Google Algorithm Cheat Sheet for Nonprofits

Andrew Garberson is a guest contributor for Nonprofit Hub and the Manager of Search at LunaMetrics, a Google Analytics certified partner and search marketing consultancy. In addition to leading the SEO and PPC departments, Andrew is a GAIQ certified analytics junkie with a special interest in nonprofit marketing. Be sure to find him on Twitter.

Nonprofits are not the only busy bodies in 2014. Google has kept nonprofit marketers on their toes with iterations of Panda and Penguin, a new algorithm called Hummingbird, and in late July a local algorithm called Pigeon.

This article is a guide to several things the nonprofit community should know about Google’s animal kingdom.

Remind Me, What is Hummingbird?

Hummingbird, released in late 2013, is a completely new equation for Google’s search engine algorithm. It is designed to use intent > keywords. Here is how I describe it in another post:

For the past 15 years, Google was a slow reader. It read (queries) one word at a time, trying to understand what each word meant. To Google, every sentence that did not include the same words in the same order had a different meaning, taking it longer to understand the meaning. Now Google understands larger phrases and how different phrases can have the same intent. “What’s up?” = greeting = “How are you?”

In short, this is a good thing. Hummingbird makes the search engine smarter, faster and less prone to user error. Those are things we can all support.

Pigeon = Panda = Penguin?

Panda and Penguin targeted spam and low-quality websites. Much like Hummingbird, Pigeon is not designed to penalize websites for violating guidelines. Pigeon is an update to Google’s local search algorithm, which dictates geo-sensitive search engine results.

This update also influences many mobile searches, which are now more than half of total search volume. Since the mobile algorithm is able to use smartphone data to detect location, Google is able to offer its users geographically relevant information without having to specific the city or zip code. This is designed to give Google users better results with fewer words.


Imagine your flight is cancelled in Chicago, which should not be difficult, and you would like to make the most of it with a deep-dish in your hotel room.

Google Algorithm Cheat Sheet for Nonprofits 2

“Best pizza delivery near O’Hare Airport Chicago” and “pizza delivery” should return the same results. Hummingbird understands your goal with both queries and uses GPS or IP address and user-generated reviews to offer the best local options.

What Does This Mean for Me and My Nonprofit?

Imagine that you work in Pittsburgh for a spectrum services organization called Wesley, which provides support for families with autism or Asperger’s. With Pigeon in place, a search for “spectrum services” engages the local results and map.

Google Algorithm Cheat Sheet for Nonprofits 3

Free Google tools are more important than ever. Wesley is able to fill the top half of the search results with an optimized home page (top) and three local listings through Google+ Local. Amazing! Wesley is able to dramatically expand exposure from search engines with the help of Pigeon and free tools from Google.

To review:

  • Google Panda penalizes poor quality content.

  • Google Penguin penalizes poor quality links.

  • Google Hummingbird is a new algorithm that understands user intent.

  • Google Pigeon creates better local and mobile search results.

What do you find most confusing about Google Algorithms?

Google Algorithm Cheat Sheet for Nonprofits

Andrew Garberson

September 16, 2014

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