If you have a business that is reliant on its website to generate sales and leads, then your position on the search engines is important. If your company is Coca Cola, then you are ranked number one – simple. The Coca Cola company has had a website on the web virtually as long as there has been one. But what if your company makes Cola? Apart from Coke and Pepsi, there are other brands. Panda, Virgin…Starjammer?

OK, Starjammer Cola. Sounds catchy. So, imagine that we launch the website for the cola, get ourselved noticed on the media, edit our content and our metatags, repeat a few things here and there for good measure, and bingo!

We’re number three in the search engine listings overnight. The name of the game with search engines is to make sure your brand gets noticed and listed high enough to matter. The following few weeks, and despite our best efforts, Starjammer Cola is now way down the rankings. How did that happen?

We could use a number of techniques and processes to ensure that we stay at number three, and, should the Coca Cola company goes bust, we might eventually reach the number one spot. This is referred to as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

As with any other successful business or site, Google wants to promote the very best results, products and services to its customers. Each time you search on Google, it has to provide a spot on result whenever possible, and a list of viable alternatives that will suit your search requirements. If it didn’t, you would go to another search engine and Google would go the way of so many other defunct search engines.

Google has a few tricks up its sleeve. There are three programs it uses to determine how websites should be ranked and found – and their names are Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird. And knowing the ways in which these three programs operate is a total gamechanger.

In a nutshell

The three Google updates are named after animals (not chocolate bars or sweets like the Android operating system), two of which, act as policebots – if you are deemed by Panda and Penguin of being a little bit naughty in the amount of times you have metatagged ‘Starjammer Cola is Fandabeedozy’, or put that phrase elsewhere, these internet policing programs have the power to penalise your website, so that it drops down the search engine listings, or worse still, blackball your site entirely so that it doesn’t appear on the rankings at all.

Not just that, if your website is for want of a better word, atrocious, and delivers a poor user experience, these programs can again, drop you down the search engine rankings. The third, Hummingbird, determines how that search is carried out – this is the search algorithm itself, and is the first update of Google’s search algorithm since Caffeine was launched in 2011, and it’s first algorithm upgrade since 2001.

Using Spam and other mechanisms to draw up custom will also antagonise these little programs and incur Google’s wrath. If Google didn’t police its results for dodgy content, then your search results would be full of junk, spam, porn and allsorts.


Imagine you click on a website link and you have heard all about what a great site it is, only to click and find out the site is full of pop ups and messages from other sites. The site functionality is disrupted by others adverts and irritants. Panda’s job is to monitor the so called ‘User Experience’. If it deems a site to be bit dodgy, Panda slams it down the rankings.

At the other end of the scale, Panda will promote sites with a positive user experience, ones that do what they say on the tin and don’t rely on adverts or pop-ups. And that’s what Google is all about – helping users find the right result or site, consistently.

Enter the Penguin

Penguin is designed to stop people cheating on their search engines – specifically, it targets websites that purchase links from other sites called ‘link farms’, links to other sites that automatically then link back to theirs. Provided that you don’t use this tactic, the Penguin can’t do anything to your site listing.

Hummingbird is the word

Hummingbird is a different beast entirely.  Released on the eve of Google’s fifteenth birthday, Hummingbird is a major upgrade to the way in which Google allows the user to search.  Once you type in your search criteria, you’re in the hands of the Hummingbird algorithm.

Google has always looked for synonyms in search results, but now it can also look for context related results.  Effectively, it makes assumptions on our search results concerning our intended search.  It also pays more attention to whole sentences and tries to reason the meaning and intent of that sentence as a whole.  It also effectively ask ‘why’ when you’re searching, as well as what you are searching for.

Searching for facts is all very well, but facts have to have a structure and a background.  The idea behind Hummingbird is that we can circumvent the normal way of searching for information – not only will it supply us with that information, it will provide variants, images, news information: a whole plethora of information to work with, starting with the most relevant results from that search.

If you’re managing and planning content, knowing exactly how Google works is like being given the keys to the toy shop.  When designing a website, it is important to consider how people are going to search for it.  Your website should not only answer queries, but to a greater degree now, the needs of a user too.  If your web page matches its search meaning it will do far better in the search rankings rather than one that sort of meets the search criteria, in order to give a pertinent and spot-on result.

Hummingbird has been specifically designed to deal with those searches called ‘Long Tail Enquiries’.  But what if after all of your efforts, nothing happens?  Sometimes it takes a few weeks for search engine results to propagate and be listed.  Nothing happens overnight.

But if, after a few weeks, your position in the search engine rankings goes down or disappears, what next? It is possible that for one reason or another, you may have been blacklisted.


In the early days of setting up your business, did you email lots of people and potential customers? Perhaps you might have emailed the wrong ones. Some of these may have quarantined your emails as spam.

Some of the spam is listed on a spammer’s blacklist somewhere, and there are several. A spammer’s blacklist is bad enough, but if you end up on a search engine blacklist, this is a death sentence for your website.

Internet Search Providers and content filters access these blacklists to work out who or what to block in order to protect both their integrity and indemnify themselves against any possible legal action as a result of something that one of their search results has caused to a user.

So, how do you know if your site has been blacklisted? There are several notable ones out there. Each was set up for a number of purposes, whether it was to protect users against spam, computer viruses or general online nastiness. These are the watchdogs of the internet and without them, the internet wouldn’t be such anywhere near as safe as it is.

The Abusive Hosts Blocking List consists of a large database with a whole list of known abusive host sites. Predominantly designed to identify spammers, if your site is on this list, the chances are that most of your marketing emails will be going nowhere. is probably the most accessible site though.

Just type in your IP address or domain name and it will list all of the blacklist sites. Against each of the sites, the word ‘OK’ in green will appear if your site is not on the list.

If the word ‘LISTED’ appears, your site is on there. Contact the site in question and ask them politely how you can get the domain name removed from the blacklist. If there is a known reason for your site being on a particular blacklist, MX Toolbox can tell you.

It can also tell you when your site has just been registered on any blacklist, however this service comes with a fee. If you have never sent spam or unsolicited emails though, there is very little chance of being on any of these lists, so you should be able to breathe easy.

The one site that will be of any real meaning however is the one that tells you if you are on Google’s blacklist: Google’s Webmaster Tools. Type that into Google, follow the link and sign up with an account for your domain.

Once in, click on ‘Diagnostics’ and then ‘Crawl Stats’. If your site is not being crawled by Googlebot, then something is definitely wrong.

Working with Panda and Penguin

Looking at things from an SEO perspective, here are the main things to remember when managing your site and its content. Panda’s main purpose is to improve search engine results by targeting low quality content with a poor user experience, or anything site wide with a high bounce rate. You’ll know when the Panda has felt your collar, as there will be a site-wide drop in traffic on Google.

The easy way to get around this is to create original and useful content so that your visitors come back again and again.

Penguin is designed to take out sites with questionable search engine tactics, low quality links – especially paid for or unnatural inbound ones. It will also deal with aggressive linking, article marketing and overuse of certain keywords.

If you notice a page-specific drop in traffic or certain keywords that decline in search rankings, you’ve been pecked by the Penguin. To recover, rebuild the content using natural links and don’t repeat them. Follow our simple tips and you needn’t fear the tireless work of these little search engine gnomes.

Angela Sweeney


Useful links

Moz’s Google Algorithm Cheat Sheet
iBrandBoost: The four rules of SEO
Troubleshooting Google Penalties


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