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One Year Post-Penguin: A Look Back at Google’s Algorithm Update

One year ago – April 24, 2012 – Google released the Penguin update to its search algorithm in an effort to eradicate spammy content and spammy links, thus rewarding websites that provide a good user experience. While previous updates had an impact on rankings, they did not compare to the effects Penguin had on (a) search results and (b) how SEO professionals performed their jobs. And yet for all of the hubbub it generated, Google anticipated that Penguin would affect only 3 percent of search queries. We think it’s a bit higher.

The good news is that it is fairly simple to stay on the right side of Penguin. Following are a number of tactics Penguin targets, and what you can do instead to achieve higher rankings.

Manipulative Linking Practices

In an effort to move the needle, many webmasters and SEOs look to get as many links as possible. There is nothing wrong with this unless those links are nothing more than spam coming from low-page-rank sites that have nothing to do with your industry.

The most common tactic has to do with link/anchor text. Keyword-rich and descriptive anchor texts are an important ranking signal. When too many links have the same, or very similar link/anchor texts, the algorithm may catch that and penalize the page that those links point to.

A common tactic was to get links from blogrolls and the footer of a theme. Others may participate in link networks. Regardless, it is a problem.

Action tip: Perform outreach with other site owners and begin networking. Linking to other sites, asking for links, and creating share-worthy content are all better in both the short and long term for getting links and traffic.

Keyword Stuffing

In the past, it was not uncommon to see a page ranking well with few links but a high occurrence of a specific keyword. Some even went to great lengths to hide text in an effort to stuff more keywords on a page.

The problem is that it is rare for a page to actually read well and add value when there is an unnaturally high occurrence of the same keyword within the content. Bold-facing and/or capitalizing keywords was once thought to give pages some extra search-engine weight. Not true. That tactic is spammy and does not make for a good user experience.

Action tip: Write naturally, make sure your title tag and H1 contain the target keyword, and don’t worry about keyword density so much. Make sure your keyword and variations/synonyms are on the page, but focus on creating value for readers – not search engines. It also makes sense to simplify your URL structure so Google can easily interpret each page (example:

Unnatural Link Profiles

This goes hand-in-hand with manipulation of anchor/link text. A healthy and natural-looking link profile will be diverse. It may include links from news sites, blogs, some blogrolls and forums, and even social media.

A site with a link profile that has just one or two link types is more likely to trigger a filter and receive a penalty.

Action tip: Perform the outreach tactics mentioned above. Don’t avoid easy-to-get links – citations are still valuable, but it would be a mistake to rely on them as your main link-building tactic. The hard links are those that can send referral traffic and offer real ranking power in the search engines. Try writing a whitepaper and/or creating an infographic and pitch it to a media outlet. Getting free publicity and a link from a news organization is a chart-topper.

Duplicate Content

Creating duplicate content with the goal of ranking for different terms is bad and will result in a penalty. Google is looking for fresh content and will index the number of pages on your site. If you are not continually adding quality content to your site, your relevance begins to slip.

Action tip: Publish a blog post at least once per week. Create unique content, and produce more words (in meaningful ways) than your competitors.

Looking at the Future

It is safe to assume that future Penguin updates will penalize those trying to game the system. Link networks that avoided detection in earlier versions may find that they cannot escape the next version.

According to Google, another significant algorithm update is forthcoming. What is almost certain is that those who follow honest, white-hat SEO techniques will benefit from the demise of others in future updates.

EverSpark Interactive has been helping clients climb the search-engine charts for more than three years. Contact us to find out how we can elevate your search-ability.