Top Google Algorithm Updates: History, Works Penalty & Recovery Explained

What is the Search Engine Algorithm?

An algorithm is a computer program that looks over the trillions of web pages in its index to extract the exact answer which user wants.

How Search Engine Shows results?

Google Search Results Ranking System-

To rank, the website in the SERP google Page Rank algorithm calculates the number and quality of links to judge the website’s quality. But Google also uses 200+ ranking factors to show the relevant search results related to the user query.

An entire year google makes changes in their algorithm more than 500+ times. And Most of the changes are lesser-known. There are only some significant updates by google like (Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, Pigeon, Rank Brain, etc.), which they have announced officially!

How frequently google update their algorithm Some Brief History?

In 2004 google released the first Brandy Update, and this update main motive was follows –

  • To increase the size of its index
  • To give the more weight to quality Outbound Links and descriptive anchor text
  • And Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) while analyzing a web page google bots now looked at the synonyms of the keywords as well

Google also update their algorithm before this Brandy Update, but that Algorithm changes didn’t impact much on the search results.

Hence I will describe each & every update so that you can understand the google updates easily.

#1. Google Panda Update: 


Google Panda Update – To Drop the Low Quality, Spammy Content sites from Search Results Google update their Filter with Panda Algo.

In this way, they show the quality content which can satisfy the user.

In February 2011, Google released an update, which mainly designed to wipe out the low quality, spammy thin content from the SERP.

This update affected 12% of search results & mainly planned for U.S. sites.

In other words, this Google Panda update means to downgrade the spammy content search results which were trying to rank higher.

And reward those sites which sites had meaningful, quality & original content.

How Google Panda update changed SEO Best practice forever Have a look at this Rand Whiteboard Friday-

On July 18, 2015, Google updated last Panda 4.2, which were affected 2–3% of queries.

Now Google Panda Update Algo demotes the spam by adjusting the rankings down.

I mean to say that if you are trying to gamble the search engine and trying to game their algorithms, Google will adjust the ranking down of your website it won’t mean your website is penalized it means an algorithm applied to sites.

Moreover, Google Panda Algorithm is applied to domain level & it downgrades the whole sites.

How to Stay Safe from Google Panda Penalty?

1) Write High-Quality Content- First thing first. Write the High Quality & Well Researched Content, which can deliver the value to the user and help solve the user problem.

Even a few pages with duplicate or thin content can harm your website with the panda penalty, and these pages lead to a drop in the ranking.

2) Avoid Keywords Stuffing – It’s not best practice to use the same keywords again & again in the content. Because this won’t help your pages to rank higher.

While doing the keywords research, find the long tail & LSI keywords similar to your main keywords. Google understands the intent of the keyword intelligently.

3) Elude Spelling & Grammar Mistakes – Google understands English. Still, all other languages very well, so poorly written content won’t penalize your website, but lousy grammar leads to the poor user experience.

Use the Grammarly or Grammer Checker tool to check spelling or grammatical mistakes before posting the content.

4) An excessive amount of ads – Provide your user what they are looking for your content should be a problem solver.

Your content should provide a better answer regarding the user queries.

Peoples are not landing on your website for clicking ads, so you need to strategically place your ads on the web page, which shouldn’t hurt the user experience.

Google wants to ensure which websites are ranking on top of the SERP; they should provide the solutions they seek. Page layout algorithm update will penalize your website for using too many ads above the fold.

5) Avoid Canonical Issues on the website – Check your website is configured correctly or not.

Check every version of the website like – website is accessing through www or without www. (If your website is accessing in both versions need to put the 301 redirects to solve the canonicalization issue).

Otherwise, the same content on different URLs leads to duplicate content issues, and chances are site would be penalized.

Therefore there is a big misunderstanding that if Panda Algo hits the website, it won’t rank for any queries.

And precisely, it’s not true.

If your website has been penalized for low-quality content then the entire site can be penalized, but still, if your website also has some pages with quality content, chances are those pages can remain in the ranking.

Google spokesperson also confirms this.

Hence write for the user, not for the search engine & stay safe & ahead in the ranking.

6) How to Identify & Recover From Google Panda Penalty?

If your website hit by Panda Algo, how would you identify the penalty?

Because there is no notification, you will get from google.

Firstly you need to identify that is your website hit by the Panda penalty or any other manual action is applied or whether traffic just dropped.

Note: Check the Search Console, for any manual action penalty (if site hacked, Bad Link Penalty, etc.)

Where to Start –

1#. Check the Organic Traffic Report in Analytics –

First, head over to Google Analytics to check the ups & downs in the traffic because this penalty targets the content and adjusts your website ranking.

If you will penalize by Panda Penalty, definitely your traffic dropped off.

– If you haven’t set up read this How to set up google analytics.

Note: Check the Search Console, for any manual action penalty (if site hacked, Bad Link Penalty, etc.)

Because you won’t warn by google for Panda or Penguin Algorithmic penalty.

Now head over to google analytics select the date range you can choose as long of a period as you want to check the overall traffic of the specified period.

google analytics traffic

Now click on +Add Segment.

analytics sort segment

Uncheck the All UserBox.

Uncheck All User in Google Analytics

And check the Organic Traffic Box.

check the Organic Traffic Box in Analytics

This setting is necessary because you need to identify how much organic traffic you are generating from google. After the panda penalty, how much organic traffic did you lose or gain?

(As I described above that if your website have some high-quality content pages chances are you can rank high for those pages in the ranking no doubt Panda Algo is applied to the whole domain)

Organic traffic in analytics

Now check your analytics this section, and if you found a massive drop in the traffic, it means your website has been penalized.

Little ups and done are regular due to your business nature, but a quick decline in traffic means it’s a penalty.

2# Analyze the Search Console to find the Manual Action-

Head over to Search Console – If not set up, read this post How to set up Google Search Console.

Now If it is already setup go to Search Console >> Search Traffic >> Manual Action

If your website received no message in the Manual Action Section, its clear panda hit the website-

Manual action in search console

3# Check Your website in Siteliner For Internal Duplicate Content Issue on the site

Find the duplicate Content & Broken links easily with the help of this tool.

Enter the Domain Name and wait to scan the pages, and it will show you the duplicate content pages but other tons of information like – Average page size, Page Load Time, etc.

check duplicate content in siteliner

4# Find Broken Links & 404 Errors Pages –

You can use Screaming Frog to identify the 404 pages and Broken links.

Download & Install it, and after running the website through the screaming frog, it will show in-depth link analysis of your website

Collect the broken links, duplicate content pages, and 404 error pages.

404 errors page is not a big problem until if these pages are less, but if hundreds or thousands of pages return 404 errors, then you need to fix these pages.

To provide good user experience, these are not acceptable by search engines.

crawl your site screaming frog

Final thoughts follow all the above steps, and it will take the time to recover from the panda penalty.

Moreover, It’s not much hard to recover from panda; make sure you have done all the necessary hard work to think Google that your website is now better to serve for their user.

In a statement, Google spokesperson said that Google Panda Is Now Part Of Google’s Core Ranking Algo.

It means it googles panda won’t apply to the whole domain if your website has quality content pages. It means if you have some low-quality content pages google panda will filter those pages in search results.

Read this Jennifer Slegg Post- Understanding Google Panda: Definitive Algo Guide for SEOs

#2. Google Penguin Update


April 24, 2012, the day was when google rolled out penguin update. This penguin update target the sites which were following the spammy or unnatural link schemes.

Difference between Google Panda & Penguin Update –

The only difference in between Panda & Penguin update is where panda targets the low quality & thin content sites whereas penguin targets the unnatural links sites (if you are trying to deceive the user by using sneaky redirects, keywords stuffing in the content, cloaking, etc.)

You will catch by penguin algorithm for doing the unethical activity.

On September 27, 2016, google release Penguin 4.0, and this update was a real-time update, and this update devalues bad links instead of penalizing sites. Before this update, the Google Penguin update was penalized for the entire site.

Now penguin update becomes real-time, and the penguin is now part of the Google core algorithm.

Let me explain how penguin works before this update –

Let’s suppose penguin is rolled out today so it will take someday to roll out fully and which sites penalized by penguin update those sites are not ranks again until google did not release its next penguin update.

How does Real-Time Google Penguin work?

Google Penguin has become Real-Time, so this is the last Penguin 4.0 update by Google, and there will no update.

Hence this update means if you build the shallow links, you don’t need to wait for Penguin update; your website ranking can hurt tomorrow.

How to stay safe from Google Links Penalty in the world of Penguin Real-Time?

Build the quality & editorial links & stay safe from google link penalties don’t try to build spammy links.

If you have done or doing spammy link tactics, Stop Doing it. Google will catch you, and it will hurt your website ranking.

What to do if your website hit by Google Panda Algorithm

#1st Step: Analyze your Backlink Profile

It would be good for you to analyze your backlinks profile after a specific period.

Tools to analyze the backlinks-

1) Google Webmaster Tool (Free)

2) Ahrefs – I must Recommend (Free Trial/Paid)

3) Moz Open Site Explorer (Paid)

4) Majestic SEO (Free/Paid)

5) Linkody (Free Trial)

6) Cognitive SEO (Free Trial)

7) LinkResearchTools (Free Trial)

Why should you use backlinks analysis tools?

To make the process fast and keep track of links is a must nowadays competitive world, and it is also essential to understand your link profile.

To check your link profile regularly is too tricky so that these tools are essential for any website owner.

Reasons to use these Tools-

1) If you gain/lose any links, you will be notified

2) You can Keep track of what competitors are doing

3) You can discover Link Building Opportunities

4) You can analyze Your Backlink Spam Score

How to Judge if a Link is Good or Bad & if you found any risky links?

And How to Disavow them to keep your link profile healthy?

Below I am going to cover these two things step by step –

As you know, if you use illegitimate link building techniques, google will punish your website.

At first, you must know the difference between Good or bad links?

A useful link is which comes from a trustworthy & relevant site.

A useful link is to drive quality traffic to your site & also increase the credibility of the site.

But actually, there are many factors which make a useful link. So there is no perfect definition for a helpful link.

Here are some points which will help you to differentiate in between a Good or Bad link –

Good Link

1) If you are getting links from the high-quality sites (Business Insider, CNN, etc.) (Good Link)

2) If your links are relevant or related to your niche/industry (Good Link)

3) You are getting the links from a trustworthy site (Wikipedia) (Good Link)

A Bad Link is which comes from low authority & Non Relevant site.

How to Recognize A Bad link

1) If too many links come from Article Directories, Forum or blog commenting sites (Article, Directory, and forum sites links do not provide much value)

2) Over-Optimized Anchor Text.

(Let’s suppose if I am trying to rank SEO Consultant keywords and in my backlink profile all the links optimized with SEO Consultant anchor text it’s a red flag for your website (add Keywords diversity in your link building efforts)

3) Too many links from Non-ccTLD

Your business in the USA and targeting the local market, but most of your links are coming from U.K. sites; You need to build the links from local sites.

4) Links coming from unrelated sites or pages

If you are in Health Niche, you don’t need to link your site to the real estate site because the links you will get from the real estate site are not relevant.

So now you have a good understanding of Good or bad backlinks.

Links are the lifeblood of any website & backlinks are one of the most important Google ranking factors.

Hence if your website is Brand new, you need to do the hard work to build the links. (add link building resource here)

But if your website is some months old & you have already done some of the links building work.

Then you just need to analyze your backlinks so that you know how much health is your link profile & disavow the links which you find suspicious.

How to do it step by step –

1) Download the links from as many sources as you can, Make a Master Sheet.

And now you have two options you can do it manually (it’s too much time-consuming process) or with the help of tools. But still, you have to do some manual work.

2) Extract the root domain from the subdomain

You can use this URL to Domain Tool (Upload your CSV and Done)

This tool also helps you to avoid the duplicity of the URLs

3) Audit the Links

Now it’s time to check each URL and decide that you should keep this URL or disavow it.

If you don’t know exactly how to do this or still confusing read this post – How to recognize an unnatural link and this

Link Audit Guide for Effective Link Removals & Risk Mitigation.

Note- If you disavow the excellent backlinks, you will lose ranking, so make sure before disavowing the links.

Make sure to add the “Domain:” in front of every domain which wants to disavow.

Every domain which would be in your disavow file should be like this

For Example-

Make this disavow domain file as a Text file

It should be in a UTF-8 format or 7-bit ASCII

How you can create a Text File in UTF-8 format or 7-bit ASCII

Simple copy your disavow domain in the Google Doc document & save it as Plain text.

Now Head Over to Disavow Tool – Select your Site from the Drop-down list, click the Disavow links choose file and Upload your Disavow file.

When Google crawls the links which you have disavowed a no-follow tag will be applied to each link that would point to your site.

Mean to say Google Algorithm will ignore the links you have disavowed, and your website will be safe from any link penalty.

Note: If you are going to disavow the bad backlink again, don’t upload the new disavow file. If you do, it will override the previous disavow file.

Instead of downloading the previous disavow file from the search console & update the new URL, you want to be disavowed in the old disavow file.

Let’s suppose if you have 100 URL’s in the old disavow file & you are going to disavow 200 new URLs, then in the single disavow file, full URLs would be 300.

In Closing-

To stay safe and to keep a healthy link profile, it must be essential to check your link profile after a specific period.

So meanwhile, if you found unnatural links are pointing to your site, It would be good to keep them in the disavow file.

And use this google disavow feature cautiously; otherwise, it’s sure if you keep the useful links in this file. You will have a significant ranking loss.

If you don’t have any knowledge, I would recommend Hire the Best SEO Consultant who can do this job well.

Resources to Learn More –

The Complete Guide to Disavowing Links for Google and Bing

Your Start-to-Finish Guide to Using Google’s Disavow Tool

#3. Google Hummingbird Update


What is Google Hummingbird?

On September 26, 2013, google announced the “Hummingbird” update. This algorithm is not designed to target the spam (as Panda or Penguin do), but hummingbird’s primary focus is to provide the best results for the specific queries.

What does google hummingbird do?

With this update now, google can understand the user query intent in a better way to provide the best possible results which satisfy the needs of the user.

Hummingbird Algorithm is now focusing on the meaning of the phrase rather than individual keywords to deliver better results related to user queries.

Because google noticed that more peoples are searching for long-tail queries, before this update, google only looks for individual phrases or keywords. And could deliver the results based on this.

But with hummingbird, also now search engine could understand the question in the right way.

How to optimize your website For Google Hummingbird?

As you know now, google give more priority to understand entire query means, instead of a single word.

As Google Users ask the question, and in google results, a user wants the correct answer to their question.

Hence you need to optimize the website to answer those user questions. How can you do this with your content?

Follow this while writing content

1. Write well-Researched content with using long-tail queries. 

In your content write Great content which is useful for the user

You should not focus on single keywords terms instead of focus on long-tail queries.

I don’t mean to say you only include the long-tail queries in the content.

Preferably before writing content, find all the short, medium, or long term & use those terms in the Title, Sub Heading & in the Body content.

In this way, you can optimize your content for more search terms.

Thus your content will be optimized for many search terms, and chances are you will rank for many related search terms & more traffic you will generate.

2. Links – Build the Quality Links

As we all know, links are among the significant ranking factors to rank high in search engines.

Page Rank algorithm still uses by Google to follow the links. I agree that Google has lowered down the value of anchor text & links.

But still, anchor text & Links are much more important to rank high as google doesn’t want to rank high those sites which provide no value for the user.

Mean to say if you write the content for the search engine and build the links you think you would reach on top of the SERP, You are wrong.

Let’s assume that you reached the top, but after some time, Google will not see any engagement. It will start lower down your website in the SERP.

So try to write for the user, not for the search engines.

3. Optimize Website Speed –

Not google, but the user also wants fast results to optimize your site speed so that website loads fast.

Google also give more priorities to those sites which load fast because hummingbird wants to deliver fast results.

4. Add Conversational keywords in your content –

Peoples search conversationally so that not only the main keywords should be included in the content.

But (Conversational Keywords) should also be part of the content. Google also uses the knowledge graph to answer the question.

To learn more about the Knowledge Graph Watch this video –

While doing keywords research, add the conversational queries in your content & answer the question.

In this way, you will optimize your content for long-tail queries & it will also help your website generate more & targeted traffic.

5. User Experience –

User Interaction with the website, time spent on the web page by a user & CTR will be more critical.

Hummingbird takes into account all the things while ranking content.

In the end, I would only say write the content for the user & not for the search engine.

4) Google Rank Brain Algorithm

In October 2015, Google confirmed the use of the rank brain in their main algorithm.

The rank brain is a machine learning A.I. based algorithm which helps the search engine to process the relevant search queries in the search results.

Why does Google need to develop this machine learning system?

You know, on the average google process, 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide.

And based on this google analysis, 15% of search queries have never been seen before by google search engine.

Mean to say 15% of search queries are performed for the first time on google.

To provide the relevant search results related to that 15% queries, Google developed the rank brain algorithm.

The rank brain at first tries to understand the queries &, based on these queries, provide the search results.

Rank brain job is not only to process the best search results, but it does also evaluates the results that the user is satisfied with the results or not.

If it found that users are not happy with the search results, they will apply the old algorithm back.

Can we optimize for Rank Brain?

The rank brain is all about to provide the best organic search results.

So try to write the content for the humans, not for rank brain or any search engine algorithm.

Because at last, humans are going to interact with your content, not any search engine algorithms.

When rank brain delivers the search results, it pays close attention to those results and analyzes those results based on user interaction.

Hence write helpful & engaging content that can satisfy actual user needs. Don’t try to please the rank brain instead of focus on your user.


I hope this tutorial will help you to understand the google updates: Panda, Penguin & Hummingbird.

So focus on quality content that delivers the value to the user.

Write the content which can please the user & build the quality links; definitely, Google will reward your website in SERP.