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Here are some things that have happened in the last few months that you’ve probably heard about. We believe that being informed is as important as being smart. And always better than being panicked!

Penguin 3.0 Update – October 20th, 2014

What it is:

a penguin update waddling inOn April 24th, 2012 Google released their “Webspam Update” which thereafter became known as the Penguin update. Where the Panda updates focused on on-site factors (e.g. content), Penguin focuses primarily on off-site factors revolving around manipulative back linking. The update this week marks the 6th iteration of this algorithm. But how does it affect your site’s SEO?

The Penguin algorithm goes through and analyzes a variety of signals from websites to determine if they are doing anything manipulative. Are they engaged in blog spam? Web 2.0 spam? Participating in a private blog network? If your site is found guilty of such violations, your site will receive a penguin slap which will equate to a dramatic decrease in Google organic traffic. The only way to reverse this penalty is to clean up your act before the next time the algorithm is run – which tend to occur at least every six months to a year.

To clean up your act you should run an audit of the site in order to identify all of the links that got you in trouble to start with, then begin petitioning to get the linking sites to remove the problem links. More often than not, these websites simply won’t remove links, in which case you can use a utility from Google called the link disavow tool–though we’ll caution you that this is a tool that should only be used with extreme care! You can do more harm than good with the perceived misuse of disavowal. Following these steps should get you out from under this update’s despotic webbed foot and you should see traffic increase by the time the next Penguin refresh comes around.

Why it’s important:

It is important that people understand at least the basics of this algorithm so that they understand that attempts at “gaming the system” or other forms of questionable tactics online can seriously damage a business’s performance online. Optimizing for search today is much more difficult than it used to be. This is why it’s important to have someone experienced with SEM (search engine marketing) involved with your SEO campaign so you don’t inadvertently create more problems for yourself down the line.

Pigeon Update – July 24th, 2014

What it is:

puffed up pigeon updateThe pigeon update (as Search Engine Land named it) is a backend overhaul to Google’s local search algorithm. According to Search Engine Land –
Google told us that the new local search algorithm ties deeper into their web search capabilities, including the hundreds of ranking signals they use in web search along with search features such as Knowledge Graph, spelling correction, synonyms and more.
In and of itself, that’s a pretty vague explanation of what Google changed in the update.

However, in other research and based on experience, I extrapolate a few things. First, this update is likely very similar in purpose to the Hummingbird update from last August, where Google essentially replaced their entire query processing engine so that it would be more proficient at handling semantic requests (i.e. better at answer questions and better at determining the underlying intent of the query). Most likely, this change is setting in place building blocks for future changes Google is going to make to local search query processing.
Second, the more immediate and practical take away had to do with the ranking radius for businesses, number and type of combined results (how many local results are shown in an organic result), and the types of sites that are shown for results. One of the most notable impacts of these three is that directory based sites (e.g. have received a major boost in rankings for relevant (and less so) queries. This is notable because this is on the heels of a recent public dispute between Yelp and Google over whether or not Google was surpassing Yelp in rankings.

Why it’s important:

The primary take away from this seems to be that there has recently been a lot of flux in local ranking results for businesses. No one really seems to be sure of the exact scope, nature, and reason for this change, but it is likely that more changes are coming. As a result, location based businesses need to, at the very least, be setting up and performing basic optimizations for their location(s). Ideally, these businesses are optimizing their locations and performing other SEO-type work in order to satisfy the variety of new signals being considered in local rankings.

More resources

Experts Weigh In on Google’s “Pigeon” Update Aimed At Improving Local Search Results
Google Updates Local Algo with More Web Based Signals – Turmoil In SERPS

HTTPS/SSL Update – August 6th, 2014

What it is:

SSL CertificateWebsites can use different protocols onsite to secure their data. The most common protocol is call Secure Socket Layer (SSL). Websites that have a SSL don’t use the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), but instead use Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure to securely transfer information between a server and a user. The goal is to make it so that it is impossible for someone to intercept a transmission from a client to a server (or vice versa) and to be able to read the information. Over the last few years as Google has added more user-based features they have begun to upgrade their security. About two years ago Google made all of their search engine queries and pages SSL secured.

With this update, Google announced that it was likely that its search engine would provide some amount of preference to websites that were secured versus ones that were not.

Why it’s important:

By Google’s own admission, this is a signal that a website can utilize to increase its probability for ranking performance. Right now, though websites are only seeing small boosts from the change (and there are, however, studies that indicate websites were actually hurt by changing to SSL–though it’s more likely they converted the site improperly), it’s worth at least considering changing websites to SSL. It is quite likely that in the future, websites that have SSL certification will receive a greater boost and may be privy to additional Google perks that other sites are not (i.e. reporting data).

Panda 4.1 (27th update) – September 23rd, 2014

What it is:

This update is the 27th known update to the Panda ‘algorithm’. The primary goal of Panda is more of a filter than algorithm aimed to find and punish websites with thin, duplicate, plagiarized, or otherwise unhelpful content. The Cute little panda updatetheoretical result is that cheap and cheating websites would be penalized to not be shown in search results while websites that are more robust and useful would be prioritized. For the most part, the initiative has been successful (depending who you ask), though there has been a fair amount of collateral damage along the way.

Why it’s important:

It is important that website owners understand the importance of properly optimizing a website. As is evidenced by the fact that this is the 27th iteration of this algorithm, the Panda updates are not going to go away. Google will continue attempting to refine what they look for and how they judge it. As such, web masters need to not only make sure they are not in violation of any of the guidelines associated with Panda, but also strive to optimize existing content and create new quality content that they can use to be boosted in ranking results.

More resources:

How to Survive Google’s Pending Panda Update – a bit old but provides a decent over view of the algorithms targets


photo credits:

Lord Biro via photopin cc

Chi King via photopin cc

Simon & His Camera via photopin cc

Jamie Bates
Online Marketing Director