Takeaways From Google’s Penguin Update

penguinYet another “surprise” for SEOs?

Google’s Penguin Update officially launched on April 24 and the overall consensus is that it’s the worst update yet.  The official word from Google is that this update is an “important algorithm change targeted at webspam” that is meant to “reward high-quality sites”. Then why exactly are so many people so upset?

As you can see from the influx of comments in related forum threads and news articles, webmasters are NOT happy with this update. The story is similar – sites with #1 rankings for months (or even years), have all of a sudden taken a drastic drop or have even disappeared. The infuriating thing is that many people are finding that spam sites, sites that haven’t been updated for years or even plain un-optimized sites are now out ranking their site. How exactly is this “rewarding” high quality content?

SEOs aside, looking at the user experience is not a pretty picture either. Imagine that you’re looking for affordable or cheap auto insurance, only to find spam at the top results. When Penguin first rolled out, some users pointed out how people would have to scroll past a couple pages before getting to a reputable, brand name auto insurance company. They argue that this update isn’t aimed completely at spam (since it is still prevalent in SERPs) but any site that is remotely optimized. Whether this is true or not, is a different story. Even one that we may not fully understand since Google hasn’t officially made a response to these reactions.

This is only day 3 after the update rollout, so we can hopefully see the changes settle down and smooth out. Whether it’s all just a coincidence or theory, Google is finding themselves in controversial waters, so get ready to read more about Google’s evil ways. Many people are commenting about Google’s motives and after reading about all the businesses that have been affected, it isn’t hard to see things from a different light. Perhaps, Google is trying to prepare their algorithm to take into account more social factors (especially Google Plus profiles.) This may make sense if you’re up to speed with the Facebook search engine news. Others feel that Google is putting less revelency into their organic search so that businesses will turn to paid ads. After all, this is where Google makes over 90% of their overall revenue…

On the less pessimistic side, the Google engineers are probably (and hopefully) taking all this feedback into consideration as they tweak the update or make note for the next update. We can’t expect algorithm changes to roll out so seamlessly and it’s important to remember that there will be some winners and losers with each new wave. It’s too early to tell how things will end up as results may take awhile to settle down, but definitely expect something to happen soon!

Can Competitors Attack Your Site With SEO?

Lately, there’s been much debate on whether Google penalizes bad/low-quality links OR if they simply de-value them. With every algorithm update, there is more speculation. The argument is that Google can’t (or shouldn’t) penalize outside factors, such as links, that can be created by virtually anyone – including your competitors.

This is where the notion of negative SEO comes into play. Since frantic webmasters are scrambling to avoid over optimization penalties, what’s to stop the really vindictive ones to use these tactics against a competitor?

If you’re interested in reading this long thread, 2 users posted a case study about their experiment on using “negative SEO” techniques to cause 2 sites to tank in just a few weeks. They post rankings of specific keywords before and after their link bombs and the 2 targets suffered accordingly. If this experiment really holds true, this means that competitors can focus on penalizing your site instead of optimizing theirs. Rand from seoMOZ eventually joined in on the conversation and even offered his site as an experiment for negative SEO.

On one side, this is terrifying news and imagine all the possibilities! Competitors can spend a few hundred dollars a month to send crummy links to your site, buy social mentions, submit false/wrong information to automated local citation services and more. This is all in the realm of possibility… but others argue that negative SEO alone cannot bring down a site that has been thriving solely using white hat techniques.

The best thing you can do is to keep an eye out on the search marketing newsphere. Keep this information on your radar so that you know what’s going on and when. It’s also important to keep tabs on your site via analytics and check them regularly for any drastic and unnatural changes – like say a couple thousand incoming links from irrelevant sites! It also helps to check your rankings (with a service like Authority Labs) or even keep Google Alerts so that you’re aware of mentions and if anything else unusual occurs.

For now, we’ll have to stay tuned to see how this negative SEO experiment turns out. In the mean time, SEOs around the world are awaiting Google’s official word on this topic. This idea of manipulating a competitor’s link profile is controversial but relatively low-key (for now) but what if it catches on with more and companies attacking each other? Do you think that Google will wait until then to make an announcement or change the way that they value bad incoming links?

Are You Guilty of SEO Overkill?

Google PandaEven though it’s 2011, it’s amazing how many people still associate keyword stuffing with effective SEO. Sometimes, being too results-driven can cloud your thoughts and make you forget the most important thing – effective content is written for people not robots.

Optimization could involve brand new content or pages that already exist. Whatever the case, keyword research is always the first step. This will help you determine the keywords you want to use for meta descriptions, titles and tags. It’s also important to incorporate these chosen keywords into H1 tags. They key here is to do so sparingly. When you have natural and well-optimized content, your site will rank better and become more trustworthy to human readers as well as search engines.

In honor of the recent Google Panda Updates here’s an example of a paragraph that has gone too far (hopefully, content like this doesn’t remind you of your own!):

Panda Toy Palace – the best online store for panda toys! As a panda toy store in Los Angeles, we offer the best in panda accessories, panda clothing, and panda supplies! If you can think of a panda-related product, we have it! We love panda toys and are happy to share our love of panda products with all our fans. Panda Toy Palace is the only Panda toy place that you’ll ever need!

We get it. If your key products are panda toys posting content like this is neither helpful or relevant. It’s just a really long and drawn out way to promote your products and Panda Instead, you can write about natural or “natural” panda toys. Maybe a post about panda toys to coincide with upcoming holidays like Halloween and Christmas? You can even highlight a few products and ask customers for their opinions. Your content needs a good reason to exist!

Panda Updates are cracking down on “spammy” content that is overstuffed with keywords. Many legitimate sites have had trouble because of these updates and it’s just a reminder for everyone else to be mindful of their optimization tactics. Remember to keep your eye out for signs of over optimization and overkill – the Panda is always watching!