SEO exists on an ever changing playing field. We no longer live in the 90s where you can get away with just about anything, despite the color of your hat. Google goes to great lengths to ensure that its product is the best that it can be, and that means making it harder for us SEO’s. At the end of the day, SEO is still the manipulation of a search engine’s algorithm, and to Google the number one search engine, this means their product is not foolproof. Although Google is constantly updating their systems, there are a few huge updates that changed the tone of SEO forever: Panda, Penguin and Pigeon. The updates behind these seemingly innocuous creatures are anything but innocent, from an SEO’s perspective.
The Panda update was introduced in January of 2011. Its primary purpose was to penalize sites with “low-quality” content. For social media and news sites, it was a blessing. For sites with large amounts of advertisement, not so much. In particular, content farms were hit the worst. For those of you that may or may not know, content farms are large networks of freelance writers whose express purpose is to churn out content to satisfy Google’s search algorithms. These sites are usually spammy and the content is not really worth reading. The writers they contract are typically not experts on the content they write within and typically English is not their native language. Although the purpose of the update was not formally directed at content farms, they were hit the hardest. Are content farms still used? Yes. But it’s a practice that is slowly being phased out. Regardless of whether or not you decide to have content generated for you en-mass, you have to make sure that it is relevant and comes from a moderately relevant source.
Penguin came to us in April of 2012. This update targeted more “nefarious” sites which violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Now, it’s one thing to have freelance writers generate content for you, but it’s a whole other story when you start purchasing links from link brokers. This was and still is an absolute no-fly zone for Google. Sort of like content farms, link farms exist to generate entire websites for the purpose of linking to other sites. Link building is imperative when running an SEO campaign, but it isn’t always so easy. The major problem was that instead of procuring organic links, people were turning to link brokers to build their link structure. If the websites in question had good, relevant content that was actually useful, there wouldn’t have been an issue. But these sites are more likely to be completely spam and chock-full of advertisements. If you’re lucky you’ll get a barebones article written in broken English with a back link somewhere on the page. If you’re really lucky it will be relevant to your enterprise. But it still counted as a link, and that’s how Google parsed it. Thus, Penguin was born and the glory days of Link Brokerage came to an end. Build your link structure organically. Don’t buy it.
Unlike Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird (which we don’t go into in this article, mainly because its impact is still questioned today), Pigeon got its name from Search Engine Land. Perhaps the least frustrating of all the updates, Pigeon was rolled out in July of 2014 to improve local search results. So, if you were to search for a restaurant or a store, the SERPs or Search Engine Results Pages, would display more instances of that store or restaurant located near you. Bottom line, local directories like Yelp and TripAdvisor prospered mainly because they’re saturated with thousands of specific locations. Of course, with all updates, sites will be adversely affected. But Pigeon did perhaps the least amount of damage. If you are a restaurant owner, store owner, franchise owner etc., you can thank Pigeon for that slight surge back in 2014.
It is important to note that all these updates are still in effect and still receive regular updates. Not necessarily to their directive, but to their effectiveness. It’s always a good idea to follow the best practices when embarking on an SEO campaign. The quick and easy schemes don’t usually pan out the way you’d want them to and more often than not, you’ll end up with a penalized website that doesn’t even scratch the fifth page in the SERP’s. Grow your site organically (here are 3 simple tips to get you started), don’t buy links, only buy high quality content, and adhere to the Webmaster Guidelines. Then you may just make it to the top.
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