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Posted on Jul 16, 2014

SEO Goes to the Zoo – What is Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird?

SEO Goes to the Zoo – What is Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird?


When Google changes the way it delivers search results, real things happen. Sometimes companies go out of business and jobs are lost while for others success and riches beckon. So what happens behind that simple white screen with a search box matters. The biggest updates in recent years were named after animals. So this article will help to explain: what is Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird?


Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird are reference names for the most significant updates that Google has made to its search algorithm. The algorithm is the machine that looks at websites on the internet and ranks them for search terms. Google tinkers with the algorithm all the time. But only the big changes get a codeword.


It’s not clear why Google chose a vegetarian bear, a bird that can’t fly, and the smallest bird in the world to describe its updates. Panda has something to do with the name of one of the engineers in the company and Hummingbird is about being “precise and fast” but the names feel a bit too gentle given their potential impact. It gives the impression of “SEO goes to the zoo” but SEO usually feels more like the jungle. Or it could be the plains of Africa where beautiful creatures become lunch for larger and more aggressive animals. In the online world “larger and more aggressive” usually refers to websites with higher SEO and marketing budgets.


So the names are not descriptive and have no correlation to the reason for their existence. But the updates are significant in creating a more equitable jungle where the beautiful creatures (websites with high quality and original content) can compete with the bigger beasts.


Panda Versus Hyenas?


Of the three Google updates described in this article, Panda was the first. It launched in February 2011 and its job was to take on the hyenas of the online world – websites with low quality content. Google doesn’t want scavenger websites manipulating the system to get high results. Instead it wants to deliver fresh and original content to its users, and that is what Panda set out to do.


Penguin Versus Locusts


A swarm of locusts can cover an area of hundreds of square miles and contain hundreds of millions of individual insects. When a swarm arrives, nothing much gets left in its wake. Before the Google Penguin update some websites adopted a locust-swarm type strategy to link building. The bought, sold and stole as many links as they could get from whatever sources they could. This was to trick Google into thinking that lots of people liked the content on the website enough to link to it. Penguin gave Google the ability to differentiate better between a good link and a useless, spammy, swarm of locusts-type link.


Hummingbird Versus Humans


Humans have done some pretty horrible things to animal populations through the centuries. Usually it’s to deal with a situation in the here-and-now, like building a road or accessing oil. As a species we don’t have a good reputation for thinking about the future and how our actions can have a drastic impact for decades and centuries to come.


Prior to Hummingbird Google’s search algorithm was also about the here and now – specifically and literally answering the query typed in by the user. But Hummingbird is all about the future.


Hummingbird gives Google the ability to answer questions in context but not only that: it also has the ability to anticipate questions and answer them before they are asked. That means Google is trying to give its users a complete answer to what they are looking for, rather than a single answer to one search query. And this means a website that offers independent articles that are not connected might not do as well as websites that offer a series of articles that fully answers a user’s true query.


You will probably have already spotted the similarity between all three Google updates discussed in this article. That similarity is that Google is constantly trying to improve its product in order to give its users – the searchers – better quality results. As business and website owners, this isn’t something to fear. Although it does mean you should not spend time and money trying to manipulate search results. Instead, create useful and genuinely helpful content for the users that Google sends your way.


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