On April 20th, we felt that change was in the air and published a post called “The Future of SEO and How To Prepare For It”. Our timing could not have been better, because on April 24th, Google announced an epic update to their search algorithm that is designed to do a better job of catching people and websites that spam its search engine. This update, called “Penguin” immediately sent shock waves through the online community. Let’s take a look at what “Penguin” did, and why people are so up in arms over it.
Let’s start with what Google had to say:
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 quality guidelines. This algorithm represents another step in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content.
As usual, Google was pretty cryptic here. What type of “webspam” were they targeting? Which quality guidelines violations are they referring to? Here are a few things that violate Google’s quality guidelines:
Google has been working on fighting all of the above methods for some time now. So what makes “Penguin” so unique? There are two possibilities I am here to submit for your consideration.
- They were targeting “over-optimization” of websites. Matt Cutts, head of Google’s search quality team, warned of this recently. Many feel that sites involved in the practice of “keyword stuffing” and over-optimization of Meta data were targeted with this update.
- Strong penalties against websites with too many “spammy” links.
Let’s talk about my second point. What constitutes a “spammy” link? I’d define a spammy link as one that holds little authority or relevancy to the website it is pointing to. In the past, most SEO’s assumed that Google merely ignored obvious link spam. But I don’t believe that is the case any longer. I think Google has taken a new and rather unprecedented step.
I think Google is penalizing sites now for having lots of spammy backlinks. This opens up the door to an unfortunate niche in the SEO community: negative SEO. If Google is now penalizing sites for low-quality backlinks, what is stopping a competitor from pointing lots of these low-quality backlinks to a competitors website? That’s a great question. Frankly, I don’t like where this is going, and I do feel that there will be a lot of negative SEO going on in the coming months and years.
Until then, what should you do in the aftermath of “Penguin”?
- Find out if you were impacted. If you use a rank-tracking program for specific keywords, run it. If you don’t, use Google Analytics (I hope you have Google Analytics setup – if not get on it!) to check to see if traffic from Google is up, down, or relatively constant. If you’ve seen a significant drop in organic traffic from Google, you were probably hit.
- Check Google Webmaster Tools. See if Google sent you a warning message regarding the quality of your backlinks. If they did, start cleaning up your “craplinks” right away. If you don’t have Webmaster Tools setup, check with your webmaster to see if they do on your behalf. If you don’t have a webmaster, hire one! There are many reasons to hire a webmaster. Having these types of tools at your fingerprints is one of them.
- Submit a reconsideration request. But only do this after you have cleaned up your “craplinks” and checked Webmaster Tools to see what other suggestions Google has made.
In all, 3% of websites were hit by “Penguin”, but they were hit hard. If your site was one of them, follow the suggestions we made above. Next, stop and think about what you are trying to accomplish with your Web presence. How can you adapt to the changing search environment? For starters, it helps to have a quality SEO firm on retainer. While there are many, we’re one of them. If you think we might be able to help, feel free to contact us to set up a free consultation with us today. We’d love to talk more in-depth about the changes taking place to Google’s algorithm, and what you can do to safeguard your website against further changes to search quality.