If you’re one of the many websites that’s been affected by the latest Google algorithm change on Tuesday, April 24th 2012 , then you’ve most likely been hit by the recent ‘Penguin update’ . Why Penguin? Well it’s black and white and refers to black hat and white hat SEO strategies. (Black meaning bad and white meaning good) . Some people are saying that this is a minor change compared to the previous Panda release, (but if ‘small’ means your business is losing revenue from a drop in rankings, then I beg to differ), but has without doubt got a few web masters and business owners flapping to get back on dry land after experiencing that sinking feeling. Are Google working there way through the whole animal kingdom. If so, no doubt your quaking in your boots in anticipation of the ‘Killer Whale’ and ‘Zebra’ updates.
So Why has Google implemented the Penguin update?
It’s a subtle change that helps Google detect and combat web spam, poor quality web sites with a resultant relegation to obscurity and off the search engine radar. Look, there is no need to panic but you will need to play to the new rules, and probably have to tweak your SEO strategy and methods, in order to gain robust rankings in the future. Apparently only 3% of search queries have been affected, but the jury is still out on this – if Google has got it right and not inadvertently filtered out some good quality sites with the same brush stroke. There is point to this though – it’s probably time to stop playing chess with the computer, because unless you have the brain of a champion chess player, there’s only going to be one winner in the end.
Panda or Penguin – Which one has my website been hit by?
The easiest way to tell is look at when your keyword rankings went negative, in conjunction with viewing your analytic’s and determine when you took a drop in visitor traffic. If your site was hit a few days before the 24th, then you’ve suffered at the hands of the Panda change and been whacked with a large thick bamboo stick. Ofcourse, this was a cunning move by Google releasing them within a few days of each other, so it’s difficult to reverse engineer the algorithm and work out what the dependent issues are. Give yourself a pat on the back if your rankings have stayed the same or your site has even benefited and been promoted upwards.
To clarify, Panda 3.5 was formulated to combat poor quality web pages with sub standard content (Example – pages with poorly written keyword rich content, possibly duplicated text and full of spammy adverts), where as the Penguin update was all bout web spam: over optimisation in terms of back linking and over use of anchor text. (Example: Using blog networks and linking from spammy pages. (More details on this to follow later..!)
There’s Been Plenty of Warning and Information: and it’s been a long time coming, but is it Game Over?
Google has been striving to create the perfect search experience for its users for many years now. The signals and warnings have been coming for a long time, but seems asthough they have finally made some big strides in the right direction.
Webmasters have been flummoxed for the past few years in that they have adopted only pure white hat techniques, all by the rule book (and with good results), but some have still been getting away with marginal black and grey hat spam techniques that have often succeeded in achieving equivalent standings. I strongly believe that it’s game over now for a lot of link builders and spam merchants. It’s check mate, MATEY!
The following information is an insight into what I have experienced over the past few weeks, with regards to analysing competitor sites rankings and back link quality , and gleaning the results from a few of our test sites.
Have you been participating in any of the following link building methods?
1. Lazy Link building techniques: resorting to link buying or brokering text links.
There’s no doubt that site wide links have been down graded, and are now carrying much less weight.
a. Acquiring blogroll links from non-related sites – utilising site wide links, with our without anchor text.
Google has just got cleverer and is now acting on these types of links. Is it likely that this type of link is going to be natural? No of course not, why would it be likely that someone owning a fashion site would link out to a car website. Avoid this like the plague, even if not using rich anchor text.
b. Acquiring blogroll links from related sites utilising site wide links and using keyword anchor text.
This is up for discussion still, but think about this one! If you own a blog about green energy, are you likely to link out to another related site for reference or because you simply admire the other site and their opinion in this field. Yes you are, but are you likely to use keyword rich anchor text? No! So Google is now looking at this type of detail – something which everyone suspected it was going to do a long time ago, but appears it has finally managed to crack this one.
2. Using websites/blogs with poor quality articles that are freighted with anchor text and 3 external links to the same website.
OK, so you’ve been asked to write an article by an acquaintance you met at an exhibition who owns a blog in a similar industry to yours. You add 2-3 links to the article going to different pages of your site, and all use anchor text. This is in my opinion now deemed unacceptable – they are all over this. This is likely to have a negative effect on your rankings – especially if this is over used and a common signature or pattern is evident. Article credits and editorial links should be more natural. Why should you need to indicate to Google by using anchor text, what your site is about. Google already knows this, so keep it natural and leave it to the publisher to choose your credit link at random. They’re probably going to use your website or company name – which is a good thing.
3. Building blogs that are purpose built for SEO
How many times have you seen a well ranked website with back links from PR Zero sites that look asthough they have been built in 5 minutes. This is a major inclusion in the Penguin update and a long time coming.
4. Using automated spinning article software and automated submission networks.
5. Exchanging links from non-related sites and using spammy resources for reciprocal linking.
6. Exchanging links from related sites and using spammy resource pages for reciprocal linking.
This one may surprise some people. But this is one I see often in link profiles when dredging through a high ranking competitor’s website back links, and I have seen some competitor rankings take a dive after the last weeks Penguin update. Some have only dropped 6-7 positions, others more, but you can see why, when 70% of their back linking strategy falls into this category.
How to Recover from the Google Penguin Update! Information On What You Can Do Now?
There’s probably few websites that have recovered from the Penguin update yet, as it’s still quite early. I would recommend digesting the following guidelines from Google, and get a feel for the reasons and their thinking behind these changes.
The following list has been aggregated from Rankability SEO experts as well as external sources including various sources in the SEO industry. These are informed opinions (and assumptions) based on our experience and knowledge of SEO.
Google Penguin Recovery Tips
- Look for signs of Over optimisation of your website
I’m referring to on page SEO here, decluttering pages of high keyword density and over use of keyword phrases, poor repetitive copy writing, ensuring your headers and title tags are more natural and less aligned as well as reducing the number of internal links.
Google have changed their Page Rank (PR) algorithmn recently, so linking back to the home page using anchor test is no longer a valid signal of strength.
2. Check you Anchor Text Distribution & Remove Site Wide Links
Most decent SEO’s know about keeping the anchor text natural, but there could just be one poor link out there that’s bringing your site down. Analyse your anchor text, check for links from poor quality sites with poor content, low Alexa rankings and site wide links using keyword rich anchor text from blogrolls and sidebars. Remove these links and focus on replacing and building better quality links.
3. Write Better and Get More Creative: nurture your content
Create better content, balanced, impartial and longer articles (over 500 words). Get inventive with your words and include some factual information and credit other authority websites from the article. If its a factual article, think of it as a Wikipedia style reference entry.
4. Get Higher Quality Backlinks
What’s now acceptable and what isn’t for link building. This has been a well debated one, but is becoming more clearer than ever before. Manual Link Building is going to go out of fashion but if you are going to do this, make them natural from related websites and avoid over using anchor text for a long while.
But what about directories? Are they still ok? Yes these are fine provided they are of good quality, relevant and is part of a wider link baiting/link building campaign. Make sure you don’t use duplicate snippets/content when posting to directories for your business listings descriptions.
Here’s a range of comprehensive charts and recent data based on anchor text distribution and how it’s affected some websites.
What’s the Future of SEO?
Lets Forget Google for a minute and look at other means of driving traffic to your website. Most SEO’s and company directors are obsessed with Google optimisation, yet there are a myriad of other ways of gaining traffic.
Alternative Measures Required: how to optimise without relying on Mr Google
1. Adopt Social Media as a Core Strategy: Create informative, shareable content, something different (infographics, articles/videos/badges) and socialise via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter and other relevant sharing sites.
2. Exchange Blog Posts: Connect with like-minded people and contribute blog posts, articles and opinions to one-another’s blogs.
3. Buy into Social Media Advertising: Target demographic and related companies/brands/services on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
4. Blog & Write More Engaging Content: write or get a seasoned writer to produce some great content for your own blog and make sure it’s current and relevant.
5. Optimise Your Social Media Profiles: get your social media platforms working for you – engage online, develop a following and enhance your Google + profile. (ok, not totally ignoring Google)
This is a first pass on analysing the Penguin update, so keep up to date and look out for changes, tweaks, and further opinions/test data. In the mean time if you require an analysis of your website after your rankings have suffered minor or substantial drops, get in touch and receive a one-on-one technical discussion with our top SEO analyst.