A Brief Guide to Google’s Algorithm Updates

Google has been working to improve the quality of search results for over ten years now, with major updates and overhauls to the search algorithm pretty commonplace these days. There are said to be around 500-600 tweaks per year to the search algorithm, helping to get the most relevant and high-quality results to the users.

Whilst many of these hundreds of updates are not really much to worry about, some are enormously important to be aware of. This article will help you to understand what the biggest updates were all about.


Panda was the first update Google launched back in the day, helping to weed out some of the poor quality sites which were infiltrating the top pages of search. The main focus areas for Panda were:

  • Duplicate content
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Thin and poor quality content
  • User-generated spam
  • Irrelevant content


Almost straight after the Panda update came to Penguin in 2012. This was aimed at down-ranking websites which had spammy and manipulative links. Links have been and always will be one of the most powerful ranking factors for a site, and back in the day, Google’s bots found it hard to distinguish between high-quality links and poor quality, spammy links.  You used to be able to buy links and use terrible techniques to get amazing results in the searches! This had to be stopped, so Google now uses Panda to check for internal and external link quality.

The main areas to watch out for:

  • Links from spammy sites
  • Irrelevant links
  • Paid for links
  • Links which are way over optimised for anchor text


Once Google sorted out the search results and began getting more high-quality sites back into the top results, they began focussing on user intent. Hummingbird was first rolled out in 2013, with a further update in 2015. Both these updates were there to understand the meaning behind a search query and deliver the most appropriate answers through the search pages.

Before Hummingbird, Google used to look at the individual words in a search query whilst figuring out what the user wanted. Hummingbird now sees the total combination of words, so the context is taken into consideration.

Areas to be careful with for the Hummingbird update:

  • Exact match keyword targetting
  • Unnatural language
  • No query-specific relevance features (eg FAQ sections)