Pandas, Penguins and Pigeons, Oh My!

Optimizing your website for better search engine results

posted by Bob Mills

In a previous blog post, I talked about the importance of getting your website on page one of the Google search results. One way to do that, of course, is to get a lot of traffic on your website. But that rather begs the question, how do you get people to notice your site in the first place?

One answer is to optimize your site to attract positive attention from the Google search engine. To do that, you need to have some understanding of how Google compiles the listings when you do a keyword search.

Google uses two primary tools to do this. The one is the Google search algorithm, which ranks every website for its relevance and usefulness to those looking for particular information. The other is machine learning, which factors in your own particular habits and preferences when you are browsing the internet.

Now, when we talk about the Google search algorithm, we’re really talking about a set of algorithms, each of which evaluate your website for particular characteristics that make it relevant to particular user inquiries. We’re going to look at four of the most important algorithms in this blog post.


We all know the Panda as a lovable little bear and, as it turns out, the websites that Google’s Panda algorithm rewards have a similar lovable character. The Panda algorithm loves web pages that have high-quality content that’s useful to your web page visitors. It penalizes pages that are thin on content, or whose content has been plagiarized from other web pages.

To attract good reviews from Panda, all of your pages should have sufficient content to provide visitors with the information they’re seeking – at least 200 words of text is a good rule-of-thumb. The text should be well written and provide value to those who want to learn more about your organization and what you do. The content should be “original” – not copied from somebody else’s site – and should be written with the interests of the visitor in mind.


These cold weather birds have the habit of living together in large colonies. The Google algorithm of the same name measures a similar flocking habit among websites. Specifically, it takes note of the links on other websites that direct traffic to your site – or “backlinks” as we like to call them.

When another website links to yours, Google sees that as a “vote of confidence” in your site. If there are many such links, it suggests your website is a recognized authority in the eyes of many others, and so Google will rank you higher in the search engine results.

Acquiring back links takes time. It‘s best achieved by building relationships with other website owners, bloggers, directory owners, and anyone who may be willing to refer visitors to your web pages. Resist the temptation to pay for “sponsored links”. If you try to rig the system, Google will catch you out and penalize your site.


The Pigeon is a city bird that pretty much sticks to a small local territory – usually the downtown shopping district. Google’s Pigeon algorithm is rather similar, as it monitors your website to measure its relevance to people who live close to where your do business.

The rationale behind Pigeon is the idea that people “shop local” for many of the things they need – whether it’s a restaurant, local movie theatre, auto dealership, local service organization, etc.

In order to rank high in local search listings, you need to maximize your local connections. Meta tags, page titles and keywords associated with your web pages should mention your location if you want to attract local visitors. You’ll also want to be found in all the local online directories and have a Google for Business listing that you maintain and keep up to date.

And finally there’s the Hummingbird

It may be tiny, but this little bird can pack a big wallop when it comes to getting attention for your website. The Hummingbird algorithm looks to see if the content on your web pages answers the questions that people are asking when they type a query into the Google search box. Questions like, “How do I repair a bicycle tire?”, or “How long do I cook a turkey?”, or “Who are the best website hosts for WordPress?”

You can catch the attention of the Hummingbird algorithm by providing helpful information that answers the questions which members of your target audience are asking. One strategy is to ask and answer those questions yourself – right on your own web pages – making it clear to Google that you’ve got the information that users are searching for.

A little tip: if you provide the answers in the form of short lists or step-by-step instructions, Google will likely rank you higher because your answers are succinct, easy to follow, and directly relevant to the user’s inquiry.


While it’s no guarantee of success, your website rankings should improve if you optimize your site for Panda, Penguin, Pigeon and Hummingbird. And remember, a great website is only really great if your customers can find it. By improving your SEO, you can ensure that they do.

See also: Google Search: Getting on Page One