The Google Panda and Penguin Updates

The Google Panda and Penguin Updates

If this is the first time you have read about Google’s Panda or Penguin updates, the good news is that they probably haven’t had a negative affect on your website traffic. However, like many website owners, you may be trying to understand what these changes mean to the future of search engine marketing.


Very briefly, for those who are researching this for the first time; Google has been releasing a series of updates to its search algorithm over the last few years (Panda), and more recently in April 2012 they implemented a significant one-off change (Penguin). Don’t let the cute names fool you; these are very serious changes that have had a huge impact on many people’s businesses, in both good and bad ways. In theory, both changes were designed to cut out spam and ‘black hat’ search engine optimisation, which is something that very few people would have any issues with. In practice, this aim was achieved to a certain extent, but you only need to spend a few minutes on the various forums dedicated to the subject to see that these changes have also affected many of the ‘good guys’ who are just trying to build their businesses online.


SEO (search engine optimisation) has always been a grey area. Google have always made it clear that they advise people not to try to improve their search rankings by engaging in artificial practices that cheat the system. Again, this works in principle, but the problem was that for years they were saying it, but doing very little to actually prevent people from successfully using SEO techniques. Until recently, the techniques worked and enabled a huge industry to grow around delivering better search results.


The reward outweighed the risk; so many otherwise honest and credible people would use SEO techniques that were generally promoted as being safe by the numerous SEO ‘gurus’ offering advice on the web. It was like driving a car five miles-per-hour above the speed limit. People knew that it was technically wrong, but also believed that if you only pushed the boundaries a little, you would be safe. All you were doing was driving a bit faster, to help you get to where you wanted to be a little bit sooner. It was the people going over the speed limit by 20 or 30 miles-per-hour that were the ones getting punished.


This is all fine, until out of the blue Google becomes the over-zealous traffic cop and starts arresting everyone who breaks the speed limit by any amount.


A Rosco customer came to us for advice because two days after the Google Penguin update his website traffic dropped by 70%. After a detailed look at the site and backlinks it became apparent that he had been penalised for ‘keyword stuffing’. This involves repeating a search keyword phrase enough times on a page that it looks unnatural to Google, and all affected pages on his website had dropped significantly in the rankings for that keyword phrase. However, this ‘keyword density’ had been carefully planned and was modelled on best practices taken straight out of a best-selling SEO book, which is still available in good book shops today. He had repeated the phrases twice in each 500 word article, plus once in each of the meta tag fields (title, description and keywords), and once in the main page title. Until Google Penguin, many experts promoted this type of keyword repetition as smart SEO, never expecting it to be treated as spam tactics. But according to Google it is manipulating the results, because the repetitions hadn’t naturally occurred. While it may not seem like a very serious offence, our client had lost 70% of his income as a result of following this advice.


So what does this all mean for the future of web marketing and SEO? Well, in many respects, much of the common SEO techniques are essentially outdated now. Many of the linking practices and keyword techniques used in the past by reputable SEO professionals will now result in penalties from the search engines. Google recommends that people focus on creating quality content and a great user experience, and let them worry about getting the search results right. In the past, many people would have just ignored this, as it was too easy to manipulate the system and not get caught. However, if you haven’t already been doing so, we would advise you to follow Google’s recommendations and play it safe from now on.


Small businesses can increase traffic by adding value to their website for users. If you have a well-researched blog, or some useful free resources, the search engines are now much better at recognising this and will bring you traffic. For many small business owners it should actually be a huge relief. You no longer need to try to understand complex SEO techniques and worry about bending the rules, just focus on creating a great website that does more than just sell products, and people will find you.


There are still ‘safe’ methods that you can use to improve your search ranking. Social media votes are now an important part of the search algorithm, so make sure you have the Facebook, Twitter and Google+ counters on your pages if appropriate. There are also some great ways of getting safe and relevant links to your site, by using blog commenting plug-ins such as Commentluv. Most of all, make sure your website can genuinely be described as ‘quality’, as this is the term we have been hearing more and more from the search engines recently.


If you would like help with ensuring that your website provides a quality experience for visitors, please take a look at our website design service. We can provide you with some feedback detailing exactly what you need to change in order to achieve a professional and profitable website before you commit to a design project.


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