By Mike Whitney
How A Google Algorithm Works
Over the course of Google’s long (in internet years) history, there have been many developments and updates that dramatically changed the course of the company’s progress. What began in 1998 as a relatively crude search engine has evolved into a massively far-reaching search giant.
To wit, Google now makes an astonishing $89 billion in yearly revenue. Their main method for generating that profit is selling ad space on their search results pages. These pages serve as the proving ground for websites, companies, organizations, and everything in between; all of them vying for generous treatment from Google so that they might be seen by more users. That attention economy means that every tweak Google makes – especially ones to its all-important rankings algorithms – has immense impact on companies that use the internet to build an audience.
After all, the ranking algorithms are what Google uses to make decisions on which sites get placed higher in results and which ones are banished to the bottom. There are many factors that go into these rankings, but the entire SEO industry – one that we are pretty proud to call home – is based on parsing out some order from the madness and helping sites adjust accordingly.
Google updates these algorithms pretty much constantly, with entire teams of engineers working to fix bugs and improve overall performance. Sometimes, though, updates are big enough to deserve individual attention, naming, and responses from the SEO community. In fact, some of them are big enough to transcend the initial rollout and enjoy long lives as standalone, rankings-impacting algorithms.
Two of the most famous of these are Panda and Penguin. Let’s take a look at some of the differences between the two and how you might stay on their respective good sides as a webmaster or business owner.
The Panda algorithm, named after one of its engineers, Navneet Panda, arrived on the scene in early 2011. Its main algorithmic goal is to reduce the number of low-quality sites appearing at or near the top of Google’s results. At first, many SEOs thought this was aimed directly at “content farms” – sites that exist solely to build credibility on aggregation of other sites’ high quality content. Eventually, it became clear that Panda has a much more holistic idea of what it means to be a high quality site.
Web forums at the time exploded with ideas about what webmasters and business owners could do to correctly navigate the new, panda-infested SEO waters. Eventually, Google’s very own Webmaster Central Blog published a guide to understanding Panda’s in’s and out’s. The post included a checklist of questions to help webmasters decide whether their site was high enough quality to perform well on the search engine. Some of the most notable and enduring inclusions were: