Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Panda, Penguin, Pigeon – What Google’s 3 P’s can do to your Business

If you run an online business, own a website or market one on behalf of someone else you will most definitely have heard of (if not have a strong dislike of) Google’s Panda, Penguin and Pigeon algorithms.

Don’t let the cute animal and bird themes distract you as these labels represent some of Google’s main search algorithms – i.e. the complex set of factors that govern the way websites are ranked in the search results.  

So what exactly are the 3 P’s and why might they affect your business?


What is it? – The algorithm that assesses the quality of your backlink profile.  

Why might it affect you? - If you have built links in the past purely to manipulate your search engine rankings, this algorithm could cause Google to lose faith in your site.

penguin algorithm update
What can you do about it? – Chances are that if you were going to be hit by Penguin it would have happened already.  You will have noticed a significant drop off in traffic caused by loss of rankings.  However it is worth noting that the majority of sites that used any kind of SEO strategies, whether they intentionally built links to manipulate search or not, saw some reduction in visibility after the algorithm was first rolled out or following subsequent refreshes.  Thoroughly cleaning up your site links and waiting until the next rerun of the algorithm is the best way forward if you feel your site has been affected.

Is that enough? – Most certainly not.  Cleaning up your links will only get you back to square one – which may leave you in a state of zero visibility if you relied on these lower quality links to gain ranking positions.  Going forward you need to implement a solid online marketing strategy, making the most of your onsite content, blogs, social media and developing natural links to help your site to grow and gain in authority.

What’s the latest? We’re currently awaiting a refresh – this should be pretty monumental as Google have stated it is more a re-writing of the algorithm rather than a refresh and when you bear in mind it took them almost a year to release the first version, it gives you some idea of the scope.  Dubbed the ‘Next Generation Penguin’ this algorithm rewrite aims to make things better for webmasters and users, so keep your eyes peeled and your ears to the ground in the coming days.


What is it?  - First released in February 2011, Google’s Panda algorithm aims to lower the rankings of those sites with thin or poor quality content.

Why might it affect you? – If your website has very little content or what you do have is poor quality (i.e. written with only your prize rankings in mind) then you may have been affected by the Panda algorithm.

What can you do about it? Ensure your content adds value to your website, that it is informative and useful for the people using your site and not just plonked there to get the attention of Google’s bots.  Developing a solid content marketing strategy now will ensure you don’t fall into the Panda trap again.

Google itself has published guidelines on what makes a quality site so we’ve shared the best of these tips below to show you what you need to be doing if you manage your own online marketing or what your provider should be offering you:

  • Is the information trustworthy?
  • Does the site have duplicate articles with slightly different keyword variations?
  • Does the article have spelling or grammatical errors?
  • Would readers be genuinely interested in the content or is it purely there for search?
  • Is the article well edited?
  • Is it the sort of content you’d share or recommend to friends?

By asking yourself these questions before creating and publishing content on your site you can ensure that it is useful, informative and engaging for your site visitors and goes beyond the retro purpose of helping your site to rank for specific keywords.

What’s the latest?  The most recent version of the Panda algorithm dubbed 4.1 was released on 25th September 2014 and affected around 3-5% of search queries. This comes around 4 months after the major update 4.0 which affected 7.5% of queries and suggests perhaps a quarterly refresh programme.


pigeon algorithm
What is it?  Launched in July 2014, Google Pigeon is a new update aiming to provide more useful and effective local search results.

Why might it affect you?  If you used to rank for local keywords associated with the products or services you offer in your local area you may find your page one positions have been replaced by directories and review sites since July.  Changes are visible within Google Maps as well as web search results.

What can you do about it? Many local businesses have been in a state of panic since this update and have been somewhat infuriated at being usurped by directories that we all know consumers hate to use anyway!  It seemed that Yelp! whined about their lack of visibility and Pigeon took flight to the detriment of many local businesses who feel they have done nothing wrong but gain the local visibility they are rightly entitled to.  The one good thing to come out of all this was that internet marketers could seal the ranking report coffin once and for all as even local rankings now prove to be a useless metric.

What’s the latest? There have rumblings this week that the Google Pigeon update has been rolled back.  A study by a law firm (a sector hit hard by the update) seems to suggest that the update is being slowly rolled back but I have yet to see real evidence, especially as directories still dominate particularly around searches for manual trades – builders, plumbers and so on.

There are of course other updates notably hummingbird which paved the way for mobile search and came in the wake of the ‘Not Provided’ saga but as it doesn’t begin with a 'P' I don’t think we need to cover it here.

Hopefully you have found this blog a useful and easy to understand insight into the main search algorithms and can plan your online marketing is the most beneficial way moving forward.  Why not share this content with someone else who might find it helpful?