Somewhere deep in a California laboratory there is a world filled with pandas, penguins, and hummingbirds. Scientists are training and tweaking these creatures to defend good and attack evil. These furry mammals, cute creatures, and speedy flyers are bred to become the internet's toughest security guards. They are what we know as the defenders of peace...er...Google.
Those are some pretty unlikely characters, aren't they? Well, sorry to ruin the fantasy, but they are merely names for some of Google's algorithms and programs aimed at maintaining search engine integrity and punishing violators. Here is a look at some of the recent updates to Google's Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird algorithms and what to expect for the upcoming year.
Introduced on February 24th, 2011, Google Panda made its name as a search result filtering algorithm. Essentially, Panda, manually run every few months, works to eliminate spamming, copy and paste, low quality content, and low quality backlinks. Once the panda is released from the cage, sites with these violations are quickly bumped from the top of the SEO rankings and replaced with higher quality sites.
In the past, Google Panda has affected around 3.5-5% of sites, but statistics indicate this number will rise in 2014. That means Panda will likely improve upon its algorithms and continue the trend of searching for higher quality content. Panda has seen more than 25 confirmed iterations since its inception, including a few in 2013, and trends are expected to continue.
The best advice for business owners to prevent loss of rankings and traffic is to continue publishing high quality content. The idea is to produce meaningful, original content on a regular basis. Google is expected to place even more importance on quality content in 2014. When the panda is released from his comfortable California lab, make sure you are prepared. If you are caught in violation, you may receive a slap on the wrist from one of Google's strongest defenders.
While penguins are smaller in size than pandas, Google Penguin still packs a very big punch. Used by Google to find sites practicing black hat SEO techniques. Penguin targets unnatural, spammy links and drops their search engine rankings.
Google Penguin 2.1 is the latest update to the inbound link defender. Released in October of last year, Penguin 2.1 affects less than 1% of searches, but its manual penalty should be reason enough to steer clear of messing with it. Business owners and webmasters can avoid the wrath of Penguin by following the quality guidelines Google requires for inbound links. This means checking for offending links and removing them pronto. Signs point to Google continuing to focus on 'bad links' in 2014. Experts are advising people to review all links on their sites, including ones that are assumed to be healthy. This is a case of 'it's better to be safe than sorry.'
The biggest change for 2014 may revolve around Google's tiniest creature: Hummingbird. Google's newest algorithm revision searches for natural language and high-quality content on webpages. The idea is to give searchers precisely what they are looking for. Google users will be able to ask questions and receive results that actually attempt to answer the question, not just see it as a string of keywords.
Google Hummingbird will completely change the way business owners and webmasters look at their site content. Site content will need to be natural and search friendly in order to be picked up and ranked high by Google. One online content editor had this to say about how Hummingbird will affect her this year: "Instead of optimizing my content for one or two keywords, I'm going to need to think outside of the box and really start to think about what other ways (aside from keywords) users might search for the topic of my piece."
Hummingbird will continue to reward those who practice white hat SEO techniques and punish those who cannot create original, well-developed content. Thin content, keyword stuffing, and lack of relevancy will cause the biggest SEO demotions. One marketer had this to say about the picky algorithm: "The message here - businesses that take the time to write content that addresses common questions from consumers, will find themselves naturally rising to the top of Google's search results pages. Time to get writing people!"
New Year's Resolutions
So what is a business owner to do to stay on the good side of the Pandas, Penguins, and Hummingbirds this year? These are five resolutions that everyone should follow:
- Start writing high-quality content with relevant information and answers to specific questions. The algorithms are becoming smarter, and they are looking for intelligible, readable content.
- Stay on top of your content. Google is shifting its focus to frequent publishing and relevant topics. You can't publish something once a month and expect to stay relevant in 2014.
- Do your homework on keyword data. Take advantage of your Webmaster Tools and look at the data reports.
- Become a high performer. Take advantage of Google Analytics to improve the quality of your webpages and eliminate poorly performing aspects.
- Stay up to date on Google updates. We can make a bunch of predictions here in March, but the reality is that Google's algorithms will continue to change over the course of the year. The best piece of advice is to continually monitor the changes.
Experts Weigh In
While we can't predict where Google will go this year, we can follow indicators. Experts believe 2014 will place an increased focus on content marketing, social media, Google+, and semantic search. It is likely that Google will continue to reward webpages that have content marketing efforts, social media buzz, Google+ presences, and answer-driven content. The moral of the story is this: Google wants to be a search engine that accurately finds the information people are searching for. If people are talking about it, and it is of high quality, Google wants searchers to find it.
While business owners and webmasters may not know exactly what to expect, one thing is for sure: Google's California laboratory is filled with Pandas, Penguins, and Hummingbirds. With proper research, careful monitoring, and aggressive publishing, there is no reason to fear these defenders of Google.