Nothing’s ever constant in the SEO industry – that’s one thing for sure. It makes work pretty challenging yet at the same time rewarding if you get the desired results. And that has always been the case for Google – algorithm updates come, and every SEO understand what this brings.

Every update is different, and it brings on different challenges. Even the top SEOs have faced the most challenging updates. However, it is different for everyone. They share what Google algorithm update challenged them the most and what they did about it. How about you? What’s the most challenging update have you encountered?

For me Penguin 2.0 changed the game. –  Eric McGehearty

You won’t believe me, but none of them. Because I have a background in public relations, I’ve been developing quality content and building links for clients since before Google was a search engine. That approach has yet to steer me or my team wrong. We are always white hat and do it right instead of hitting the easy button. – Kent Lewis

Probably Panda and Hummingbird (infrastructure update), there is so much misinformation about the two out there on the internet that I’m inclined to fire those who simply talk shit for no reason. – Jey Pandian

Anything Panda related. Some of the outcomes defy logic! But I’m convinced Google recognizes the casualty of throwing the good out with the bad, for the overall betterment of the index. – Bill Sebald

Undoing Penguin Slaps for new clients who had suffered previously was tricky, but ultimately manageable in the most part. I see the biggest challenge to traditional SEO being the future updates to the google UI which abstract more and more answers into the SERPs providing answers on page.

And even further into the future, I can see ‘voice for search’ on devices like hololens, bringing challenges to SEOs as the algorithms adjust to account for the much more contextual searches people will do using more natural language. – Danny Cave

I’ve never been a guy who has cared about algorithm updates. I once worked on a project for an insurance company in Sydney who had a major spam penalty. They ranked #1 for “Life insurance” and other valuable terms primarily through link buying and Google hit them with a range of penalties.

I joined the project once the penalties were hit and spent my time both doing legitimate consultancy and also doing laborious & difficult link removal and re-inclusion requests. I guess the Penguin update was the biggest change I worked through, but it made me happy to see so many people get penalised because I always saw link buying as cheating. – Stuart McIlreavy

Penguin can be a fiddly little devil – I have one client who’s struggled for years with it, despite extensive disavowing and getting some really good links in the meantime. Fingers-crossed the next update/refresh will sort everything out. – Steve Morgan

Florida definitely marked a significant change for SEO, but Penguin was probably the most impactful update on SEO as a whole in recent times and one that brought us a number of new clients, but with the challenge of addressing their penalties – some of which were easier to shift that others.

On top of that though, Penguin also lead to a dramatic change in link building and made this a far more time consuming and challenging activity as, somewhat naturally, there was a lot of suspicion and skepticism of any approach for a link following its rollout. – Andrew Steel

If you’ve done everything correctly and kept everything white-hat, none would be considered challenging. They’re all significant and were carried out with reason. SEO has weathered these updates and navigating through, ensuring your sites do all the right and moral things to display value to search engines. – Logan Lenz

I strongly believe that the most challenging part in Google algorithm is in the era of contextual marketing. Knowing that not all of the SEOs are ready for these changes and they don’t have the right skills for this update.

Search engine algorithms are ever changing, but this era is more intelligent than any animal updates that I encountered, I’m sure you’ll agree. A search engine that can understand complex queries and does not based on “keyword based” library is something I considered as an artificial intelligence.

A search engine that responds with the gut feeling is a huge step from Google when delivering the best results on the searches. “Google is now analyzing its data gathered in the past and decides how to make the best decision – considering history, science, psychology, and the way of life of humans.” –Lawrence Lagerlof. Need proof? You can read the full article about this RankBrain in Bloomberg Business Blog.

Companies that practice contextual marketing should be guided by the following imperative: don’t try to bring the customers to a website, bring the message directly to the customer at the point of need.

The marketing goal will be the same as ever: deliver the right product to the right customer at the right time. Companies will still have to form a deed understanding of their customers; needs and desires. But in many cases, instead of owning customer data or individual customer relationships, successful contextual marketers will borrow them.

So in this update, again, SEOs need to practice on how to think like they are the right customers of their client. SEOs need to know the customer’s emotions, needs, buying signals, locations, behavior, and visitor’s journey to your client’s website. SEOs also have to learn conversion rate optimization. You can find a list of CRO best practices and case studies in Moz’s Conversion Rate Optimization collection. – Gary Andrew Lacanilao

Hmm…to be honest, I’ve always firmly stuck to white hat practices so I’ve never experienced what people often refer to as a penalty. I have however had a client coming to us when they’ve seen a big drop in rank after Penguin was introduced. I found it quite challenging to quickly identify the issues that had caused the drop in rank. We ended up doing a complete SEO audit and quite quickly found the areas which had to be improved. – Max Tandefelt

None. One of the nice things about focusing on paid search is that our work is not affected by Google search algorithm changes. We are however, affected by new ad innovations. – Pashmina Lalchandani

I worked with a few sites that suffer from the Panda update. Thin pages and Duplicate content are a huge problem on many sites. It can take a long time to clean that up. – Lars Bachmann

I think the latest Panda algorithm update, which seems like it has taken 3 months to roll out, will easily be the most difficult to overcome. When you don’t have a “before and after” ranking chart to compare, you can’t see which clients dropped because of the update and which rose.

It’s harder to specifically diagnose what is happening when you don’t know who the winners and losers really are. – Matt Antonino

I have no issues with Google algorithms as I take a content-based approach to building traffic and creating links. This is the slow and steady approach that we’ve read about in books like “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Many forget that the fast rabbit lost that one. – Greg Strandberg

Without question Penguin. In 2009 it was possible to buy an EMD, buy 20-30 links and rank for a fairly competitive English phrase. Now, Google’s algorithm is so much more sophisticated, and you actually need a trusted website that delivers user value. – Samuel Miranda

Penguin, I suppose. None of the updates have significantly affected my major sites. Panda was great for internet users and my sites were never thin so I didn’t notice a reduction in traffic. Hummingbird was also an obvious improvement and benefitted people with rich, quality websites. Penguin affects some, um, experimental sites. – Dan Crean

I’d have to say the Florida update, back in 2003.  I was new to the industry and this update hit right before the holidays.  A sizeable percentage of our clients were impacted by the update and it really made us take a good hard look at our strategies and how we managed and created campaigns.

Since then, we’ve been extremely careful with our programs, ensuring that everything we do is in line with the best practices and guidelines provided by Google and the other search engines. 

In the early days of SEO, there was more of a Wild West mentality: you could wear multiple colored cowboy hats as long as the results were there.

Florida really changed that and as such it laid the foundation for the type of agency WebRanking was to become. Since then we’ve focused on doing everything above board and shun any strategies that could possibly get our clients in hot water with Google.  As such, since Florida, we don’t sweat upcoming updates because we know that our clients are not going to be in a position to be negatively affected by them. – Chris Lister

None of our clients has been hit with any of the really devastating Panda or Penguin updates; we attribute this to our SEO guidance being very risk averse and focusing on sustainable SEO tactics. Same goes for Mobilgeddon; this was a non-event for our clients. – Gradiva Couzin

Pigeon. It feels like no one has really talked about Pigeon that much – especially in comparison to Panda and Penguin (which to be fair, did feel like the SEO industry was going to implode). But Pigeon is having massive ramifications for search rankings with local search increasing so significantly. Google is constantly changing its SERPs and the impact on local results has been significant.

The carousel, coupled with the local listing snack packs means local results are completely different and if you work in a vertical where location search queries are hugely important than it’s a lot to contend with. For a long time it felt like if you had a trusted and authoritative website then you were already winning half the battle for local/international search but it does feel like Penguin has changed this. Hreflang and multilingual content are extremely important now. – Colin Cheng

Penguin at the time had the biggest impact as prior to that link development was unregulated and people were doing anything to get links.  This lead to us taking on a lot of new clients that all required link removal and clean-up work and in the end a number of businesses that had to switch out domains and start again from scratch. – Aaron Agius

I would say not one. If you do good, clean SEO, you won’t get into any problems. Just don’t buy bad links, avoid work on your technical side or use keyword stuffing. Be creative, produce good content that can be shared and learn analytics so you can do a good assessment of your performance and you’ll be ok. – Nuno Hipólito

Definitely Penguin. Google has been incredibly vague about what’s being looked at, and the updates have been so few and far between lately, that even once you fix the problem, it can be a year before you get out of Google Jail. – Michael Cottam

Till date, none of the algorithms have affected the websites managed by us in a very challenging way. I know it sounds little boisterous but it is a fact. As we go by the W3C standards for on page factors and never go for any unnatural way of increasing web presence the question of being adversely affected by algo updates does not arise.

But, yes one of our websites was adversely affected by a hacking attack (Link spam Injection) which made it lose all the search presence as it was penalised by Google. Bringing back the search presence for that website was indeed a very challenging exercise that we have encountered till date. – Bharati Ahuja

I would say that Panda is the most challenging because it varies by site what the issues are. Plus, because it’s a rolling update now and pretty well integrated into the overall algorithm, I often see Panda “hits” as being a slow slide of traffic, not one big drop. This is super hard to diagnose and sometimes to get executive support for solving, because it might take 6-12 months to do all the things that will get you back to where you want to be. – John Doherty

Definitely Penguin in May 2013. This was the first time Google nailed those who had been buying links and a number of websites experienced huge drops in keyword positions and traffic.

We gained a lot of customers at that time, most of who are still with us today. Helping them recover from that update was probably the hardest piece of work we have undertaken. – Jonathan Guy

I’ve been pretty lucky, as I haven’t felt the wrath of any major updates so far. However, I’d say penguin would probably be the hardest to adhere to, as I remember the days when you could just throw money at backlinks and see your rankings increase. – Peter Attia

Panda and Penguin are right up there and I think Doorway will be very challenging in the near future. Doorway is obligating companies to advertise in Adwords to reach certain regions and finding a whitehat way around this is quite a challenge. – Carla Dawson

Panda. It leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Luckily it wasn’t an algorithm update that has given me too many problems, but I’ve seen so much conflicting information on what it is, or how to fix it. I’m hoping to always steer clear of that one. – Alex Ramadan

The most challenging algorithm updates are the algorithmic link penalties because

a) it can be difficult to definitively and precisely diagnose the issue,

b) it takes a long time to get rid of the issue, and

c) it’s nearly impossible to tell if what you’re doing is working until a lot of time has passed.

Adam Thompson

A lot of my clients have poorly structured websites and do not understand how this impacts them. As a result, any update that focuses on thin content is frankly like a gut punch, but I am often thankful for it because each drop in traffic as a result of an algorithm update is a reminder to my clients that their websites are important and that I don’t tell them they need to do more simply because I want more money, but rather because it’s in their best interests. – Eric Pratum

Panda is the best and worst update. As a former full-time freelance writer it temporarily damaged my career. Many companies halted buying any content (even high quality content) because they slid in the SERPs due to Panda, but writers who could write meaningful SEO content could – and did – survive. Working on the SEO side and as someone in charge of blogs that gained strength post-Panda, I’d say that Panda helps us stand out. – Tara Clapper

Penguin for sure. I was working on a client (Slideshare) who was hit by the Penguin update and their traffic plummeted from 5 million sessions a day to 2 million sessions a day. Seriously…a 3 million session a day drop. The problem was when someone embedded a slide deck on their own website, Slideshare added a link to the embed code that was a little too keyword focused. We solved the problem by adding branded only anchor text to their embed codes and reaching out to a lot of webmasters to change the existing embed code to the new one on their blogs. – Jason Delodovici

What’s a Google algorithm? (Just kidding). But I’m surprisingly unconcerned with algorithms and analytics. I focus instead on creating quality content and engaging with my readers and colleagues. It is a very organic approach (and a slow/steady one), but it has served me well. – Nora Dunn

Everything I do is super ethical. If I think Google would disapprove I don’t do it. So, I’ve never been hit that hard by Google algorithm updates. Just use common sense and don’t try to outthink Google. – Marvin Russell

To be honest, not really any. If you’re approaching online marketing and SEO the right way, these updates shouldn’t hit your clients that hard. The search engines specifically lay out their best practices years in advance, so none of these updates really come as a surprise. – Chris Long

We always benefit from Google updates, so I have no problems with any of them. – Bart van der Meer

Penguin. Without a doubt. When it first hit I was only 6 months into my SEO career and no one had a clue what was going on. We were removing and disavowing links like mad but traffic simply wouldn’t budge on some sites.

I felt Google was heavy handed by waiting 18 months to roll out a Penguin update prior to October 2014, it left many an SEO and business owner in the dark, which was the biggest frustration; hours and hours of work going into cleaning up messy backlink profiles yet having to wait months to see if said work was going to save the day.

Google algorithms are always a tough one to crack. As SEOs we only have what Google tells us combined with experience and research to go by. No SEO can 100% guarantee recovery from an algorithmic penalty, but we can do everything in our power to identify what caused the issue and how to best fix it. – Dan Callis

Panda. Penguin is easy. Everyone knows a shitty link when they see one. I know it’s not that simple, but if you know how to find your backlinks and you can see which ones look bad, the job’s nearly done (not that you’ll get out of it quickly).

But Panda’s another beast. The problem with Panda is that it’s based on machines and what they’ve learned. That’s hard to decode, because it could learn that your industry has an average 4 minutes dwell time, but your site only has 1 minute.

Or it could learn that a chunk of your content has poor engagement levels, so it downgrades your rankings just for that content.It’s always going to be different because it’s a machine-based appreciation of your content and how people engage with that content. And not everyone has the resources to improve their content, so you’re faced with a mountain to climb.

Panda requires real brain work. – Gareth Cartman

Definitely the Penguin update. Most of our customers come through our door having worked with other SEO companies in the past. This makes it really difficult for us being that most of these companies employed some sort of blackhat link building strategy in the past. We don’t want to get penalized for someone else’s shoddy work.

I also have my eye on the doorway page update that is supposedly launching soon. So many of our customers are using some form of “city pages” as a landing page.

No one really knows how intense this algorithm update is going to be, so I definitely have my eye on this and am strategizing with my team to minimize any risk. – Patrick Coombe

I have been in the game one way or another for a long time now and whilst I would love to trot out the typical holier-than-thou white hat response of “if you do things the right way then the updates don’t matter” type of response, I can’t do that as the response would be total bullshit.

We have clients coming through the door now that have worked with several agencies over time and don’t even know what has been done historically. Certainly, we see folks still struggling with Penguin related issues.

I tend to find the qualitative updates are tending to all blend together at this point and you really have to be focusing on quality to play the long game. Everything from your brand, to your technical SEO, to your content to your link profile has to put quality first.

I really like the five SEO super signals proposed by Alan Blei weiss of Quality, Uniqueness, Authority, Relevance & Trust – make that your mantra and you can stop chasing the algorithm which I don’t always find to be a mindset that leads to success. – Marcus Miller

I think Mobilegeddon is likely to be the most challenging. Previous algorithms were ultimately about teaching marketers to optimize for people, not search engines. Mobilegeddon forces marketers to adapt their marketing on a deeper level.

That’s not to say we weren’t expecting it. Google has been telling us to optimize for mobile for a while now. But since this update, you can’t just create great content and optimize it. You also have to look at how it’s coded and whether its design is appropriate for all devices. It almost adds another layer to your SEO efforts. – Kathryn Aragon

Many years ago, I would try and use the latest trick or technique to get traffic for websites. These things don’t work anymore and if they do, they can stop working at anytime. I don’t sweat Google algorithm changes too much anymore since I use only white hat techniques and work on producing the highest quality content I can. Do this and you can go to bed not worrying what Google is going to do tomorrow. – Rick Ramos

The Penguin 2.0 update was one that gave me the biggest headache. I was working with a handful of clients with a legacy of less than perfect link building and it was a big job to get some of those cleaned up. There were positive to come out of that too though.

With an update like that, it became much easier to position content led link building to new clients (rather than the low quality, high quantity link acquisition they had been accustomed too with other companies). – Stacey MacNaught

Both Panda and Penguin were very challenging even for me. You’d think a squeaky clean white hat SEO like me would get spared by almighty Google but no. – Tadeusz Szewczyk

I have been lucky to not have been hit hard by any of the past Google algorithm updates. It certainly took a while for me to make all my websites mobile friendly though. – Daniel Scocco

None. It’s the shitty SEO firms that are the problem. Sometimes it’s so bad that you have to start over. – Adam Riemer