Google Panda, Google Penguin and Google Hummingbird – sometimes it seems that with all this different wildlife Google might be trying to compete with London Zoo. However, what’s the difference between them all?

It’s a question we’re commonly asked. The level of cloaking around Google’s algorithm changes often means that it’s quite hard to exactly pinpoint what they are. However, when it comes down to these three areas, it’s quite easy to spot the difference between the Google critters. So, let’s start with the oldest first and look at what it is, how it impacts websites and how to avoid penalties that it can cause.

zoo-1 A Closer Look at the Google Zoo

Panda

Google’s Panda update occurred in 2011 and is essentially an onsite based, spam fighting, algorithmic change.  In essence, it was Google targeting pages that offered little or no real value to search  – often referred to as ‘thin content’.

This algorithm hit sites in the form of article farms or directories and others that simply scraped and spun content before publishing it on another website. A lot of this content was also filled to the brim with keywords, and was created for little more than simple link value. It also hit sites with very slow page load times and high bounce rates.

Penalties occurred if a percentage of the site’s pages were flagged as having poor content. Google updated the Panda action every few weeks after its February 2011 introduction, before including it in the regular algorithm in July 2013.

Penguin

It’s hard to imagine something as cuddly and docile as a penguin wreaking havoc, but ask any webmaster hit by this algorithm change and they’ll inform you of its wrath.

The Penguin update targeted sites that had irrelevant links, over optimised anchor text and pages filled with keywords. It also punished sites with links from link networks and essentially focused on off-page components of the SEO puzzle.

Where Panda required a site to add more quality content, Penguin required a webmaster to remove all the bad links before recovery is even possible. There have been five Penguin updates, with the last being in October 2013.

Hummingbird

Hummingbird is a very different animal to both the Panda and the Penguin, and it is essentially a completely new algorithm. It allows users to engage in conversational search and then allows Google to deliver more precise results. It can incorporate context into a search to give better results and though there have been some widely circulated examples of it failing, it has been impressively successful.

Hummingbird uses semantics rather than keywords to deliver results – moving the search landscape from a two dimensional one to a three dimensional one. Instead of keywords, semantics searches are based on a number of factors including location, previous online behaviour, networks, trends and a whole host of other things. At the heart of this is the Knowledge Graph.

The Knowledge Graph picks up information and then interprets it. So, for example, if we searched for ‘When was the last time Liverpool won the English League’, we may be presented with a list of league winners from 1988 to 1992, with Liverpool highlighted among a table of results.

Hummingbird’s ultimate focus is to offer smarter, better results, as well as a more holistic approach to search. So, for example you can tell your device to ‘remind me to get bread in Tesco’ and the next time you walk into the shop Google will use the reminder and leverage your location data to remind you.

Unlike, Panda and Penguin which were a way of evaluating a website and punishing those that didn’t meet quality guidelines, Hummingbird is just a completely different way of doing business.