A Report on the New Google Penguin Update
Well, if you are just hearing the controversy about Google Panda (and the many online businesses that suffered) then you are about a year removed from the latest news. Google Panda happened in 2011 and rocked the SEO world because it penalized many businesses that thought their SEO strategy was just fine and dandy.
What You Missed with the First Google Algorithm Update
The Google Panda “algorithm” was said to lower the search rankings for “low quality sites”; namely, to accomplish the following through artificial intelligence:
- Poorly designed sites were penalized
- Untrustworthy sites were penalized
- Sites with heavy ads but little in the way of content were penalized
- Higher quality sites (especially corporately owned sites) were rewarded
- News sites and social networking sites were rewarded
Supposedly, Panda’s design was to mimic human reactions to search engine rankings, and so human quality testers rated “thousands of websites” based on design quality, trustworthiness, speed and whether or not the user felt compelled to return. What made this algorithm update particularly devastating was the fact that Google penalized the entire offending website and not just individual webpages.
So, what you missed in 2011, was Google Panda wreaking havoc on many established companies, tons of company owners and SEO firms complaining about Google Panda (and desiring to start a class-action lawsuit against Google) and then many websites “repairing the damage” by refocusing on some SEO basics.
Now, we’re in Round 2 of the Google vs. SEO war and the new update to the algorithm has been named Google Penguin (perhaps name after Danny Devito’s “Penguin” character in Batman Returns? Hmm…maybe wishful thinking there). Google Penguin is the follow up update (launched this past April 2012) and has already slapped many in the SEO world, knocking them down in the rankings—which is basically a death sentence because of today’s one-page-surfing attention span.
What Does Google Penguin Do?
Google Penguin’s basic directive is to punish websites that “over-optimize”. If the Panda update was to penalize websites that spammed the Internet, then Panda’s MO is to penalize sites that try too hard to be SEO-friendly—without necessarily being people-friendly. Another way of looking at it is to say that Google wants to punish black-hat SEO (blatant SPAM), reward white-hat SEO (quality writing), and dilute “gray hat SEO” to be whiter. (In this context, gray sites are in the middle; they have some quality content but take lots of shortcuts to save time)
An idealist might say that only the sites that “recycle content”, or rewrite and republish content of exceptionally low quality (a.k.a. content mills) are going to feel any Panda/Penguin repercussions. For the first Round of Panda (although technically, Panda has been updated repeatedly throughout 2011 and 2012) most webmasters took the new warnings to mean Google was penalizing sites that were “grayly” rebelling against its new high standards by:
Cloaking: Creating one site for users, and one site for search engines. Not fair, since Google wants to create a search engine for human beings, that just happens to be run by robots.
Keyword Stuffing: “Over-optimizing” SEO by adding too many keywords into web content. This isn’t really fair practice, because in theory, a low quality site that published 100 pointless articles and 1,000 keywords and links for a basic phrase would overpower a quality site that published a few articles a month and used targeted keywords naturally—as in normal human conversation.
If you’re one of the many website owners wondering why your site “fell off” of Google’s search rankings with the latest Penguin update, then you’re probably assuming it was for one of the following reasons:
- You failed to update your old website content to conform to Panda’s standards.
- Google realized a lot of your regular content was over-optimized, keyword excessive or read too much like a content mill.
- Google realized there are just many other websites that had better content than you.
- You never updated your site with new content, and so fell for non-Panda related reasons.
- You didn’t send Matt Cutts or Larry Page a Christmas basket last year.
Google Penguin and Google Panda Casualties
Google Penguin casualties are just now being revealed, and two surprising domain names come up: Ezine Articles and Blogger.com. Ezine Articles, at one time the top SEO directory in the world, just barely survived the first round of Panda and immediately deleted many of its “lower quality” expert articles to conform to Panda’s roar. However, Web Pro News later reported that Ezine was struck last April (after Panda’s debut in February) and dropped in SEO visibility as much as 93%.
Business 2 Community reported that Blogger.com, the Internet’s top blogging site not affiliated with a social network, also felt Penguin’s pecky little wrath, falling in SEO traffic by 16.6% within a month. While it’s easy to point the blame at overall domain name depreciation, the facts show that Google still attempts to even the playing field. Google owns Blogger.com, and is certainly not going to penalize the entire website for having some poor quality content, since that would be shooting itself in the foot (or paw, or claw, depending on which Google animal we’re talking about). Meanwhile, individual blogs and posts on blogs of low quality could still be buried in search results thanks to a sophisticated new technology of filtering out bad news bloggers.
Despite the trend for many SEO firms to abandon Ezine Articles and other catchall directories to focus exclusively on blogging, sites like Ezine Articles still retain a high rating overall, according to Alexa, who ranks the site 316 in the world—formidable. This indicates that while some quality pages are still being rewarded, domains and complete websites are not enjoying the same momentum as before.
Google’s own Matt Cutts explained the company’s motivation in updating the algorithm yet again, this time targeting on sites that exploit keyword density and poor quality linking, which could compromise an SEO firm’s linkbuilding strategy if more attention is given to writing but at the expense of quality links and coherent “anchor text”.
Google Penguin and Panda Lessons
Now consider another possibility: Google Penguin is finishing the job Panda started—which is to penalize low quality sites, but also to reward sites that publish above-average quality content. Think magazine style perspectives. Think newsworthy information. Think original style and professional article formatting rather than standard SEO questions and vague answers that fill up space. Consider the possibility that your website has been assaulted by an irate panda and hostile penguin solely for the reason that it doesn’t read like a higher quality site (i.e. The New York Times or The Huffington Post) but more like a page created only for repetitive SEO work.
The simple logic is that if you are marketing yourself as an expert you would not (or should not) write a lowbrow SEO article made up of mainly multiple keyword phrases, and rhetorical questions and answers to fill up space. It makes you look bad and it makes the search engine that links to you look bad.
When you “invest” in SEO marketing today, you have a choice: to buy higher quality writing or higher quantity writing. The direction Google seems to be pushing us in is the higher quality route, forcing us to write like professionals, like journalists, and to avoid the SEO clichés that the industry has coasted on for the past ten years.
The best way to avoid Google’s animal wrath in the coming year is to read more, write better and brand your company logo with quality—the sort of thing we used to care about before first generation SEO experts taught us to be lazy. Now we eagerly await the next incarnation of Google’s algorithm update that changes all the rules…perhaps Google Panther?
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