an update, and when this happens Google change the criteria of what they class as being “low quality”. Google have now integrated Panda into their main algorithm, so even though we may not see a huge amount of Panda updates, it’s still a huge factor when it comes to your search ranking.

What’s the Penguin Algorithm?

The Penguin algorithm rolled out in 2012 and the goal of this was to reduce the trust that Google has in sites that have deceived and cheated the system by creating unnatural backlinks. A link is like a vote for your site, but the Penguin algorithm didn’t just include backlink checks. It also included anchor text as well. If you have a lot of self-made links with low quality content then Penguin will certainly punish you for this, and it might even affect you on a keyword basis as well. An employee of Google, John Mueller has stated that Penguin is very much a site-wide algorithm and this means that if a lot of links to your site are untrustworthy, then Google will assume that your site is untrustworthy as well. 

  • Do you have a lot of spam links?

  • Did you buy links from an untrustworthy provider?

  • Did you create low quality links yourself?

  • Are you keyword stuffing with your links?

  • Are your links relevant to your site?

  • Is your content relevant to your links?

Recovering from Penguin

The Penguin filter is very similar to the Panda filter, which means that it is run on a periodical basis and sites are re-evaluated after a set period of time. If you have been hit by the Penguin update then you need to remove any unnatural links that you have on your site.

If you can’t remove the links yourself then Google has a disavow tool  and when you use this, you can help to boost your ranking by getting rid of those spam links once and for all. It can take a couple of updates in order for your site to regain the correct ranking. You should read up on the disavow tool if you aren’t sure how it works, because if you end up removing good links then you can actually do your site more harm than good.

What’s the Hummingbird Algorithm?

 Hummingbird launched in 2013 and it is a complete overhaul of the Google algorithm. So much so, that sites are still being affected to this day. The Penguin and Panda updates were like putting a new part in your car engine, such as a fuel pump or even a filter. Now imagine Hummingbird as a completely new engine altogether, which still uses the filter and fuel pump mentioned above, but it’s very different to the one that was installed before. The point in Hummingbird is to try and understand what the user means when they are typing in queries, such as questions. This is to try and make Google so it has a more human level of understanding when it comes to the user’s searches, and it’s still more than possible for you to be affected by this.

Recovering from Hummingbird

The answer to recovering from Hummingbird is that you need to create content that answers the user’s query, as opposed to ranking for keywords alone. At the end of the day, it is Google’s goal to try and encourage web masters to post content that is the best, and if you post content that answers the user’s question then you’re certainly on the right track. When your site gets lowered by the Panda or Penguin update, it means that Google has lost trust in your site and if you fix these issues then you will be well on your way to regaining your old ranking. If your site has been doing poorly since the Hummingbird update then there isn’t really a way for you to recover from this. The only options you have are to try and find ways to get traffic through other avenues such as guest posting and even commenting on forums. 


Have you been affected by Hummingbird, Panda or Penguin? Do you need some quality content to get your site back on the right track or even ranked in general? Content Heroes’ SEO optimised, high quality content could be the solution to your problems. Contact our team today to find out more information. We’d love to help and we’re available to chat 7 days a week.


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