Sarah Masters SEO: The SEO Animal Kingdom

During my initial interview with Web Talent Marketing, Matt asked me if I knew anything about Panda or Penguin. Or maybe even about Hummingbird. For a split second I thought he was making a joke and trying to tease me about how little I knew about the technical side of SEO. Luckily, I quickly realized that the question wasn’t supposed to be funny and I honestly admitted that I had no idea what he was talking about. However, from that moment on the words “Penguin,” “Panda,” and “Hummingbird” stuck in my head because the terms seemed so ridiculous in comparison to the little I already knew about SEO.

The SEO Animal Kingdom

To get a handle on what these words meant in SEO land, I again turned to Moz, which many extremely helpful and detailed posts of Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, and more. While this is in no means a complete guide (I’ll leave that to experts), these are the important bits I gleaned from “The Difference Between Penguin and an Unnatural Links Penalty (and some info on Panda too)” and “Your Google Algorithm Cheat Sheet: Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird,” both by Marie Haynes.

  • Penguin (alias The Webspam Algorithm): This guy was announced in 2012 as a way to cut down on websites that keyword stuffed and weren’t creating quality content. People primarily experience problems with Penguin when they use keyword links to poor quality content, “such as article marketing sites, bookmarks and do-follow comments.”
    • Links are like currency in the world of SEO as Marie Haynes explains.  If a well-respected website links to your site, it’s like they’re voting for you as prom queen. Small sites linking back to a website (like when I link to things) don’t amount to much, but when a lot of small site link to you, it adds up. Think of it as when the nerds revolt and somehow they manage to overthrow the head cheerleader as prom queen and get the head of the National Honor Society the throne instead.
    • Links also provide a hint to search engines with anchor text (what’s underlined in a link) as to what sites people might want to see when searching for a specific term.
  • Panda (alias Farmer Update): This algorithm is believed to target people with poor “on page” quality as opposed to linking quality. It seems to mostly target content farmers, which produce up to several thousand articles a day. Some popular examples are,, and Thin content (few words used) or duplicated content is what often gets them into trouble.
    • Panda is refreshed monthly, but will also get an update every now and again that will change the criteria
    • This algorithm was named Panda after one of its creators, Navneet Panda, not just because pandas are definitely one of the top 10 cutest animals on the planet. Which is what I assumed. (Seeing a panda is pretty high on my bucket list)
  • Hummingbird: Once upon a time in 2013, Google got rid of its old junky parts, kept around the good stuff (Penguin and Panda), and put in a completely new search engine.  The main function of the Hummingbird engine is to understand spoken queries. Moz uses the example of "best Seattle SEO company" as a search query versus "Which firm in Seattle offers the best SEO services?” as a spoken query.  A recent search of mine? “Senior dog adoption.” What I would have spoken? “What adoption centers specialize in senior dogs?”
  • Unnatural Link Penalties: Obviously not an animal, but websites will receive this penalty manually (versus via algorithm) when they generate a lot of unnatural links. Evidently there is no specific reason as to why websites are hit with these penalties. Of course, there is a variety of speculation, like being marked as spam or if you’re part of a specific industry such as casinos or car insurance.  
    • Reconsideration: Unlike with Penguin and Panda, you can file for reconsideration if you receive a penalty once you’ve fixed the problems you got in trouble for.

Doing my best to understand the ins and outs of these algorithms, engines, and manual penalties was tough, and I know I still have a ton to learn—especially with refreshes occurring so often. But now that I have the basics down, I feel much better about moving forward. If you have any more information you’d like to share, feel free to leave a comment or tweet me.



Work WellSarah Walsh