Google Penguin… the start of a new SEO era?
Last week saw the release of Google Penguin and, as with Panda in 2011, many websites have witnessed a drop in their search engine rankings.
Google’s latest algorithm change came as no surprise, especially after many site owners had received warning messages in Google Webmaster Tools stating that “unnatural links had been detected” to their site. These warnings, which appeared in March, were as a result of Google’s team identifying sites that have been taking part in link building schemes in a bid to manipulate PageRank.
Recognised industry experts were quick to point out that these warnings were part of the Google over-optimisation penalty. And they were right. But the question on everyone’s mind now is what does this update entail and how does this affect SEO as we know it?
What is Google Penguin?
Essentially, Google Penguin is an over-optimising penalty that focuses on trying to stop low quality websites from appearing towards the top of search engine rankings. Google considers these sites as SPAM as they do not always offer the user with the information they’re after. At the same time, many higher quality sites have struggled to compete with poorer quality sites that successfully manipulate search results using unethical SEO tactics.
As a result, Google has now devalued the links within the network as well as the offending sites. Given that the guidelines clearly state that manipulating search results is forbidden, Penguin is a change that Google should’ve made a long time ago.
Sites penalised by Google Penguin have numerous similarities. These include:
1. A large quantity of low quality links coming in, such as link networks on the same IP address, reciprocal links, comment SPAM, sidebar links, SEO directories or forum signatures
2. Over-optimised keyword anchor text being used, i.e. a high percentage of exact keywords in inbound link anchor text in proportion to phrase and brand
3. Low quality on-site and off-site content, including a large number of pages targeting similar keywords (essentially, content duplication)
These all seem to be prominent features for sites that have suffered a dip in rankings since Google Penguin arrived.
Some site owners may think this is harsh; especially sites with exact domain match (i.e. those containing keywords within the URL). However, this type of site still needs a natural link profile with varied anchor text that incorporates longer tailed keywords and focuses on brand or URL amongst a spread of differing keywords. Otherwise, Google Penguin will flag up such sites as SPAM.
The implication on SEO
Google’s Matt Cutts states that the update will only affect 3% of the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs), but this change has massive implications for all site owners and businesses which heavily rely on high rankings in Google.
For those clients engaging in Google best practices and offering high quality content, this update should be seen as good news. However, as some cynics believe the update is named as a result of Penguin’s inherent nature to a dive or drop into the ocean, some site owners are likely to see their punishment as unfair.
Site owners and SEO specialists should be focusing on:
1. Removing any poor quality links
2. Building more brand related anchor text and less focus on over-optimising keyword density with high quality link building which is natural and offers users reasons to visit a site
3. Producing high quality on- and off-site material which is written for the user not the search engine
4. Creating a website with the user in mind. In other words, a site which is not over-optimised with keywords in the title, but which strives for enticing phrases to improve click-through rate and reduce bounce rate
There is much debate over reconsideration requests, but these have rarely been successful with regards to algorithm updates and Penguin is unlikely to be an exception to this. However, there is feedback form that can be found here.
From the user’s perspective, any improvement to the quality of search is for the better. While, in theory, the sites that follow best practice SEO should be the ones that get rewarded.
With this in mind, the SEO industry is likely to become more competitive as firms react to these updates and focus on cleansing their sites. Good news for copywriters and those who respond with a compelling long term online marketing and content strategy, not so good for those who don’t.
David Standaloft, SEO executive, Rippleffect