Google Penguin Update-How it Affects SEO Going Forward
In late April 2012 Google made a significant change to the way that it calculates the ranking of pages in the search engine results pages (SERPs). The fact that Google is changing its search algorithm isn’t that significant in itself; Google alters its algorithm every few days on average1. The significance of the Penguin update is that it targets websites that are keyword stuffed with thin content and too many inward bound links from low value sites. According to Google’s Matt Cutts, the object of the latest changes has been “to help searchers find sites that provide a great user experience and fulfill their information needs”2. There have of course been websites that have suffered from a drop in their page ranking in the SERPs, and the changes have challenged some SEO practices like creating backlinks as a practical tactic for building page rank.
Google has been heading in this direction for a long time, and since the 2011 Panda update that focused on content farms, sites with a high ad to content ratio, and other page quality issues, it has weeded the webspam out of its SERPs. Penguin has put much more focus on the quality of the links that point to a page, and many websites that have built their page ranking on the back of online directory links have suffered falls in the SERPs because the source of those links has caused Google to classify them as unnatural links. There has also been a greater focus on the use of keywords in the content of pages, and often if too many keywords are used as anchor text it can have adverse effects on the page ranking as well.
Google has stated that it supports ‘White Hat SEO’ which creates more compelling sites with higher quality content. Cutts said, “We also want the “good guys” making great sites for users, not just algorithms, to see their effort rewarded.2” Oddly enough this reward has taken the form of an ‘over-optimization penalty’ for sites which have too many obvious SEO tricks working for them. Another feature that Penguin is focusing on more closely is doorway pages, which are optimized for a particular keyword in order to dominate the SERPs3 and then funnel users to a single destination. ‘Black Hat SEO’ uses these sorts of pages to lower the SERP ranking of their competitors’ websites, and reduces the number of options that are presented on the first page of the Google results.
So what does this mean for traditional SEO practices like link building and creating content with good keyword density? Will the many affiliate based websites online now drop down the SERPs for having too many ads and too little content?
The sorts of pages that Google wants to see in its SERPs have a good balance of content and links that point both to and from the site. The use and distribution of keywords should look organic, and the content should be updated regularly to show that the site is active and not just a billboard on the side of the information superhighway. The sort of site that best fulfills these specifications is a blog, and this makes the company blog even more important now to making sure that your business gets seen in the SERPs. The use of keywords has been changing, and with this latest update it will be important to make sure that there are enough synonyms included in the content to make it appear to be organically produced content and not keyword stuffed, spun webspam. For a genuine blog this won’t present any problems and the quality content of these sorts of sites will ensure that they are protected from losing their spot in the SERPs.
Affiliate sites where the content consists largely of ads and keyword heavy product descriptions like the many online retail sites that are just a front for amazon.com, or any one of the online dropshippers, will almost certainly have to rethink their web design. It won’t be sufficient to have a website that is the cyber equivalent of the Sears catalog without contributing original content to support it.
In addition, the SEO tricks like posting hundreds of backlinks to those sorts of pages may actually drive them further down the SERPs since Penguin. While this may improve the quality of information that does make it to the top of Google’s lists it may also be a setback for many smaller businesses that display their wares on their corporate website and have only a thin veneer of content to present it. Often smaller businesses are the ones that lack the resources to generate a steady flow of fresh content to keep their SERP ranking safe.
There have also been some concerns about the Penguin update opening the door to the use of negative SEO such as placing a lot of spam links online for a competitor’s website to damage them in the SERP rankings4. So far, examples of this have all been created by the webmasters themselves and their most common cause has been their own bad linking practices, but it still remains a concern and there will undoubtedly be a further update to Penguin to address this issue in the future.
There is no doubt that the general shift by Google towards generating more relevant results in the SERPs is going to change the way that webmasters build their websites. In some extreme cases where a website’s ranking is heavily invested in backlinks it may be easier to start over again than to try and clean up all of the damaging links. The importance of having quality content is now paramount, while link building on some sites may need to be completely reassessed. Infintech Designs can, with a free consultation, help you to understand how the changes to Google’s algorithm may have harmed your page ranking and can then work with you to create an SEO campaign that works with all of the changes that have come in with the Penguin update. The shift to greater relevance in the SERPs should be a positive development for any business that is genuinely offering valuable content on its website.