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Goolge algorithm changes & updates in 2014: Pirate, Penguin, Panda, Pigeon, Authorship, Top Heavy & HTTPS/SSL!

2014 has been quite a busy year for Google engineers, with the roll out of multiple major changes (on average around 500-600 tweaks and small changes happen with Google each year) to the algorithms that are used to decide what websites are the most relevant to search queries.

Here’s an overview of the changes that you need to be aware of:

Pirate (2.0) – October

More than two years after the original DMCA “Pirate”, Google’s anti-piracy filter was updated. Any website that Google finds a violation or was filed through Google’s DMCA system will receive a huge drop in rankings or will be even removed from the result pages. Websites such as, and were affected by this update.

Penguin (3.0) – October

A year after the last Penguin algorithm update, version 3.0 was finally rolled out. The Penguin algorithm combats websites that are benefiting from or participating in unnatural link schemes (i.e. exact match anchor text links from spammy directories, article marketing, comment & forum spam).

If you have been hit by Penguin’s algorithm you will need to get as many dubious links removed and disavowed as possible and then wait for Google to re-visit the offending pages and then for the next algorithm refresh.

HTTPS/SSL – August

Google published a post on their webmaster central blog that due to security being a top priority, HTTPS would be used as a ranking signal. The post stated that it is currently a very lightweight signal (carrying much less than others such as high-quality content), but could be strengthened in time.

Local Update (Pidgeon) – July

Referred to as “Pidgeon” by some industry leading websites, this is a new algorithm which aims to provide a more useful, relevant and accurate local search results that are tied more closely to traditional web search ranking signals. This update was rolled out for US English searches, but no further announcement of it reaching the UK has been made yet.

Indications are that websites that are enjoying traffic generated via “local results” positioning which would be considered weak by usual Google standards may see their position high in the search results take a hit for the worse.

Authorship Removal – June

Google Authorship Example

Three years after encouraging users to connect their content to their Google+ profiles, Google Authorship was no more. While many believed that Google were committed to Authorship as a potential ranking factor, it was decided that due to low adoption rates from webmasters and a perceived low value to searchers authorship would no longer be displayed in search results, with Google’s John Mueller’s post also stating that any authorship data is also not being collected behind the scenes.

(Any personalised search results based on Google+ posts from users in your circles currently display the authorship images)

Panda (4.0 & 4.1) – May & September

The Panda algorithm is designed to prevent sites with poor quality content from working their way into Google’s top search results. While smaller changes to the algorithm and data refreshes have been occurring frequently for some time, the 4.0 update was considered a major one.

Websites with lots of affiliate links (and very little unique content), broken links, keyword stuffed pages, repetitive content, security Warnings, excessive popup ads or forced downloads are feeling the Panda’s wrath more than ever!

Pay Day Loan (2.0 & 3.0) – May & June

Two updates to the “Pay Day Loan” algorithm which aims to combat search queries that are synonymous with shady SEO tactics and what Google engineers refer to as “web spam”. The original algorithm was launched in June 2013 and targeted areas such as the “pay day loans” and pornographic queries.

Top Heavy (3.0) – February

The third update to Google’s “Top Heavy” algorithm which aims to downgrade the ranking of web pages with too many ads at the top, has ads are deemed too distracting for users, or if there isn’t enough content “above the fold”.

Frustratingly there aren’t any official tools to clarify any of the above, instead you are encouraged to user the Google Browser Size tool (or similar) to understand how much of a page’s content (as opposed to ads) is visible at first glance to visitors under various screen resolutions. It’s worth mentioning that incorporating ads into a website is common and this algorithm is only looking to downgrade those with excessive advertising.

You also need to know about:

Mobile friendly labels

Google Mobile Friendly Label

The amount of users visiting websites on their mobile phone has been increasing significantly in the past few years. Google has now started to make it easier for searchers to find websites that are optimised for mobile browsing by adding “Mobile Friendly” labels to its search results when using your phone. In addition to this Google has stated that they are “experimenting with using the mobile-friendly criteria as a ranking signal”

Tabbed & click to expand content

Towards the end of November, Google’s John Mueller answered a question about how Google interprets content which isn’t immediately visible to the user when they arrive at a page.

Google feels that they should make use of the content that is visible at the time of accessing the site as a user, meaning that Google discounts (although not necessarily ignores) information that is hidden within tabbed areas, content within click to expand boxes and anything that would generally result in the content being invisible to the user without interaction.

The end of toolbar pagerank?

For years webmasters would pride themselves on their websites “PageRank”: a score out of 10 (10 being all but unreachable, 0-2 being low, 3-4 being “average” and 5, 6 or 7 being the “target”) which was visible via a toolbar which was often used to assess the quality of a website or page at a glance.

The relevance of this score has been diminished quite significantly during the past few years with the frequency of the visible updates being less (the last update was December 2013!).

During a Google+ webmaster hangout, Google’s John Mueller said that “Google will probably not be updating Google Toolbar pagerank in the future”. Goodbye PageRank!


If you are concerned by anything mentioned on this post, or if you feel as though your website is performing as well as it could be in Google, feel free to get in touch!

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