Tuesday, April 24th, a day that by all accounts seemed normal until, for some site owners, a pretty noticeable drop in rankings changed things. Was it another, rougher iteration of Panda? An extension of that pesky “no ads above the fold” algorithm change? Was it the famed and feared over-optimization penalty that has been looming over our heads since Matt Cutts mentioned it a few months back?
It turns out that it was an entirely new search algorithm aimed at catching webspam, interestingly called “Penguin” (black and white like a Panda, but not nearly as large or imposing…) – this is the change Matt Cutts was referring to, but he told Search Engine Land that using the term “over-optimization” wasn’t entirely accurate, as the algorithm doesn’t target SEO, just webspam. Now, normally, most people would say site owners don’t have to worry about this type of thing , as long as their sites aren’t spammy. But the perception Google’s algorithm has of spam and the perception of spam that you as a site owner might have are different – so, though you may think you and your site aren’t going to be affected, it is always a possibility (though Google does claim that this change only affects around 3.1% of queries). UPDATE: The effects of this algorithm update have been felt far and wide, and certainly have damaged what feels like, to many people, more than 3% of queries. Please keep in mind that it is still fresh, and some people are only now beginning to feel the true effects of this update. Though a Penguin is a much smaller and seemingly less menacing animal, the algorithm change is proving, for some, to be as devastating as Panda was.
The reason we waited about a week to blog about this is that we wanted the dust to settle. We wanted to see how people reacted, and what kind of effect Penguin would actually have on websites and their owners. This algorithm comes down, essentially, to the age-old battle of the “white hat” versus the “black hat” SEO. “Rewarding” high-quality and punishing black hat webspam is the goal of this algorithm, according to Google. However, for many, straddling that line between white and black hat has been the norm – with entirely white hat procedures not being as rewarding or beneficial as a small mixture of white and black. The search engine ecosystem is changing, especially with Penguin, towards a more white hat one (we have known this for awhile), and it’s time for many to clean up their acts.
What To Avoid and How To Change Your Ways
Priority number one: Remove ANY spam that may be on your site, or may be involved with your linking strategy. While you may have gotten away with it before, Penguin will find you now. Out to rank high-quality sites and bring down sites that “are engaging in webspam tactics to manipulate search engine rankings,” the search algorithm will specifically be attuned to tactics that webmasters might use to attain better rankings through questionable schemes, like the following:
Keyword Stuffing – Avoid repeating your keywords too many times on a page (in fact, try to stay within 2-4 times), and avoid throwing keywords into content that is unrelated to them. If you use your keywords more than once, make sure they make sense in context and that the content flows with the keywords included. This ensures the user’s reading experience is good and that your content is properly optimized for search engine consumption.
Link Schemes – As you likely know, Google analyzes how many sites link to you (the more sites that link back to yours, the more you are viewed as an “authority” by Google) as a way of discerning whether your site is relevant and useful to users. Your link profile has a great deal to do with your site’s rankings. The links you build should be quality ones, and they should be relevant to your site. Quality over quantity is also quickly becoming a new industry standard.
Duplicate Content – An honest mistake is okay, but when you are purposely plagiarizing and duplicating content, don’t expect to top rank in the SERPs. And, on a related note: Don’t Post Good Content. Post GREAT content. Of course, as Google points out in its Webmaster Guidelines, it is always better to naturally garner links simply by creating relevant, high-quality content that people naturally link to. However, for sites that engage in SEO, this may not always be the easiest thing to do. Regardless of how you garner links, your content should ALWAYS be great – content that is grammatically correct, that flows, and that is easily consumed by the search engines but not stuffed with keywords. As Google concludes: “We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling websites).”
If you have been hit with Penguin, all you can do is fix the problems, file a reconsideration request, and wait. If you ensure all of the above follows best practices and that there is no spam to be seen anywhere near your site, you should be back climbing the rankings soon enough.
Has your site been hit by Penguin? Have great tips for avoiding an algorithmic penalty? Drop us a line in the comments!
PS – don’t confuse Penguin with Panda 3.5, which actually rolled out around a week before Penguin did (on April 19, according to Matt Cutts). UPDATE: Panda 3.6 ran on April 27th, as well.
Want to learn more about Google search algorithm updates? Need tips for engaging in white hat SEO? Check back with our blog for regular updates, free tips, and more. Have questions that are more specific to your business? Give us a ring at 770-481-1766.