Recently Google released yet another change which is being referred to as the “Google Penguin” update. Sounds very cute, much like the friendly Google Panda…yeah right!!
In this post I want to discuss this latest update, and once again address some common concerns, as I seem to be getting a lot of worried people contacting me after their sites got hit hard by Google over the past few months.
So What is Google Penguin?
Penguin was an update to the Google algorithm that was released on the 24th of April, with intention of apparently penalizing sites for over-optimization, otherwise known as spamming. The first thing I want to say is that its early days, and no one knows exactly what this update was precisely targeting, but nonetheless I will do my best to share some insight, as I can happily say that I actually experienced a positive increase or no change across the board on all my websites after this update, and also after the latest Panda update which happened the week prior.
First off, we can start to get an understanding of this update by reading what Google officially states about it. If you read the Google Webmaster blog it says this:
“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.”
OK so as you would expect Google doesn’t spell it out for everyone, but rather provides a very vague overview and focusses on their overall intention with the update. The key things that we can take from this statement I believe are “high quality sites” and “good user experience“, nothing we didn’t all know already, but who’s actually doing it is more to the point.
One can safely assume that this update, after reading the full Google blog post, was looking at keyword stuffing in content, as Google gives a really over the top example of what this looks like. The example is a poor one, as that sort of keyword stuffing has been slapped by Google for years, so I guess it’s some level of more critical analysis of over use of keywords in your On Page SEO that this update was targeting. With that said, you might want to pay attention to how your content uses keywords and make it look natural. Golden rule for all SEO, make it look natural if it isn’t totally natural!!
The Good Old User Experience
I’ve been harping on about the user experience on this blog a fair bit over the past few months, and you guessed it, I’m going to continue to do so, as I keep seeing sites that get slapped by Google, where the webmasters are shocked and have no idea why. In most cases when I look at these sites, I can see glaringly obvious reasons, as the sites are clearly not designed for the user at all.
I want to also add this quote from Matt Cutts (head of Google Anti-Spam team):
“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 web sites. As always, we’ll keep our ears open for feedback on ways to iterate and improve our ranking algorithms toward that goal.”
…”even no optimization at all…” yeah right, and pigs may just fly one day too!
Also its important to note that Google Panda 3.5 was also rolled at a week prior to the Penguin update, around the 17th of April, so if you lost a significant amount of traffic around that date, then you were most likely ‘Pandalized’ rather than ‘Penguinalized!!!!’
Oh and let’s not forget the 750,000 unnatural backlink warning messages that Google sent out prior to these changes, warning webmasters to remove links that were acquired through unnatural means…what an interesting few months its been!
Google is on the Aggressive
Ok so it doesn’t take a genius to notice that Google is on the aggressive right now, trying their hardest to remove spam from the results and level the playing the field for SEO. I ‘ve never experienced this many changes so closely related than what we are seeing now.
One thing that I must say I find pretty frustrating is that Google tells us not to do much if any SEO, other than make your sites easier to crawl etc…and when it comes to offpage SEO they expect it to happen naturally. The problem for the small guys and gals doing web marketing is that it’s virtually impossible to get enough exposure in the first place so that other webmasters even know about our sites to even consider linking to you. Sure large brands don’t have to worry as they already have a following.
So I don’t think the playing field is that level when Google does the changes they make, but regardless we have to play by their rules as closely as we can, or pay the price of getting no traffic from Google.
So with that said, in light of all the carnage going on out there right now, here’s some suggestions that might help:
Build Sites that Don’t Look Optimized
If Google wants people to just blog away and build affiliate marketing sites or stores etc…without doing any significant SEO, then we really need to mimic this as closely as possible. If you take a look at a few dozen sites ranking in Google now for various keywords, ask yourself if you think they are doing careful On Page SEO or not.
It’s really not that hard to spot, just look at some of the titles of pages on sites and ask yourself if these look like they were written with the keyword in mind or the topic in mind. Of course you will see some junk that is ranking and ask yourself how this got there, but just overlook that as Google will remove the junk eventually, so don’t get caught up on that just focus on good quality yourself.
Also have a look at all the content on the sites and ask yourself if the topics were written with keywords in mind or with topics in mind. Of course if you want to get traffic to your sites, you really have to do keyword research, and then target these keywords, however do it as natural looking as you can, so you still target keywords but fly under the radar!
Create Sites that Will Naturally Get Good Signals
If you focus on building great quality sites, that your traffic will love, then they will naturally want to bookmark your site and share it on Facebook and Google Plus. Not only that though, they will most likely come back again and also search for your site in Google using the site name. Ideally you want your site to get a lot of searches for its name, as it’s a clear signal to Google that people like it. Other good signals are the time on your site, low bounce rate, high average page view etc…
The only way you stand any chance of getting these “good signals” happening on your site is if you actually have a good site, not rocket science really. The problem is that good sites take effort and time and a lot of people can’t be bothered, and instead continue to put up low quality thin sites, and try all sorts of things to dodge the Google bullets, but honestly it’s all a waste of time in the long run, trust me I’m speaking from experience.
Google are only going to roll out more and more updates like Penguin and Panda, who knows maybe the next one will be called “Google Poodle”, ha ha, then you can say your site was “Poodlized!!! In all seriousness though, the sooner you move towards managing less sites, and focussing on higher quality, and thinking about the user experience, that better you will do in Google.
Off Page SEO Can’t Hurt Your Sites…Or Can It?
Ok so here comes the bombshell, Google sent out all these unnatural link warning to webmasters over the past few months, and sites who got them experiences a drop in rankings. The result is that many webmasters frantically started to remove any links they thought Google might frown upon and then submit for a reconsideration. I assume many SEO companies got dropped by webmasters, only to be replaced by news ones who get on their high horse and claim they are pure whitehat SEO and all will go well if the webmaster is to choose them…I doubt it…no one is 100% whitehat.
So why is this a bombshell then? Well the obvious question is, “if low quality backlinks to your sites can harm them, can’t we all go out and build a bunch of low quality links to our competitors?”
My response to this used to be “No way, if Google allowed this it could well create total chaos online”
My response now is “I’m not sure anymore, and I am starting to think low quality links combined with a lack of good signals coming off your site may well cause problems for you!”
I don’t think these recent changes in regards to backlinks will cause widespread chaos by any means, the reason being that chaos, I assume, would mean the likes of Amazon could be taken down, or other well established authority brands. I don’t think will ever happen, as these kinds of sites have way too many good signals for Google to ditch them, and the same goes for much smaller, yet quality sites too.
So what about sites that are ranking well but don’t have many “good signals”, are these open for attack from this negative SEO? I can’t definitely say, but my assumption is that possibly yes, if the negative campaign against them is particularly nasty in nature and well planned out. I sincerely discourage anyone from getting involved in these tactics, as it’s not the way to win a battle, and we would all not like it if someone did it to us.
Avoid Obvious Forced Linking
I encourage people, if you are using forced link building, and I think most of us will have to, make sure you don’t use overly spammy links, such as mass auto-blog comments, profile links, very public blog networks etc…anything that is really obvious and easy for Google to spot as forced linking. Also do your best to create content and tools, anything that will increase the chances of people linking to you naturally.
Also if you create a decent following in your niche this will happen much more easily. I think the key is to use linking as much as you need to, to gain momentum, but don’t rely on forced linking only, otherwise your site will not look natural.
To close this post I want to leave this final thought, spend time analyzing high quality sites in various niches, and take notes on how they make the user experience a good one, and do your best to employ as many of these techniques on your own sites.
If you enjoyed this post, I would be super grateful if you would shar on Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus below.