By Annie Ellicott

google algorithm updates


The latest of Google’s 2014 algorithm updates is the October 2014 rollout of the Panda 4.1 update and Penguin 3.0 on top of the Pigeon update launched in July 2014.

How do these Google algorithm updates differ and what impact might they have on how organic search results are displayed?

Several trends in online usage are changing the way consumers search for information:

  • increased use of social search and mobile apps  for search
  • growth in the number of local searches via smartphone
  • increased monetization (paid ad emphasis) in the impression market putting pressure on organic search
  • higher penetration of mobile searches as the installed base of tablets continues to grow
  • the increasing sophistication of smart phone features

No longer are consumers primarily typing in search terms on a desktop. Now they search using Siri (on the iphone) or Google Voice, ask their friends via social media (via a tweet of Facebook query) or they are searching for information using a mobile app. And at their current level of information-overload, they have little tolerance for search results which aren’t spot-on. Then there’s the business angle. As apps encroach on Google’s dominance in searches, their power to “own” the search landscape diminishes and so might their Adwords revenues. And that, of course,  is not a good thing for a public company. So as the consumer evolves, so must Google.

RKG recently released their Q2 2014 Digital Marketing Report showing that organic search declined from 36% of total searches to 31% since the second half of 2013.


In late July 2014, Google released a major update to local search listings referred to as the “Pigeon” algorithm update. Small businesses probably saw the impact most dramatically as suddenly their YELP listings rose above their own branded websites. Some categories were negatively impacted (real estate, jobs for example) much more than others (which benefited) such as hospitality.  Local search results however, have continued to fluctuate since July perhaps indicating that Google is continuing to test different Pigeon versions.


At the heart of hummingbird is a general shift of Google’s search algorithm to include signals about context, intent and semantic signals (natural language interpretations of a query vs a strict definition according to a keyword “exact match”). Your search history, social signals, related searches for people, places, events etc. will continue to influence your search results more and more. This started with the Knowledge Graph and advanced even more obviously with the introduction of Google Now.

Time will tell if Hummingbird with be as disruptive to brands as Panda and Penguin. So far, it appears not to have a significant rankings impact to most of my clients.

To recap past algorithm news:


Biggest culprits:

  • Duplicate content
  • Infrequently updated content

As Matt Cutt’s put it, “This update is designed to reduce rankings for low quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”

To identify if your site was hit, simply use your Google Analytics tracking to evaluate if your organic traffic from the U.S. dropped significantly around the third week in February 2011 or on the following dates. In March 2013, Google announced it was making Panda adjustments part of its overall ranking algorithm.

Dates of Panda Algorithm Updates:

February 23, 2011 – Panda 1.0

April 11, 2011- Panda 2.0

May 9, 2011- Panda 2.1

June 21, 2011 – Panda 2.2

July 23, 2011- Panda 2.3

August 12, 2011 – Panda 2.4

September 28, 2011 – Panda 2.5

October 5, 2011 – Panda “flux”

November 18, 2011 – Panda 3.1

January 18, 2012 – Panda 3.2

February 27, 2012 – Panda 3.3

March 23, 2012 – Panda 3.4

April 19, 2012 – Panda 3.5

May 27, 2012 – Panda 3.6

June 8, 2012 – Panda 3.7

June 25, 2012 – Panda 3.8

July 24, 2012 – Panda 3.9

August 20, 2012 – Panda 3.9.1

September 18, 2012 – Panda 3.9.2

5th November 2012

Nov. 21, 2012 (0.8% of English queries were affected; confirmed, not announced)

Dec. 21, 2012 (1.3% of English queries were affected; confirmed, announced)

Jan. 22, 2013 (1.2% of English queries were affected; confirmed, announced)

March 25th 2013 28

July 18, 2013

May 20th 2014 : Panda 4.0

October 2014: Panda 4.1


Biggest culprits:

  • Overoptimized inbound links (exact match optimized keyword anchor text and paid text links):
    • More than 50% of anchor text across all links is tied to keyword targets (vs to your brand name, website url or variations of those).
    • Exact match anchor text phrases which account individually for 10% or more of your site’s inbound links traffic.
  • Links from article marketing sites (e.g. guest posts) with thin content and exact match anchor text links back to your site.
  • Reciprocal link resource directories where partners “trade” links and poor quality inbound links partners with little relevancy to your product niche (links farms, links networks).
  • Spammy keyword use in comments, user names, page titles and footer links

If you think you got penalized by Penguin, here is a tool that might help you confirm or deny this: Penguin Penalty Analysis Checker

Dates of Google Penguin updates:

May 25, 2012 – Penguin 1.0

April 24, 2012 – Penguin 1.1

Penguin 1.1 on May 26, 2012 (impacting less than 0.1%)

Penguin 1.2 on October 5, 2012 (impacting around 0.3% of queries)

Penguin 2.0) on May 22, 2013 (impacting 2.3% of queries)

Penguin 2.1 (AKA Penguin 2.1) on Oct. 4, 2013 (impacting around 1% of queries)

Penguin 3.0 : October 17, 2014

What should you do if you think you have been hit by Pigeon, Panda or Penguin?

  • Conduct a thorough SEO audit of your site.
  • Manually address issues (local listings for Pigeon, content for Panda, backlinks for Penguin)
  • If you are unsure about how to address potential algorighm update issues, Leapup is happy to assist you. Just email or call us!