Google Panda And Penguin Updates: What You Should Know To Stay Ahead Of The Game!

In the recent few weeks the world of search engine optimization was again thrown into a panic when Google again announced another major algorithm updates code-named Penguin!

Just as it happened in February 24th 2011 when Google’s Farmer update, later known as the Panda update, was announced, April 24 2012 was another day of pandemonium for most of the big sites.

Though the Penguin update impacted just about 3.1% of queries compared to Panda 1.0 (the Panda update has gone through series of other updates since February 2011) 12%, the effect was quite devastating.

Since the announcement both amateur and expert SEOs had been wondering what Google is really up to! And as a search engine optimization enthusiast, I have taken my time to study the situation just as I did in 2011 when I wrote, guest blogging services as detailed here And now, I’m sure it’s time to write something about these updates with special emphasis on the differences between the Google Panda and Penguin algorithm updates. I hope to also give you some tips on what you should be doing with your search engine optimization to stay ahead of the game.

Hey, This Is Not the Old Wild Wild West; it’s The World Wide Web!

Google Update help fight SEO blackhat tactics!

Do you know that search engine optimization is really turning into a very dirty game?

Ok, you have heard of blackhat SEO, right? How about ‘negative SEO’?

May be you’ve not heard of that. But frankly, this is a recent form of blackhat SEO tactic being used by blackhat SEOs to sabotage their competitors’ organic search rankings simply by generating tens of thousands of “bad” links to the competitor’s website.  The intent?  Of course, to beat them at the game!

But this is really scaring. Why would an SEO turn around to target other SEOs because they want to rank high on the search engines? We must understand that this is not the Wild Wild West (WWW). It’s the World Wide Web (WWW)!

Just as a British government’s top law officer warned Twitter users recently, the internet is definitely not a lawless zone.

This is one reason why I have always admired Google as regards its algorithm changes. At least, they have so far helped in ensuring that the best practices are employed by SEOs.

Google’s Panda and Penguin Algorithm Updates Compared

Since the announcement of the Penguin Update, many people have been wondering if there are really any difference between the Google Panda Updates and the Penguin Update.

Though this may not be quite open but a careful look shows there are. The two may be aimed at cleaning up Google’s search results, but they are actually targeting different search engine optimization tactics.

You will recall that when Google announced the Panda Update on 24th of February 2011, Google clearly stated:

“This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”

And now with the launch of the Penguin Update on April 24 2012, Google was emphatic when it said,

“Sites affected by this change might not be easily recognizable as spamming without deep analysis or expertise, but the common thread is that these sites are doing much more than white hat SEO; we believe they are engaging in webspam tactics to manipulate search engine rankings.”

These official statements from Google clearly show that the updates are Google’s game plan to ensure that high-quality sites are rewarded for their good works while spammy sites pay dearly for their blackhat tactics.

Though the differences may not be obvious at first sight, but we can pick up the following with a little in-depth look:

A. Google Panda Updates’ Target is Site Content and Layout

Notice that Google said, the “update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users.”

The qualifying word here is: low-value add for users! If your site visitors do not found your site appealing either because of the layout or content, your site is “low-value add for users.”

Specifically, the following are signs of sites which are “low-value add” for users:

i. Low-Quality Content – Sites that are lacking in in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and research.

ii. Keyword Stuffing – Content written with too much emphasis on a particular keyword in a bid to trick the search engines into giving undue importance to that particular page in regard to the target keyword has always been known to SEOs as keyword stuffing. If not for anything, keyword stuffing makes the content unintelligible to site users. And Google wants this discouraged.

iii. Content Scrapping – Before the Panda Update most sites, known as content farms, used content scrapping software to republish content from other sites.  With a combination of this and some un-ethical backlinking tactics these content farms were out-ranking the original content publishers.  Panda was released by Google therefore to deal a death blow to these content farms and many who were hit by Panda 1.0 (aka the Farmer Update), never recover from the death blow!

B. The Google Penguin Update on the other hand, is directed at sites engaged in webspam tactics.

Notice again what Google has to say about this,

“Sites affected by this change might not be easily recognizable as spamming without deep analysis or expertise, but the common thread is that these sites are doing much more than white hat SEO; we believe they are engaging in webspam tactics to manipulate search engine rankings.”

Now, the exact signals Google used in the Penguin update to flag these “webspam tactics” are still not clear. But from the experience of those who were hit by the update and from Google’s statement above, these webspam tactics definitely include:

a. Listing of hundreds of phone numbers in your web page with the intention of getting traffic for any of the phone numbers listed. This is common with sites targeting local searches.

b. Spinning articles and auto submitting same to different article submission directories with the intention of building backlinks. This is something that has become too common these days among many of the search engine optimization companies. The spun articles are most times of low quality yet the webmasters benefit with the backlinks.

c. Aggressive use of exact-match anchor text in backlinks. A good number of those affected fall into this category. As you do know, backlinks is one big factor used by search engines to rank sites. It is quite clear that many SEO service providers now use automated link building software to generate backlinks using specific anchor texts. The simple way for the Google Penguin to pick these out is to look for a high volume of exact-match anchor text in your backlinks and your site will be flagged as engaging in webspam.

Of course many have complained about this and Google, wanting to be fair enough, has provided this form  for site owners to submit their complaints! 🙂

d. Overuse of exact-match domains with the aim of out-ranking other sites in the same niche – Again this is another one that webmasters are complaining about. But Google understands the game better. You definitely have heard SEOs encourage you to go for a domain name that is focused on your target niche. Now this is very good but unfortunately, most SEOs over do this. Some of the tactics used here include buying different versions of the exact-domain name, e.g. .com, .net, .org, .info, etc. and linking all to one domain. Besides, this same exact-match domain is used in backlinks. This worked very well because the search engines saw your site as “tightly” targeted. But right now Google understands that many SEOs are playing this to the gallery with this tactic and so Penguin is here to put an end to that.

e. Keyword stuffing in internal/outbound links – Of course, the search engines do not just use your in-bound links when ranking your site. Out-bound links also matters. However, where your out-bound and internal links are stuffed full of your target keywords to manipulate the anchor text advantage, Penguin will easily flag your site as being involved in webspam.

Looking at all of these, it is not a wonder that Matt Cutts rightly said the Penguin update is a penalty for overly-optimized sites! That beats your imagination, right? Why in the world will Google penalize you for over optimizing your sites?

Ok, may be Google is simply reminding us what we already know which is, “Too Much of Everything Is Bad!”  🙂

Google Panda & Penguin Updates!

Alright, now you might be wondering, what can one do to avoid Google’s hammer from falling on one’s sites?

Here are my suggestions:

1.    Google Panda Update

a. Read my post, “Google’s Content Farmer/Panda Algorithm Change: What You Can Do to Stay Afloat!” written last year when Google Panda was launched, I delved deep in with that post and will not want to repeat those points here. More so, this post has stretched too long, running over 2,000 words (the longest I’ve so far done on this blog!) So, do yourself the favor of reading that post!

2. Google Penguin Update

It is clear that the Penguin Update is mostly targeted at link building activities. This being so, you should note the following:

a. Put a hold to paid link building campaigns – If you’re spending money buying links, you may want to hold on for now. Google has always frowned at buying links and it is clear that this is being targeted with the Penguin update.

b. Instead of buying links, do more of guest blogging – This is a very good way of building natural link backs. And Google will even love you for it! If, for any reason, you are not able to do this by yourself and if you have some budget to invest into this, then you can always get guest blogging service providers to do it for you. It may interest you to know that I offer guest blogging services as detailed here. You can be sure of getting the same type of highly engaging content as evident on this blog – content that will help you build trust with your site visitors and turn them from browsers to buyers. Check out the details here. (Ok, that was a blatant sales plug-in but a necessary one!)

c. Stop building exact match anchor links – As you have read in this article, sites using exact match anchor texts are some of the most hit by this update. Of course many of these ones may not have used un-ethical means in their link building but it does seem that Google is using a certain percentage as its criteria. So if you have been building your backlinks using a few exact match anchor texts, it is time to diversify!

d. Make your link building strategy look natural – Many webmasters are very selective when it comes to building links. Some want to build links only from sites that are PR1 and above or even PR3 and above. If you’re doing this Google will quickly detect that this is unnatural. So whether you’re manually building your links or buying links from SEO networks, make sure you have some from PR0, PR1 etc. Again diversification is the word here.

e. Grow your backlinks with care – it is quite clear that many webmasters have a link building plan or strategy they implement every month. Now whether you’re paying for your links or you’re manually building them, it is important that you diversify the number of links you build each month. If you have set a plan to build a certain number of links every month and you have been meticulously following this plan, you’re an easy target for Google Penguin! Having a certain number of links pointing back to your site every month is an easy way of telling Google that you’re doing something un-natural, possibly buying those links. So again, diversify.

So what’s Your Takeaway from This?

Never deceive yourself that search engine optimization is dying a gradual death. No! Search engine optimization still remains your sure strategy of being found by searchers in the search engines. You must understand that rather than killing SEO as many want to believe, Google is only strengthening and restoring confidence in the game.

If you must stay relevant with your search engine optimization strategy therefore you must listen to Google and employ tactics that add value to site users and never engage in webspam. Play by the rules (remember, the internet is not a lawless zone!) and you will be rewarded with good rankings!

So much from this end. Will be glad to know your thoughts. Were you hit by the recent Google Penguin update? Do you support Google’s attempts at bringing some sanity into the SEO game? Let’s know what your opinion is in your comments below.

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