Four Google Updates that Impacted Ranking

Google has updated its processes for ranking search results many, many times. Some of these updates have resulted in major changes to the ranking of results. In this article, we look at four of those process updates.

Panda update for on-site content

The Panda algorithm update focused on the quality of a website overall, rather than just the repetition of a keyword. “Keyword stuffing”  (AKA Over-optimization) had become a way to increase ranking and Google saw the problem with this. 

The main issue was websites would create a lot of low quality content that wasn’t useful but it would improve their SEO.

The new algorithm paid more attention to the structure of the website, as well as things like grammar. Nonsense content that used a keyword over and over again, began ranking lower, while meaningful content now ranked higher.

The Panda update was incorporated into Google’s core algorithm, which means that it still applies today. If you optimize your site for your users, provide meaningful and helpful information, with high-quality writing, Google will reward you in their ranking.

Penguin update for spammy links

The Penguin algorithm update was introduced to solve another problem that was interfering with Google’s objectives. 

Prior to Penguin, the number of backlinks pointing to a website was a significant consideration in ranking. The problem was that the links could be coming from anywhere, and the algorithm was being gamed by link schemes.

So, the Penguin update started assessing incoming links, the relevancy of the links, and the sites they were coming from. If these didn’t make sense, or the originating site was poor quality (per Panda), the site was downgraded, despite the overall number of incoming links.

This changed the game for off-page SEO link building.

There are a few things to note about Penguin, which has also been incorporated into Google’s core algorithm. 

The originating sites for backlinks need to be assessed individually. 

You can’t assume that a major news site, social platform, or big brand site will pass the Penguin test. When you go about getting backlinks there are a ton of different links you can get. Some are really easy and some are really hard. It is way better to get one link that has high-relevance and high-quality rather than 1,000 low-quality links that have no relevance to your site.

The anchor text on the originating sites is also important.

Anchor text is the word or words that contain the link going to your site. Penguin looks at all of the anchor text on all of the sites linking to your site, and the content on the site and page where they are linking to. What the algorithm actually looks at is the ratio of incoming links and the anchor text used. If the originating site has too many outbound links, or your site has too many incoming links, Penguin will send your site way down in search results.

Google’s bots are so good that they actually look at the on-page SEO of the backlinks that are linking to your site, as well as the on-page SEO of the backlinks linking to the website that’s linking to your site!

One of the keys to ranking higher is the strategy for getting a cloud of relevant and high-quality sites linking back to your site.

Hummingbird update for search intent

The Hummingbird algorithm update was part of the effort to understand a searcher’s intent. 

The direct matching of keywords became less important, as Google tried to streamline the user’s efforts. As one example, the results included a particular page of a website, not just the homepage. Prior to Hummingbird, if you searched for “TD investments login,” the top results would be pages matching those words, most likely the TD bank home page. After Hummingbird, the top results are the actual login page for TD investment account holders.

RankBrain - AI for understanding intent

on a very simple note, RankBrain is an AI that aims to give the most relevant results to queries based on the context and intent.

Technically speaking, RankBrain isn’t so much an algorithm as it is an artificial intelligence machine learning system. To make results even more relevant to searchers, Google introduced RankBrain to learn about relationships between search terms and the other information it has access to, in order to better understand the searcher’s intent.

RankBrain made simple keywords less important in ranking, as it looked more at a whole topic, content related to that topic, and content related to the searcher. It understands that one searcher might enter four words in a different order than another searcher, but both are looking for the same thing. It also understands that some phrases are different than their individual words, and go together as one thing, not two. For example, a search for “Chinese Food Toronto,” means the same as “Toronto Chinese Food.” It also knows that Chinese and food go together, and that “restaurant” is implied. It ALSO knows what part of Toronto you are in, based on your IP address, and will show you the Chinese restaurants in your area.

RankBrain creates clusters of similar information and then finds the relationships between the clusters. It continues to learn from every search, every new page published, and from user behaviour and engagement.

With this learning, Google has an even better understanding of the quality and relevance of a web page or web site. It’s looking for indicators of actual knowledge, like a comprehensive narrative on a particular topic, that uses different words to describe the same thing (rather than repeating a single keyword over and over again). 


Google’s search engine ranking formula is complex! As an SEO Agency, we have to keep up Google’s algorithm because it has been updated many times, and now includes machine learning. The way Google now assesses your website is much more like the way a human would, so plain language, logical structure, answers numerous questions about a topic, and allows the user to do what they intend to do.

Creating a website with your target audience in mind, is exactly what Google wants you to do.

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