January 2015 Google Penguin, Pigeon, or Panda Algorithm Update Imminent?

Summary of Late 2014 Google Algorithm Rumblings

Google usually tries to steer clear of any updates to its major algorithms, Panda, Penguin, Pigeon, Hummingbird, etc. during the holiday season, but that golden rule was broken earlier this month and in late November when updates to the Penguin 3.0 update/refresh rolled in and around Thanksgiving Day, 2014. The Penguin 3.0 refresh caused uproar among many e-commerce websites thanks to page droppings, though the Penguin 3.0 droppings seemed to affect only 1% of English search queries.

And while many weren’t affected by the update in negative ways, this left digital and search marketers shaking their heads, wondering about the ethics of the rollout. SEO/SEM forums were overrun with speculation surrounding the timing of the refresh–was it a mistake? Did someone press the wrong button or type in the wrong code? Why was Google rolling out a refresh THE DAY BEFORE Black Friday and and THREE DAYS BEFORE Cyber Monday? While some sulked as their sites were punished, more questioned Google webmaster motivations, but most rejoiced over the refresh that had previously left their domains out to dry on page 6 or 7 of the search engine results page (SERP).

Thankfully we weren’t left in the dark too long. Google answered some of our questions about the late November rollout, explaining that the implementation and reverberations of the Penguin 3.0 refresh are signs of the way in which Penguin will begin continuously refreshing throughout the year, akin to the way Google Panda operates, from here on out. Previously, those punished by Google Penguin updates or refreshes were left high and dry for upwards of 12 months, leaving domain owners plenty of time–arguably too much time–to get their sites clean up and SEO tactics back on track. Now, Google is looking to keep the SERP as relevant as possible, and as we’ve learned before about SEO 101, one of the main tips for SEO is content consistency, meaning more content likely equals increased relevancy in searches and therefore higher ranking on SERPs. It was only a matter of time before the algorithm caught on to the rule as well.

Before long however, Google broke its golden rule again by rolling out Google Pigeon (Google Local) to (some) SERPs in Canada, the UK, and Australia on Dec. 22, 2014, three days before Christmas and four days before Boxing Day.

So, the Penguin 3.0 update/refresh and the UK/Canada/Australia Pigeon rollout tells us a lot about what can/may/could/should be expected for January 2015, and perhaps more importantly, what can be expected from Google in 2015. As a reminder, our ganders and speculations should be taken as just that: ganders and speculations. What we predict from Google in 2015 is not based on confirmation from the search behemoth, but rather from what we’ve studied and learned in 2014 about Google Panda and Google Penguin.


SEO/SEM Predictions for the New Year: Update and Refresh Predictions about Google Penguin, Pigeon, and Panda in 2015


Google Penguin Predictions

As far as dramatics and uncertainty goes for 2014, the holiday Penguin 3.0 refresh certainly ranked high on the year-end drama list for many webmasters, myself included. And while Google most certainly recognized their mistake (or do they even think of it as one?), this refresh sets a precedent for further updates for not only Penguin, but other algorithms from here on our as well. Expect the trend for Google algorithms to be updated/refreshed on a much more frequent basis. In terms of Google Penguin in 2015 specifically, I absolutely expect more frequent refreshes and updates. I also have a feeling we might see some Penguin activity very soon in January after holiday vacation ends, something about the Penguin 3.0 update seems like it isn’t quite over yet.

Google Pigeon Predictions

Pigeon is a new algorithm for Google in 2014, rolling out slowly last summer and since becoming a fixed staple above the organic listings on SERPs. Focused on providing more hyper-local results for users, Google Pigeon has essentially become an information bar that runs across the top of the SERP in response to a user’s location based query. Pigeon gives users an easily digestible chart about the location of local businesses in relation to their current location, with reviews, pictures, pricing, and location all available for side-by-side comparison. It’s easy to see how Pigeon emerges at the same time as long-tail keywords begin to factor into relevancy more, both of which can be explained by the explosion of mobile search. As mobile users increasingly use voice activated technology for Google search, Google has responded with updates in algorithms (long-tail keywords are addressed by Google Penguin). Since users are now asking “find a Mexican restaurant near me,” Google has responded with Pigeon, which provides a list and range of Mexican restaurants in the users area. So, as far as Pigeon goes in 2015, my best guess is that it will continue to be refined and implemented, not only for English queries (its current status), but other language queries as well. Since the rollout of Pigeon is also expected to be continuous, you can pretty much bet that Pigeon will be updated or refreshed either in January or February, especially for Canada/UK/Australia users.

Google Panda Predictions

Google Panda, besides Google Caffeine (the Google web indexing system), is perhaps the most nurtured Google algorithm to date. Pushed out in early 2011, Google Panda is responsible for removing low quality, irrelevant, redundant content from SERPs, i.e. getting rid of thin content sites and boosting great quality content sites. Refreshed regularly, Google Panda keeps the most relevant, robust sites for user search queries in the top ranking spots on SERPS. In 2014, Google Panda algorithm expanded, with Google confirming that more “signals” were identified and implemented in the algorithm to differentiate even better than before differences in user-deemed low-quality and high-quality content, discrediting one type and rewarding the other in rankings, respectively. With this in mind, we can guess that Panda will refresh in 2015 on a continual basis (anywhere from a few times a month to a few times a week), and will continue to track user behavior and (think bounce rate and time on site for certain keywords and keyword phrases) to fine tune the algorithm even further.

The last Panda update was identified as Panda 4.1, which rolled out in October 2014. In my opinion, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect a Google Panda update of some sort in the new year, as early as January or as late as April, with continuous refreshes of Panda 4.1 effecting search queries as much as a few times  a week, maybe even daily refreshes towards the end of 2015.