Hummingbirds, Panda’s and Penguins – How they Impact on SEO

If you have been living under a rock, you may not have heard about Hummingbird – Google’s latest update to its algorithm. It was officially launched in late September but actually rolled out on 20th August. Here’s the lowdown of how it might affect you…

What is Hummingbird?


Hummingbird is not just an update to the current algorithm – it is a whole new algorithm that will enable Google to deliver faster and more precise results to searchers.

Instead of focusing on keyword-based activity, Hummingbird moves search results away from keywords to context-based search. For example, if a user is searching for 5S services – which could mean “iPhone 5S services” or “5S lean services”, Hummingbird tries to identify the context of the search to deliver the right result to the user.

Hummingbird aims to remove the ambiguities of our language when delivering search results.  In other words, the new algorithm aims to focus on the semantics of search queries rather than just trying to match a few keywords.

In another example, a website might have ranked very well for house renovations even though a user might actually be asking a question about how much do house renovations cost. With Hummingbird, instead of sending a user to a page about house renovations, it tries to understand the context of the search and aims to deliver a page that actually shows the cost of a house renovation.

In theory, this may mean less traffic (and sometimes more) but the traffic delivered should deliver better more qualified traffic because the traffic is more relevant.

How is Hummingbird different to Panda and Penguin?

Hummingbird focuses on the knowledge graph. It is not a penalty, unlike Panda and Penguin.

Penguin is a penalty applied to some websites that have low-quality links, over optimised anchor text and that is stuffed with keywords.  In particular, it focuses on penalising websites that either brought links or obtained them from link networks. This is a penalty caused by off-page factors – poor quality links.

You won’t fully recover from Penguin until the bad links are removed.

There have been 5 penguin updates in total. They started 0n 24 April 2012 with the latest one being rolled out on 4th October 2013.

Panda is a penalty that was applied to some websites that had thin content, high bounce rates, duplicate content and that were slow to load.

It basically is a penalty caused by on-page factors including the content on the website.

It aims to ensure that only websites that provide users with a good experience are rewarded. It was rolled out in February 2011.

There have been 25 updates to Panda with the latest official update in March 2013.

What’s the difference between Hummingbirds, Penguins and Pandas?

Panda and Penguin are penalties applied by Google for dodgy on-page and off-page activities. Hummingbird is not a penalty – it’s a whole new way of delivering search query data.

Why should you care?

The way businesses have traditionally undertaken SEO must to change. Successful SEO campaigns go beyond the practice of optimising for search engines.

Now you need to optimise for customers through engaging and search engine optimised content, smarter web design, and social media. To do this successfully, you need a content strategy.

Doing this haphazardly is unlikely to reward. Your SEO efforts need to be on delivering quality content that matches user enquiries.

SEO is not just about link building. Buying links might give you quick short term wins but they also carry the risk of a Google penalty.

Not only does it put your business at risk, the cost to clean this up is high.

What should you do to survive?

  • Develop a content strategy
  • Write good quality content regularly (or get some help)
  • Mine your adwords search query data for content ideas
  • Add semantic and structured data to your website (if your website platform allows you to do this).
  • Review any pages with high bounce rates and look to improve content on the page
  • Keep to Google’s webmaster guidelines

It’s a good idea to review our next post which covers off how to do keyword research in an era where keywords are not provided.

Who may find this difficult?

E-commerce sites, in particular, may find implementing some of the changes difficult.

This is because some of the e-commerce sites we encounter use proprietary e-commerce platforms that are not well set up for semantic search in that they are not well set up to include structured data, blogs or even control of their meta page titles and descriptions.

You may need to start planning to change platforms or having some serious talks with your web developer if the one you are using does not give you the flexibility to adapt.