Google Algorithm Update: Panda and Penguin, Part 1
(Revision: I originally had planned to make this a single post, but when I got to 1700 words, and hadn’t gotten to the “Google-proofing,” I decided to break it into 2 parts.)
We have admittedly lain low on the topic of Google updates like Panda and Penguin. There are several reasons and now that those updates seem to have taken the internet world by storm and caused many internet marketers a ton of grief, we now feel compelled to say something about it. We will also—at the very end—offer our recommendations on how to deal with what may have happened to your search engine rankings as well as how to prevent issues from recurring or appearing in subsequent searches after Google makes algorithm updates.
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Here’s the backstory. 10+ years ago, a little search engine came into existence. It was created by two Stanford graduate students: Sergey Brin and Larry Page. The dominant search engines at the time were Yahoo, Alta Vista, and HotBot. There were quite a few other search engines around at the time, as well.
This little startup became what we now know as Google. It seems as if it was just yesterday that I first heard about Google. Google started in 1998 but it wasn’t until late 2000 or early 2001 that I had heard of it and began to use it regularly. By 2004, when it did its IPO, Google was the search engine that seemingly everybody used.
Today, Google is such a household name that it’s even become a verb: “Just ‘google’ it” has become a common saying that means, “Go look it up on Google.”
Now that Google is the ginormous search engine and advertising mecca (AdWords makes Google much of its revenue) that it is, it behooves Google to stay at the top of the mountain. How do they do this?
There are several ways, of course.
First off, it’s Google’s prerogative to run its search engine how it wishes. If they want to ensure that monkeys—and only monkeys—appear on the first page on all of their search results, then so be it. We’ll “figure it out” like we always have.
Taken from a very logical and non-partisan perspective, Google has to design and tweak its search system (aka, “search algorithm”) such that it gives its users (i.e., “customers”) the best, most relevant search results possible. If, for example, you are looking for “easy ways to lose 10 pounds,” you may just type that into the search box and expect to get a first set of 10 results of easy ways to lose 10 pounds.
Each of your results should offer easy ways to lose 10 pounds.
So how does Google determine what the “best, most relevant” websites are?
It is purported that Google has over 200 factors it takes into account when ranking a page (I have heard as high as 500+). I will not claim to know whether this figure is remotely close to the truth, nor will I endeavor to tell you what most of these factors are.
I will tell you what I think. What I think is based on my 15+ years of in-the-trenches SEO work.
There are probably many factors that Google considers when ranking your pages alongside the hundreds, thousands, and/or millions of similar web pages of your competitors. But there are only a few that matter. Get these components right and I am confident that you can rank right at the top of Google for your chosen keyword phrases (KWP).
I know. Content matters—more now than ever. You have to show Google that what you’re writing about (or putting on video or on slides, or even in a picture) is super-high quality and is relevant. That is to say, if you title something “Google Algorithm Update: Panda and Penguin” it had better be well-written and well-researched and it had better be about Google algorithm updates!
In other words, what you write makes all the difference in the world. Now, it behooves you to be explicit but not overzealous when doing your “on-page SEO.” That is to say, use your primary keyword phrase in your posts as often as necessary—but not more so—to get your point across. See Onpage SEO Tipsfor a full run-down on what to do in each of your posts.
I’m sure you heard that Google frowns upon “over optimization.” Google officially called this algo update, “Penguin.” Its purpose was to combat sites and pages that it deemed had “over optimized.” If you were hit by Penguin, make sure you read all the way to the end of this post for some suggestions.
Would you agree that Google will pay more attention to CNN than to “Chim-chim’s goofy updates about nothing?” Why is that? Chim-chim may actually post late-breaking, up-to-the-minutes news from all over the world, just like CNN; however, Chim-chim’s site is small potatoes compared to the Cable News Network.
We “SEO guys” call this “authority.” It’s like when the expert on DNA testifies that the evidence could not possibly be O.J. Simpson’s blood—the jury is likely to believe him—even if he’s wrong or lying about it. He has more authority than the research assistant at the local community college.
As time goes on and you build more and more content for your site, you build more authority. Over time, you will build your street cred to the point where you are perceived the expert in your field and then you will wield massive authority in your space. Right now, though—odds are—that you don’t have quite that power yet.
You can fortify your standing by adding your “authorship” to your web content. Take a look at this site to find out more about a nifty WordPress plugin you can use for this purpose. You can leverage content you have written elsewhere to bolster your standing on other websites.
Who’s talking about your recent post? What are they saying? How many people are “buzzing” all about it? In short, it’s who and how many and what they’re saying that matters. Put another way, it’s what’s going on in social media with respect to your content.
If HuffPo, for example, picks up your story, that’s a good thing—it’s a very high-authority site, with lots of traffic, and Google spiders the site every few seconds to see what is new on the site. You will get immediate direct traffic, too, as well as an SEO bump.
Another facet of “buzz” isn’t just social, but rather who is “recommending” you on the internet. It does matter if other websites link to your site. The search engines, especially Google, have been known to give great weight to backlinks other websites have given you—the more authoritative the referrer, the better. Again, getting a link back from CNN or HuffPo is far better than a backlink from “Joe’s Crab Shack.”
What kind of backlinks are best? It used to be that an in-text (meaning a link within a post) backlink using your chosen keyword phrase as its anchor text was the best.
However, with the latest Google updates, it seems that some sites were slapped pretty hard for “over-optimizing” their inbound links (i.e., backlinks). See this article for the data—http://www.micrositemasters.com/blog/penguin-analysis-seo-isnt-dead-but-you-need-to-act-smarter-and-5-easy-ways-to-do-so/
There are plenty of ways to get links back to your pages and posts, but when you think about it, most people who link back to you are pretty lazy, right? See what I just did up there? I simply used the URL as the “anchor text.” Instead, I could have used anchor text like “How using money keywords for anchor text just got you kicked off the first page.”
I think the lesson learned here is to diversify your backlinks.
What does this mean? It means that when you’re actively going after backlinks for your own site that you change up the anchor text AND you change up what pages and posts you are linking to. Don’t just link to your homepage. Link to all of your pages and posts, across your entire website. Now, of course, there is no reason to link to your confirmation page. But I think you catch my drift, right?
Get backlinks in a variety of ways, too. For example, comment on blogs to get a backlink. Normally, these comment backlinks will be “no follow” and the anchor text will be your full name. However, look for blogs that have the CommentLuv and KeywordLuv plugins installed and activated—there, you can vary your anchor text and the pages you link back to.
Don’t worry, either, like some “SEO experts” of the past have suggested, to go for “only ‘do follow’ backlinks.” What a joke that was!
Besides wasting a ton of time, you basically left Google a GIGANTIC footprint proclaiming, “Here I am. I’m gaming YOUR system.”
Don’t do that
Of course, Google would rather that you didn’t try to get any backlinks on your own. Such a practice is “link spamming” and it’s against their terms. But we all know that everybody does it and if you don’t, you’ll be left far behind.
It’s the same thing as “performance-enhancing drugs” in sport—if you don’t use them, be prepared to be a loser. You will never win another competition.
Let’s acknowledge that in order to stay competitive, you need to get referrals back to your site and the best way to do that, with a variety of pages, posts, and anchor text, is to do it yourself.
Just don’t be idiotic about it.
For example, long gone are the days where you could write an article on Go Articles, and go grab 5000 or more profile backlinks on popular forums and rank for the long-term. It just won’t happen—at least not regularly and reliably.
I will not tell you that the gray hat and black hat stuff won’t work any more. But I will say that the traditional gray and black hat stuff has diminished in value—a lot. You’d be better off writing quality content for your own site as well as guest posts on authority sites within your niche. Heck, you could outsource a bunch of your content, too, and still earn a better ROI, in my humble opinion.
By the way, for a fantastic implementation of a real system that you can use to not only get backlinks from authority sites within your niche but also possibly some awesome direct traffic, on a very consistent basis, check out Content Cash from my friend, Paul Myers.
This has been a mighty long post, and I still haven’t gotten to the part about how to “Google proof” your website. Let’s make that Part 2. There, we will talk about how to get out of the mess you got into and how to stay out of the mess in the future, when you have no idea what Google may have up its sleeve.