Back in February 2011, Google unleashed its first anti-spam panda attack upon the web. Panda struck out against sites that thrived on thin, low quality content or duplicate content created pretty much for the sole purpose of astroturfing Google results. In other words, if your website had a whole lot of crappy articles written around keywords with little regard for substance (i.e. written for Google bots instead of humans), you may have been penalized out by Google Panda. The Panda is still on the prowl for low quality websites with poor content (in fact, Panda 4.0 just recently rolled out in May, 2014).
In April 2012, Penguin update came into light. Google Penguin is markedly different Panda. Where Panda beat down websites with low quality content, Google Penguin savaged sites that utilized spammy backlink schemes to improve search engine rankings.
For websites with an extensive amount of unnatural links in their link profile, the screws only tightened with subsequent Penguin updates unless they underwent extensive, painstaking link removal campaigns.
Local Results Appear in SERPS
SERPs used to be so simple. Google’s first page had 10 organic positions. The end. Nowadays, you have the knowledge graph, local listings, and all sorts of other fancy doodads and widgets. It all started when Google inserted local listings from its Google Maps/Google Places system into SERPs pages. The once simple system of 10 organic positions per page was now cut open and stuffed with these local listings. You now had more than 10 positions per page. What’s more, because the listings appeared in the middle of SERPs pages, breaking up the organic results, this made for a much longer scroll down to the organic positions that happened to appear below the local listings. What this did was further devalue the organic positions that were lower on the page. In other words, being position 6 or 7 in Google now meant significantly less than it used to in terms of impressions and click-through-rate. Yay.
Google’s Venice update in February, 2012 rather largely impacted the potential reach of local businesses in SERPS. Google Venice was designed to “aggressively” localize search results. As mentioned above, Google had already previously begun to insert a section of local listings into its SERPs results, but now the localized results were also invading traditional organic rankings. Even if you weren’t signed into your Google account, Google would now provide you almost completely localized search results based on your IP address. This update makes a lot of sense.
Panda and Penguin were two additional algorithms that functioned aside from Google’s core algorithm. Hummingbird, on the other hand, which was released in August 2013, was a complete revamp of said core algo. Hummingbird was said to be the evolution of a smarter Google that could interpret a website’s content much more like a human being would. It could now go beyond simply analyzing word counts, spelling mistakes and keyword density. Google supposedly now understands the semantic relevance and meaning of the content and can index content in such a way that it can provide its users more value (i.e. knowledge graph results) when they do searches.
In fact, all of the above game-changing updates have lead to a great deal of division within the SEO community, and it’s this general uncertainty and lack of solidarity that has probably impacted SEO the most overall. Thus, it’s important to apply many different techniques for ranking to see what sticks best. We do know this much: Content matters, links matter and social media matters. Don’t ignore any of these!