A Beginner's Guide to SEO (Google Algorithm)

What is SEO (Search Engine Optimization)?

SEO is a practice of improving a website's visibility in search. It plays a significant role in obtaining free or organic traffic. With SEO, a website's organic rank can improve in search engines such as Google, Yahoo & Bing.

An Integral Part of Any Digital Marketing Strategy

An important thing to remember is that SEO fits into the larger digital marketing strategy. Other digital marketing roles can work closely with SEO to improve its organic rank in search engines. They are essential to ensuring the success of SEO.

The digital marketing roles that work closely with SEO are:

  • Search Engine Marketing - Bidding for paid advertisement.
  • Social Media Marketing - Free/Paid advertisement & engagement.
  • Content Marketing - Writing for blogs, newsletter, etc.
  • Public relation - Build relationships, promote content.


In the SEO industry, there are three different specializations:
  • Local SEO
  • Technical SEO
  • Copywriting

Search Engines

It's important to know that there are several different search engines.

The (popular) search engines are:

For most people, it is important to focus on the Google search engine. This is because Google has the best market share and many people across the globe use it. By optimizing for the Google search engine, you are also essentially following website best practices (which helps rank well for some other search engines).

If you are not like most people are targeting people in China, Yandex or Naver, you would have to optimize for the search engines popular in that country.

What is Google Search Engine Algorithm for?

Google search engine, like all other search engines, have algorithms to ensure useful and relevant results to a particular query are displayed. The search engine algorithms are able to determine the theme of the website, quality of the website and what types of query the websites should show up for in search results.

Google Search Engine Algorithm Details

Important details about Google search engine algorithms:
  • 200+ ranking factors.
  • Daily updates.
  • 500+ Updates annually
  • Google only announces a few updates.
  • SEO professionals must examine results to identify updates.

Major Algorithm Update Names

  • Florida
  • Austin
  • Brandy
  • Penguin
  • Personalized
  • Universal
  • Vince
  • Caffeine
  • Panda

Why bother knowing?

The role of SEO professionals is to determine which algorithms check which factors so that they can optimize a website to meet those criteria. The SEO community has agreed on many factors that affect your website and how it ranks. However, some factors are still subjected to debate and speculation.

Google's Webmaster Guidelines

Best practices (Summarized)
  • High-quality content.
  • Outside links increase authority.
  • The site must be visible in search.
  • Clear hierarchy.
  • Good user & search experience.
Source: Google's Webmaster Guidelines


By targeting certain tactics, the Florida update help reduced spammy SEOs. It helped make a contribution in making SEO a viable profession.

Tactics targeted by Florida:

  • Keyword stuffing - Repeating the same keyword in the page title and on-page copy.
  • Repetitive anchor text - Use of the same text repeatedly in the backlink profile.
  • Lack of consistent theme - Websites that did not maintain a cohesive theme across the site


The Austin update attempted to clean up sites with poor SEO tactics missed by Florida.

Tactics targeted by Austin:

  • Invisible text - Only search engines can see the text but users can't.
  • Meta-keyword tag overload - Overloading the meta-keywords tag in the site's HTML code with spammy keywords.


The Brandy update included a massive expansion of Google's index and made significant changes to how Google's algorithm work.

Notable changes to the algorithm:

  • Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) - Helps search engine to understand a page conceptually based on language patterns, relies on synonyms and word association.
  • Inbound links & link neighborhoods - Sites with a cohesive theme are likely to have links to/from sites with a similar theme.


panda seo infographic

Google's Panda update is a search filter whose function is to prevent low-quality sites from ranking highly. It is updated from time-to-time and ongoing updates allow Panda to catch sites that have escaped past changes. If Panda penalized your site, its negative impact can easily be reversed by improving content.

Panda targets:

  • Thin/Low-quality sites - Few pages with useful content (e.g. Largely similar content, no content just links and forms, content scraped from other sites).
  • Duplicate content - Pages duplicated on site or replicated from another
  • Excessive ads - Low content, high amount of ads.
  • Poor navigation - Un-intuitive doesn't link to all content
  • Squeeze pages - One main page contains all content, the user must scroll for more information. Content is broken up into forms, purchase, buttons, pop-ups.
  • Doorway pages - Pages built for search engines, not users. Pages may rank for one thing but take user elsewhere when clicked.
  • Meta-refresh - Once you "land" on the page, it will refresh to another site before you can exit.
  • Bad guest posts - Low-content sites dedicated to guest posts.


Penguin seo infographic

The Penguin update aims to stop spammy links and is re-ran periodically.

Penguin targets:

  • Link networks - Sites built for the sole purpose of linking to each other (Could be hosted on different servers, registered to different owners but will still be detected by Penguin).
  • Link trading - Involved standard reciprocal linking as well as advanced unethical techniques.
  • Comment spam - Comments on blogs or articles that link back to the site.
  • Bad anchor text - Building links containing exact keywords to boost rank
  • Paid links - Links that are explicitly sold for money or others.
  • Irrelevant links - Links not relevant to your audience.
Other targets that may incur a penalty:
  • Spammy widgets - Free widgets, forms, or apps that contain a link to your site.
  • Free templates - Free templates and themes for blogs and websites with a link to the site.
  • Forum post links - Create multiple accounts with the link in signature.


Hummingbird seo infographic

The Hummingbird update improved conversational search (spoken to your browser or phone). It is a core algorithm update which means that the algorithm is improved by way of replacing outdated parts.

Before the Hummingbird update, Google already had conversational search but the answers it provided was from a set knowledge base known as the "Knowledge Graph". After the update, Hummingbird opened up the conversational search to organic sites as well as allows users to have more of a conversation rather than simply asking questions.

Google enhanced the conversational search by improving their semantic search. Previously, the search only recognized synonyms but now it also recognizes context. It applies contextual meaning to a query.


Question: What time is the movie Alice in Wonderland playing?

Context: "Playing" + "Movie" + "Alice in Wonderland" = "Alice in Wonderland showtimes" Location: "Alice in Wonderland showtimes" = Theaters nearby Intent: Check time, buy ticket Synonyms: Movies, Film, Show, Cinema

This Hummingbird update changed how Webmasters thought about the content they produce on their website. They now need to consider why people are searching, not just what they search for. In short, this means that Webmasters should answer a user needs instead of just giving them facts. By doing this, it will help Google search engine determine the site's focus and increase its page rank.


The Pigeon update aimed at improving local search. It was due to this update that visibility of poorly-ranked directories and restaurant guides improved. The pigeon update also affected local search in Google maps by updating distance and location ranking parameters for map searches. Another thing that the Pigeon update did was tied traditional ranking factors into local ranking factors.


The mobile update looks for a mobile-friendly version website when ranking mobile results. The sites without a mobile version are no longer shown on page one mobile result after the update. Mobile update made it important to optimize for mobile to guarantee visibility and user experience.

Google Search Engine Penalties Overview

The Google search engine has ranking factors that can impact websites' search visibility both positively and negatively. When ranking or traffic dips, consider if you have been penalized. It may be difficult to find penalties as penalties can come from multiple updates in the same time period.

Guide to Discovering and Solving Penalties

What you should do:
  • Do not assume a single penalty got assessed as it could be multiple.
  • Analyze your website and situation to determine if a penalty has been applied.
  • Check analytics to see if there have been any changes in traffic.
  • View ranking history to compare keyword standing to page traffic.
  • Examine the Google search console.
  • Check for major updates, Google's official blog will announce them.
  • Look at social media channels to see if other site owners are reporting issues.
  • Verify the health of your backlink profile and the general state of your content.

Manual Penalties

There are different types of penalties, they can be manual, algorithmic or both. Manual penalties are assessed by the Google webspam team and they usually notify offenders in the Google search console. Once this happens, offenders have to fix the issue and then file a reconsideration request. Offenders may have to send multiple reconsideration requests because they may not discover or fix all the underlying issues.

Link Disavow

Link disavow is a tool that allows owners to remove spammy links pointing to their site. It was created to prevent several problems such as competitors creating spammy backlinks to get their competitors penalized.

Link Disavow Guidelines

  • Make sure penguin has actually penalized your website before removing links
  • Ensure the links you disavow are actually poor quality
  • Be sure to remove links from WWW and non-WWW areas


Google is leading in the search engine market and most webmasters have to optimize for Google search engines. Having knowledge of these Google algorithm updates will help webmasters in discovering problems and optimizing their website. It is vital that webmasters keep track of the latest major Google algorithm updates. This will help webmasters in their pursuit of optimizing their on-page and off-page SEO.

To further improve your website, you might consider IT Wonder's web analytics services.

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