Search Engine Updates in 2013: Year in Review

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In 2013 Google hit businesses hard with some major search engine algorithm updates.  First came Panda, then Penguin, and then Phantom. To make it even harder for businesses to focus marketing tactics, they encrypted all organic keyword data.  Which means no more keyword tracking unless it’s part of a paid search campaign.

There are many reasons for the evolution of search engine algorithms. The main purpose of updates is to target online marketers that try to “trick” search engines into ranking a website higher than it would be naturally. The message to businesses is to stop thinking about a website in terms of ranking for keywords, and start thinking of them in terms of quality content, and a good informational resource for your particular business niche.

So, what were these important Google changes?

Panda update – The first version of this was originally released in Feb 2011, but has evolved considerably over the last couple of years. This algorithm update targets websites with thin, low-quality content.

Penguin 2.0 update – This algorithm targets websites that try to build traffic by manufacturing or buying links from other sites, or submitting your site into a link directory. You are rewarded for having quality organic links, and punished for having bad ones. Penguin 1.0 targeted home page links, but 2.0 targets deeper into your website.

Phantom update – This is a more evolved version of Panda, targeting deeper into websites with affiliate content, scraped content, thin, or low quality content.


Hummingbird – This was the most recent change, and affects up to 90% of search engine traffic.  Google changed the core algorithm to be able to handle more complex search terms. This new algorithm looks at the context or intent of your query rather than the specific words in your query.  For example: Say you are looking for a good attorney that focuses on family law.

If you were to enter “family law” into Google search, you would get results geared towards the best information on that topic.

If you were to enter “family lawyer” as a query, Google would return with results on law firms or lawyers that focus on family law, because it assumes you’re looking for a lawyer and not just information on the topic.

With this new intelligence algorithm you can type “where can I find a good family law attorney in Seattle”.  Google would then return with results for the website that can best answer based on the intent of your question with high quality informative content.  It also will look at your search history and return with results tailored just for you based on your personal preferences.

I wish there was something to say about other search engines, but Bing and Yahoo don’t publicize any algorithm changes they make, so as per usual, the focus is on Google.