Google is constantly re-evaluating, refining and making it’s search process better for us the user. In recent years it has undergone some colourful name changes; Caffeine, Panda, Penguin, but more importantly these changes have fundamentally altered the way in which the internet is searched with the latest change called Hummingbird. These changes give us a better search outcome bringing information to us in quicker clearer way with more relevant to us.
Why should you care you may ask?

Well if you own a website you want it to appear as high up the list as possible and ultimately at the top of a google search. Studies have shown that the top listing gets over a third of clicks, the second listing approximately 18% and reducing from there on back. It has been estimated that this change is affecting over 90% of searches so if you think this doesn’t affect you, think again.
To better understand what goes on in a google search we need to briefly cover what these major changes have meant.


Timeline of Google Search major updates


Coffee CupGoogle Caffeine, released June 2010
This was the first major re-design of the search process. The purpose was to optimize indexing of billions of Internet documents presenting richer, bigger, and fresher pool of results in quickest time. It was estimated that search results were 50% fresher and quicker than previously. The emphasis of this update was on keywords and the age of the domain (generally the older the domain the more content to index, the higher it appeared).


Panda ImageGoogle Panda, released February 2011
This change aimed to move low-quality sites and sites with not much content down the ranking and move higher quality sites to the top of the search results. CNET reported a big rise in the rankings of news websites and social networking sites and a big drop in rankings for sites containing large amounts of advertising. Quality not keywords would become key. This is estimated to have affected the rankings of almost 12% of all search results. Google’s Panda has received several updates since the original rollout.


Penguin ImageGoogle Penguin, released April 2012
This update was to better catch sites deemed to be spamming its search results, in particular those doing so by buying links or obtaining them through link networks designed primarily to boost Google rankings through techniques known as “Black Hat” techniques. Over optimised sites and sites that were stuffed with keywords were hard hit. 3.1% of search results were affected by this update.


Hummingbird logoGoogle Hummingbird, released August 2013
The Hummingbird update is a core update, a complete change of the search algorithm. The objective is not a new way of indexing, but a better understanding of the users intent when searching to offer the most relevant results to them. In other words make the Google search more human. Instead of looking at keywords it looks at whole statements and questions similar to the way a human would ask a question. By looking at the query as a whole, and not just keywords,  this makes the result match the query better as it looks for concepts, not just words.   It is estimated that this change has affected over 90% of search results.
Black Hat SEO Image In the past it has been possible to inflate your worth by “Black Hat” Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques. These were techniques that did not quite follow the rules either by buying lots of links on sites specifically created for this, stuffing your site with keywords so you would be found for searches vaguely relevant to your purpose, fake pages specifically for search engines, invisible text specifically for search engines, to name but a few.

Before “Hummingbird” Google’s search focussed on keywords so most of the techniques listed above rightly or wrongly worked. As with all things they were abused and ultimately started to affect our search results delivering irrelevant subject matter, advertising, spam and even malware. Google has released various updates other than the major ones to address the issue and along the way some sites have been penalised cleaning up the internet landscape partly.

The semantic search algorithm that “Hummingbird” introduced means that Google can now differentiate between good quality, original, relevant content and poor quality content. Combined with the other major updates it is now more able to identify websites not complying with the rules and therefore impose penalties on these sites.

A reputable competent web team will already know this but all too often, especially with small businesses starting out, cost and not the reputation of the company employed to develop the website are the prevalent factor. As a result in the haste to get the website elevated up the rankings these techniques may have been employed and up to know that would not have had an impact. Now that Hummingbird, Panda & Penguin are all working in harmony however it’s starting to become a big problem for small businesses because Google have increased the issue of penalties on sites for non compliance.

Most business owners will not even be aware of what has gone on behind the scenes until they receive notification of a penalty or warning that there is something wrong. Ignore these notifications at your own peril. I will use a current clients statistics to demonstrate the effect of a penalty or in this case 3 penalties over a period of a year.
The number of visits per month fell from 100000 visitors to 650 visitors over this period.
Being a retail site this has had a large impact on potential sales and if left unresolved could have dire outcomes for a business. In this instance this was caused by unnatural link behaviour due to excessive backlinking. There were over 5000 links pointing back to the site and unfortunately the first step has to be an attempt at removing the links manually. This is a time consuming and difficult process.

Google Site Penalty Graph







The effects of this Google algorithm change are now only really beginning to appear and unfortunately it is the small business being hardest hit.

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Please note that if you intend to take us up on this offer you will need to make Google Webmaster Tools & Google Analytics for your site available for us to use