Google’s Big 4 Ranking Algorithms

SEO is definitely not dead.

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Jon Paterson

Lab Engineer, Barclays


Google can really determine the difference between a website that should be ranked vs one that shouldn’t and its doing this every second of everyday. Back in the days we as geeks were able to do a lot of rank manipulation tactics to increase keyword positions in search results. Today Google uses its collection of algorithms, machine learning and AI to find and display relevant pages of web results that match mine or your search query. As a business starting out or growing a true understanding of how Google works can kickstart your website traffic and see others left behind. The trick is understanding how and why Google chooses to rank websites, now this isn’t tricking Google to rank your site, this is knowing what it wants and making sure it all there.

So what is a search algorithm?

It’s a process like a set of rules used by search engines to determine the significance of a web page. Algorithms filter, digest and evaluate web pages to ensure search results match a user’s search query.

So let’s talk about 4 of Googles most-important ranking algorithms and what you can do to get in their good side, don’t just think there is 4 there are over 200 ranking factors that are examined over a wide range of sophisticated algorithms and machine learning programs to give your website a score but these 4 will get you in the right place to start.

As the internet has exploded in size, Google has had to become a data filtering machine, delivering results that match mine and your searches, processing in excess of 3.5 billion searches every day.  This should make it clear to you now that taking the time to read up and impress the algorithms is going to make you grow.

Pigeon algorithm 

Pigeon is all about local results. This is where you need to get on Google My Business and get listed in some trusted online local directories such as Yelp.

So creating content for Pigeon is all about text and imagery that is distinctively associated with your location. Pigeon was spotted in August 2013, Prior to this Google’s local search results were pretty rubbish.

How to make sure you don’t get on the wrong side of Pigeon

Pigeon takes more notice of local directory listings, reviews and local reputation when ranking results, but make sure this is real and it can tell!!

Panda algorithm 

Panda reads and digests information. To win over Panda create content that answers user search queries and never copy from others. Grab Panda’s attention with long-form content that’s ten times better than the competition but doesn’t bulk pages out with rubbish if there’s no need. First seen in Feb 2011, and ranking a webpage based on a range of quality criteria which is mainly focused around content and regularly updated. SO UPDATE AND BLOG OFTEN. Panda likes to see quality content that is uniquely written. Pages with high-quality content that answers mine and your search questions will be rewarded with higher ranking positions.

How to make sure you don’t get on the wrong side of Panda

Make sure the content you publish is 100% unique – never “spin” or copy content.

Don’t create pages with thin or duplicated content – always try to write a minimum of 300 words per page. Writing “some” content is always better than no content.

In the case where pages with no content can’t be updated with more text, you should consider delisting them from Google’s index to reduce negative exposure. This can be carried out through editing a website’s robots.txt file or plugins if using CRMs.

Penguin algorithm 

Penguin is looking for trustworthy relationships between sites you can win her over by creating genuine, quality links with others across the internet. Just like in the networking at events, there is no shortcut to building strong relationships, be sure to check your backlinks regularly to keep it clean, tidy and natural. We first saw Penguin in April 2012 and was there as a real-time, location and language independent data processing filter whose goal is to uncover and devalue websites with backlinks that may be deemed manipulative or unnatural. Despite industry noise it’s the high-quality link building that is still one of the most important tactics to drive ranking. She kicks into action when sites build threatening volumes of links in a short space of time, pay for sponsored links or carry out spammy black-hat techniques. Trying to trick Penguin through unethical tactics could result in a huge loss of website traffic.

How to make sure you don’t get on the wrong side of Penguin

Google answers this one for me “Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a Google employee”.

Hummingbird algorithm 

Hummingbird is ready and waiting to feed on your website, try attracting its attention by creating pages that match the searches of the user, I wrote the other week “Become a LinkedIn Master” and plan to write like this on this blog. Hummingbird was first seen in September 2013 and rewards websites who answer mine and your search phrases. Hummingbird helps users find what they want alongside enabling Google to find, filter and display results that are more precisely focused on the meaning behind a query. Hummingbird not only understands how me and you behave, the algorithm can also quickly recognise what we are looking for, through displaying related suggestions in the search box prior to displaying results.

How to make sure you don’t get on the wrong side of Hummingbird

Build Hummingbird friendly foundations at the start of your digital project, as this will pay dividends.

Incorporate conversational answers to questions within the content.

Including synonyms and targeting long-tail keywords or phrases. (Ubersuggest is a great place to start)


Jon Paterson is based at Brighton Eagle Lab

Barclays are investing in the future of the London road area of Brighton & supporting businesses to embrace new and emerging technologies critical to the success of businesses in the UK.

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