24th April 2012 has been marked as the day SEO changed forever.
On this day, Google rolled out the initial version of its Penguin update in an attempt to rampage against so called “web spam”.
Google primarily wanted to target pages that appeared high up in their SERPs that were building excessive backlinks in an “unnatural” manner.
Obviously, Google is heavily dependent on the algorithm to do this and cannot manually review each site to see if it complies with the new set of SEO rules it set out.
Unlike the Panda update, before it which mainly targeted poor on-site content issues – the Penguin update was targeting low quality off-site backlinks and other anchor link and content “over-optimization” signals.
Essentially Google has sent out a message to the community to follow the strict guidelines while building links, or face a penalty irrespective of the quality of content a site may have.
This will undoubtedly result in a whole surge of what is called negative SEO (more on that later).
Google has laid out a new set of rules.
It seems that getting people to follow these rules is more important than the search results Google produces.
They will punish all sites who they feel are trying to game the search results via Penguin related penalties – even at the cost of sacrificing the efficiency and quality of their search engine.
The update is not 100% focused on improving the quality of search results – but is targeted primarily towards sites that have managed to game them with high levels of unnatural links.
What this means is that, if your backlink profile has more unnatural or toxic links more than a certain tolerance and threshold level – your site can get an Algorithmic Penguin Penalty or a Manual Penguin Penalty (the two are different and we will discuss this later).
Google has become ruthless now and it does not mind sacrificing the quality of its search results if it can successfully pass down its “message” as to what constitutes good and acceptable SEO.
Many search results, across niches, are showing unrelated listings on the top. As high quality content sites are being displaced and penalized for their off-page “over optimization” penalty – as a result poorer and oftentimes irrelevant sites are ranking on top. This is one of the downsides of the algorithm (the other big one is that it has destroyed innocent sites and the livelihood of people behind them).
Note: If you’re clever in your SEO you can leverage this algorithm update to do some negative SEO on brand search results that are hurting your reputation with bad reviews. This is a fantastic tactic for your online reputation management strategy.
Google’s webspam team, has no option now but to manually examine each popular niche and remove top ranking sites that are involved in webspam activity or suspicious link building methods.
Lower ranking sites have gained ranks not because they have only done safe link building activity… its because they did not engage in as much “unnatural” web spam activity as the sites above them did – which, as a result, been removed from the top spots.
After Penguin 1.0 which was initially released in April 2012, there have been a few major updates along the way, of which the Exact Match Domain (EMD Update) and the recent Penguin 2.0 update were highly aggressive in the percentage of sites and search results that were affected. You can get a complete up to date list of Google’s Algorithm Changes and Updates here.
I will discuss all the updates at length shortly and what you can do to make sure you google-proof your sites and if you have been hit – how to maximize your chances of recovery.
In a nutshell, if you want to gain back your rankings the most important thing you need to start with is to study the current top 10 rankings in your niche, and identifying the date of your penalty so you can zero in on the cause (that is – identifying the specific algorithmic update that caused the penalty in the first place).
Do not waste time to try and see what has happened negatively or positively to sites in other niches… because, this time around, Google has treated each niche separately.
You now need to work at a niche level.
This will allow you to get a snapshot of the anchor text backlink profile of the top rankers in your niche, and you will have to also gain more competitive intelligence of other critical elements in their backlink portfolio.
I will get into a detailed explanation of all the critical elements you need to make sure are all in place, such as –
- anchor text keyword distribution (excessive use of money keywords etc)
- quality of backlinks you need to be building
- niche related backlinks
- malware, adult, foreign language sites
- thin sitewide links on low PR sites
- and, a dozen or so other important factors (that we will get into shortly)
Some people are of the view that Google is playing mind games with SEO experts and Internet Marketers – and is merely trying to confuse them with random behavior of search results. They say, that since no one logic prevails – marketers will never get a total grip to understand how to rank sites on top across all niches.
As long as Google cannot be understood it cannot be gamed and hence their results cannot be controlled!
Some useful links
- It should be noted that Google is currently being investigated for their recent algorithm updates by the FTC. A similar investigation was done over 14 years ago with Microsoft. If you want to register a complaint, you can do so here.
Google Working Against Capitalism?
The sad part is that most of the sites that were affiliate sites – promoting other merchant’s products and were appearing on the top of search results have taken a huge hit.
These sites WERE mostly quality sites that took the effort and spent real time and money to create great content (in the form of reviews and ratings) AND were investing in SEO marketing!
Note: usually when someone creates content AND does not spend any time promoting it – it is probably NOT great content.
On the flip side, the guys having sites with great content make sure they monetize it by promoting their content and investing money in the SEO – because they have something of high value to offer users – and through which they can make money.
Unfortunately, with the Penguin Update – Google is working to kill this model and remove majority affiliates who are simply reselling products and services.
Google seems to be saying…
move aside mom-n-pop shops, give way to The Amazons.
Is this really the case?
Can a small site that’s been hit recover?
If so, with how much effort in terms of time and money?