Announced by Matt Cutts, Google’s head engineer on webspam, the latest Google algorithm update is aimed directly at cutting out any black hat or low quality SEO actions. Although only estimated to affect 3% of searches, it could mean some big changes for you and your online competition, for better or…worse. In this article we will take a quick overview of the new Google Penguin update and the effects it could have.
A lot of people woke up on April 25th to find their traffic from Google dramatically reduced, rankings gone and a whole new array of sites ranking no. 1 in search results. The newest update from Google came quickly after the now infamous Panda update that negatively affected an estimated 12% of websites.
What is the Penguin Update?
The Penguin Updates has been previously known as the “Webspam update” and, unlike the Panda, it has not introduced any new ranking factors. The Penguin update is more of a refresh on their spam detection methods, designed to fix loopholes where this type of techniques still worked.
The aim of the Penguin update is mainly against manipulative and shady SEO efforts, such as over optimizing, keyword stuffing, link network, misleading/hidden links, duplicate content and content scraping. (basically everything opposite of the “Google Webmaster Quality Guidelines”).
Matt Cutts – Google Engineer – previously stated:
The goal of many of our ranking changes is to help searchers find sites that provide a great user experience and fulfill their information needs. We also want the “good guys” making great sites for users, not just algorithms, to see their effort rewarded. To that end we’ve launched Panda changes that successfully returned higher-quality sites in search results[…]”
“In the next few days, we’re launching an important algorithm change targeted at webspam. The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines. We’ve always targeted webspam in our rankings, and this algorithm represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content. While we can’t divulge specific signals because we don’t want to give people a way to game our search results and worsen the experience for users, our advice for webmasters is to focus on creating high quality sites that create a good user experience and employ white hat SEO methods instead of engaging in aggressive webspam tactics.”
So what are the Google quality guidelines?
If you do not know them already, here are some of the most important quality guidelines Google wants you to comply with:
1. Avoid hidden text or hidden links.
2. Don’t use cloaking or sneaky redirects.
3. Don’t send automated queries to Google.
4. Don’t load pages with irrelevant keywords.
5. Don’t create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content.
6. Don’t create pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware.
7. Avoid “doorway” pages created just for search engines, or other “cookie cutter” approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content.
8. If your site participates in an affiliate program, make sure that your site adds value. Provide unique and relevant content that gives users a reason to visit your site first.
Who got hit by the new Penguin update?
It seems the majority of the websites that have been hit are websites which focused around “making money online” or “get rich online.” However, other websites that practiced black hat techniques and over optimization were also hit.
The Penguin Update specifically targets keyword stuffing, linking schemes and cloaking:
- Keyword stuffing places repetitive targeted keywords in low visibility areas of a website in hopes of being associated with the term by a search engine. These pages don’t add value to users, they exist only to increase the number of keywords in your site.
- The trouble is, about four years ago, almost all webmasters and SEO agents stuffed keywords. At that time, ‘keyword density’ (the amount of time your keyword appears on the page) was considered a ranking factor. However, you should consider updating your site and erase any unnecessary keywords you find on your website!
- Linking schemes use organized rings of link spammers that spread unrelated links throughout the internet. “In particular, avoid links to web spammers or ‘bad neighborhoods’ on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links” warns Google. Other examples include links intended to manipulate PageRank, excessive reciprocal links or excessive link exchanges and buying or selling links in order to trick the page ranking algorithm.
- Cloaking is the most advanced of these methods: it is the process of creating one site for users and another one for search engines. This is specifically designed to game the algorithm. But Google recommends: “Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines. Don’t deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, which is commonly referred to as cloaking.”
Most of the black hat techniques have been around for a while. But now Google has improved measures for targeting and removing websites using these tactics.
If you’ve been impacted by the changes now is the time to clean up your website and do a proper, careful evaluation of your inbound link profile. If you’ve been involved in any questionable link schemes, try to get these links removed and diversify your link profile with more legitimate sites. Finally, if your website has been impacted but you don’t think it should be, you can contact Google for reconsideration.
How can you tell if your website has been affected by the Google Penguin update?
First of all, you should check the organic traffic coming to your website. Was there a noticeable drop off? If not, check back in another week. This is because it may take a week or two for all the changes to occur in the results. Also, for the sites that were heavily penalized, log into your Google webmaster tools and see if you received a penalty message from Google. During the past year, Google has worked hard to increase communication with webmasters via webmaster tools.
If your website was hit by the update, don’t lose your head quite yet. If you work hard and stay away from the dark side, you can start to redeem yourself to Google. Read through Google Webmaster guidelines and create a game plan for how to fix your website. Really take your time to go through and fix all the spamming and black hat SEO things you possibly can.
In conclusion and as a warning:
Through all of these updates over the last year, we can definitely notice a pattern. Google is trying its best to favor good quality websites which develop relevant content to provide for their users searching on Google. Performing black hat SEO tactics can be quick and easy and you might even see some initial results. However, it’s pretty clear that Google is doing its best to penalize and remove the ranking of all black hat websites, as they are simply useless for visitors.
You should take the extra time and spend the extra money to create a good quality website that you can be proud of. It will pay-off in the long-run, with higher search rankings, higher traffic and a higher conversion rate for your business.