The Latest Algorithm Update
It was a little more than two months ago that Google and its anti-spam deity, Matt Cutts, released their latest search engine algorithm promptly titled Penguin 2.0. While we may be late to the party in terms of our own personal critique and advice, our tardiness allows us to have a well-rounded view of the new system and gives us a two-month sample size to base our opinions off of. For those who are not familiar, Google Penguin is a code name for a Google algorithm update that was first announced back in April of 2012. An algorithm is essentially a set of well-defined instructions for calculating a certain function (Wiki). In terms of Google, their algorithm is the set of instructions that tells the search engine web crawlers, the electronic bots that surf the World Wide Web for results, what to specifically look for in their function. Starting with Penguin 1.0, this update looked to better help the search engine cipher through the endless links the Internet offers. The algorithm update creates a “ranking” system is based off of Google’s own law where those sites that follow the rules are granted a higher rank and those that don’t are eliminated from the search results. All modern algorithm updates are based off the original foundation, PageRank, which was created by Google CEO and founder Larry Page.
Given the importance of SEO for digital marketers everywhere, when the Google search engine updates most marketers study and learn the new code in an attempt to push their business to the highest rank possible. Many marketers also attempt to manipulate the Google algorithm by utilizing some of its flaws. With each update Google hopes to weed out these manipulators and create a world where the only way to get ahead is to follow the rules set by Google itself. Though this dream may seem far-fetched, as people will typically always figure out a way to find a loop-hole, with every update Google gets closer and closer to that perfect realm. With the latest update, Penguin 2.0, many manipulators and mainstreamers alike feared that this would drastically affect their business, but after two months and only 2.3% of English-US queries being affected (to the extent that a regular user might notice), worries have certainly died down. So, without further ado, we present to you an overview of the strategy-shattering Penguin 2.0.
A Flightless Predator
Ever since the creation of search engines, Webmasters and SEO analysts have developed techniques to manipulate the rankings in their favor. As a result, sometimes less relevant sites land on the first page of Google for specific queries. This, in turn affects the user experience of Google, as Google is typically valued as the best search engine the web has to offer. In an attempt to maintain their great reputation, Google updates their search engine in order to avoid these irrelevant sites from ever appearing on their loyal user’s results. In the words of one writer, Jayson DeMers of Search Engine Watch, “It becomes an endless circle of sites working to rank better and search engines working to weed out web spam.” Now that you know what the overall aim of these updates, let’s dive into the specific targets.
Unlike the Panda update which tends to focus on eliminating sites without quality content, the Penguin 2.0 update aims to eliminate unnatural, manipulative inbound link profiles. In layman’s terms, Google tries to use natural links to determine a site’s quality. Natural links are links that occur when other sites find your content worthwhile and post it because they inherently think it would be helpful to their visitors. The more natural links your site has, the higher value Google places on it and thus the higher ranking your site will achieve. On the other end, Google hates unnatural links, which consist of paid text links using exact match anchor text, comment spam, guest posts on questionable sites, article marketing sites, and links from dangerous sites. All of the types of unnatural links go against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and so Google eliminates or lowers the rank of those sites that include unnatural links. Below is a more descriptive view on each unnatural link:
- Paid Text Links with Exact Match Anchor Text: Anchor text is the actual characters and words that hyperlinks present when linking to another location on the web. For example, all hyperlinks in this blog that link to other sources is in fact Anchor Text. Traditionally Anchor Text was used as a way for the Google algorithm to calculate whether a site was high quality or not. This seems obvious after understanding natural vs. unnatural links but, when other sites pay to be featured in the Anchor Text of other sites, the Google algorithm labels them as unnatural and thus kicks them to the search engine curb.
- Comment Spam: Back in the early days of search engine optimization, marketers attempted to utilize Google’s keyword feature by posting as many signatures on website comments as possible. They probably figured that the more prevalent their business name was on the web, the higher rank they would be given. No more! Google now targets these spammers and serves justice for attempting to trick the system.
- Guest Posts on Unreliable Sites: While guests posts are a great way to build links to your site, because Penguin targets low quality or unreliable sites as bad, you have to choose your guest posts wisely. If you happen to be featured on a low-quality site, you may have to face the wrath of Penguin 2.0.
- Article Marketing Sites: As far as the social content curatation business goes, we are aware that there are plenty of sites out there that deal strictly with aggregation. While these content aggregators seem like a great way to boost your name on the web, Google sees these sites as thin content featuring links especially if they feature exact match Anchor Text.
- Links from Dangerous Sites: The last type of link seems a bit obvious but Google does not look to highly at sites that seem to cause trouble to their users. In fact, if your inbound links have been flagged for malware, pop-ups, or other spamming issues, you could face some serious consequences.
How to Avoid a Run-In with the Beast
Short of using anti-penguin spray, the only way to avoid having your site affected by this new update is to ensure it follows the rules (as unexciting as this may sound). Mainly, avoid unnatural links as they seem like cheap ways to increase your SEO ranking. Going along nicely with the Panda update, Penguin hopes to entice websites to build quality content and links in an attempt to better serve their Google search users.
In order to ensure quality links, your site will have to conduct a complete link audit and free itself of any Google deemed bad material. Link audits are pretty normal and ideally you’d like to conduct one prior to receiving a very scary e-mail from Google themselves (see below for an example). If it’s too late, that’s okay, but you’re going to have to “repent for your sins.”
Now that you know what Penguin’s focus is and how to make sure you follow its strict code of natural over unnatural links, the updates shouldn’t be a major issue. Most sources agree that Google’s efforts to tighten up their search engine results are mainly aimed at sites that have used poor SEO strategy in the past. Therefore, unless you are a site that is repeat offender, you shouldn’t have too much to worry about. Even if you haven’t broken Google’s law, it always seems like a good idea to optimize your links so Google will rank you higher. So, whether your Google’s most wanted or the top SEO the world has ever known, checking to make sure your links are natural rather unnatural should always pay off.