Hummingbird, Panda, Penguin - Google's Algorithms and How They Differ

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Hummingbird, Panda, Penguin - Google's Algorithms and How They Differ

As your knowledge of SEO expands, you're going to begin to encounter terms like Hummingbird, Panda, and Penguin - Google's zoo (sorry) of algorithms that are all working to establish your SEO ranking. They do this by establishing a predetermined set of strengths and weaknesses, and then cataloguing them on a site to site basis, rewarding and penalizing as they go.

The first thing you might come to think is that this menagerie (sorry again) of animal names represent different iterations of Google's all-knowing, all-powerful SEO algorithm as it evolves to better cast aside the irrelevant and showcase the destinations on the web that are rich in meaningful content, authority, and keyword usage. The reality is that Panda and Penguin represent their own algorithms, complete with regular updates and specific prerogatives that function within Google's broader, all encompassing algorithm, Hummingbird. They are cogs in the machine, so to speak.

So our work has increased a little bit. Instead of defining one algorithm whose naming scheme seems to jump between birds and mammals, we're now on the road to breaking down three algorithms - one with a general purpose, and two with highly specific focused purposes. That's fine! We're equipped to do so, and a stronger understanding of how the three function as one is a great way to steer clear of penalties and rein in (last one, I promise) the traffic your website deserves. Without further ado, let's start big and work our way down.


Mission: Panda stomped onto the scene in February of 2011 with one mission in mind: to elevate high-quality websites with unique, authoritative content, and punish those who acted as aggregates for 'borrowed' content from other sites.

Offenders: These lesser sites were known for collecting and reusing content from competitors' websites, housing multiple pages with a broad array of categories. Their goal? To rank highly with Google for multiple keywords. In addition, Panda penalizes sites with content it deems 'thin', which is to say that it's been written by a source that's either not credible, has low production value, is inappropriate, or simply doesn't speak to the interests of a site's typical traffic type.

How to Respond: Google's Panda algorithm enforces quality. If you're collecting or borrowing content from elsewhere to populate your site with numerous high-ranking articles, consider hiring a content writer of your own. Google is adept at recognizing content that you didn't write, so don't try to fool the system. To capitalize on these changes, focus your efforts on writing full, well considered topics, editing your content carefully, researching the interests of your users, and establishing yourself as an authority in your field. An attention to detail and a genuine passion for your website will serve you well when you confront the Panda.


Mission: Penguin landed in April of 2012 and brought with it a reinforced hunt for questionable or unnatural backlinks. Websites found to be the destination of multiple (often self made) links from other thin sites forfeited Google's trust and, in some cases, were shut down. Low quality sites with large volumes of links are out, and authentic, well trusted links to your site are in.

Offenders: Penguin's gaze is set on links, but there are plenty of ways to cheat the system beyond swaths of them leading to you from your own self made websites or from other forums where links are prevalent. Anchor text, for example, goes a little deeper than quantity and into search habits. Anchor text are the actual words that house a link, and if a site is seeing a lot of traffic from links with specific anchor text terms (example: 'home renovations'), Google assumes that those types of searches ought to be directed to your site. Where once, tricky users would produce multitudes of links with specific anchor text terms, Penguin has a trained eye for cheap self made links looking to cheat the system.

How to Respond: To appease Penguin, you're going to need to take on a little bit of a cleanup. Address the unnatural links leading to your website, and strive to adopt some link building best practices. There are other ways to garner the interest of potential partner websites (collaboration is a good place to start) and begin driving traffic to and from your website the right way. Before long, you'll see visitors coming to your site from origins you didn't expect, and that's a great step toward generating authority and regaining Google's trust in your links, which is a very real, very quantified trust rating. Be forewarned, the road to recovering from a Penguin infringement can be a long one indeed.


Mission: Remember, Panda and Penguin are two of the moving parts that drive the Hummingbird algorithm's objectives and effectiveness. Hummingbird's mission is greater in scope - broadening Google's understanding of search queries, delivering optimized answers to its users, and rewarding the websites that provide these types of answers.

Offenders: Though Hummingbird hosts heavy-hitters like Panda and Penguin, the goal of Google's algorithm in a more abstract sense is to improve the results of its search engine. Hummingbird's task is to emphasize content that answers the questions that are important to Google's users, and in such a way that the answers are driven by more than specific keywords and terminology. In this case, there aren't so many offenders as there are sites that haven't been optimized to answer questions clearly and with authority.

How to Respond: In the spirit of Panda and Penguin, authentic, high-quality content will probably achieve what Hummingbird is hoping of you, but aiming your determination at being the iconic personality in your field and answering specific, important questions are bold long-term aspirations that should keep you in the clear and on the road to success. Think of Hummingbird as a pursuit awarded to those who have adhered to Panda and Penguin and remain credible and trustworthy in the eyes of Google.

Your goal may be to see the best SEO results possible, but an understanding of these three Google algorithms should provide the foresight necessary to avoid pitfalls disguised as shortcuts. Ultimately, Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird have eliminated all but the most intricate cheats, and have created a web landscape that rewards the right motivations.