Google has officially rolled out its latest algorithm update for the infamous GoogleBot. Dubbed the ‘Penguin’ update, the new changes were made to go after web spammers who over SEO’d their websites. Although Google claims that this update has only affected roughly 3.1% of search results, the web master community is up in arms about how a lot of their sites dropped significantly in the rankings, and they claimed that they weren’t spammy websites in the first place and provided actual value to Google’s users.
Before we go on, it’s imperative that you understand this basic fundamental about ranking in Google’s search engine: backlinks, or links to other web sites, are considered editorial votes for that page; this means that the more links a particular site has, the more authority it has in Google’s eyes. It’s always been a cat and mouse game with Google and web spammers finding new ways to generate unnatural links that look natural in Google’s eyes. The Penguin update was rolled out to fight back against this very issue; that spammers were gaming the search engine results too easily using questionable link building strategies.
Is the Penguin update doing a good job? What exactly happened? And if you were affected, what can you do to fix things? Lets dive into what we know about the latest changes over at Google.
Is Penguin Helping or Hurting Results?
Web masters around the world are lighting up message boards complaining about how badly they dropped in the search engine rankings. People want to know what happened, and is it even beneficial to the end user? When Google rolls out these massive updates, they tend to affect niches in different ways. Although the same rules in the algorithm are applied to every niche, some react differently than others to rank changes. You can see from performing your regular daily Google searches that some of the results may appear to be a bit off. For popular search terms, spammy ‘autoblogs’ that scrape and copy content from the web would be found ranking #1 for terms they shouldn’t be. Exact match domains, or EMDs, were found to be ranking overly well for certain terms, while web masters with EMD sites in other niches saw their rankings drop drastically as well.
What will Google do to fix these problem areas? Instead of rolling back the update and figuring out what ranking factor they placed too much emphasis on, they’ll more than likely listen to what the users are saying and perform little tweaks to problematic niches. So don’t expect any big changes to come out of Google regarding the Penguin update, because going back isn’t something they’ve historically done.
What Exactly Happened?
It’s still very soon in the game to map out what exactly changed in the search engine algorithms, however several sources are quoting similar findings and some people are starting to make sense of the update. But before we try and find out what could have changed, let me remind you of what Google looks for in order for a site to be deemed ‘high quality’ and in return given high rankings.
Generally speaking, Google’s official blog lists these factors for deeming whether a site is high in quality or not:
- Would you trust the information presented in this article?
- Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
- Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
- Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
- Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
- Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
- Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
- Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
- How much quality control is done on content?
- Does the article describe both sides of a story?
- Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
- Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
- Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
- For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
- Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
- Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
- Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
- Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
- Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
- Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
- Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
- Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
- Would users complain when they see pages from this site?
It is safe to assume that if you adhere to those guidelines, and don’t utilize any spammy link building techniques, your site should be gold in the eyes of Google.
Now let’s look at what we think changed in the Google algorithm. Google constantly changes their algorithm in order to provide more relevant results to its users. As time goes on after each update, search engine optimization experts find ways to ‘game’ the results and rank their sites artificially high in Google by utilizing a plethora of different SEO techniques. It’s Google’s job to stay one step ahead of the spammers, while still providing relevant search results.
To put it simply, it appears as if Google increased the penalty it applies to sites that are overly SEO’d with spammy or illegitimate backlinks. The guys at MircoSite Masters run an analytics tool for web masters to track their rankings in the search engines. Because of the amount of data their tool collects, they were able to have access to a large enough sample size of data to run a few tests. In summary, they found that:
- Sites that had the main keyword they were trying to rank for in over 60% of their inbound links were negatively affected by the update
- Penalized sites generally had very little links coming from domains and websites in the same niche
Basically, this all means that if you were participating in deceptive link building strategies, Google just got a little bit smarter, and you may be affected by the Penguin update.
For awhile, in order to rank well for a search term, SEOs could game the results by generating thousands of links with the keyword they wanted to rank for as the anchor text. And building on that, Google has gotten wiser about determining if the site linking to your web site is in the same niche or not. If you have a majority of your backlinks linking to your site all containing the same keyword and coming from all kinds of random websites, this looks unnatural in the eyes of Google and they are issuing harsher penalties because of it.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Chances are, if you’re a big brand or a brick and mortar company, your website wasn’t effected by the new algorithm. If you were affected by Penguin, there is enough data out there to narrow down the potential problems that could have decreased your ranking. Generally speaking, you need to analyze your backlink profile, go over your website copy and make sure it’s quality content, and make sure your website is user friendly and provides value to the user. If you can square off these three major factors, your website should fair well in the long run in Google’s search engine rankings.