It’s happened to all of us at one point or another: you perform a search, click on one of the organic links, and discover that the content on the website has nothing to do with your original search query. With the increased emphasis on SEO over the last several years, many webmasters have begun using sneaky, black hat tactics to help low-quality sites obtain top positioning. In an effort to prevent these sites from appearing at the top of the SERPs, Google recently launched its Penguin algorithm update.
The Penguin Update, which Google estimates will affect three percent of all search queries, has made headlines since its launch in late April. Google launched Penguin in an effort to target and diminish spam; sites using sneaky tactics to achieve top positioning have begun seeing its effects after experiencing a decrease in positioning. The update focuses on rewarding user-friendly and user-centric sites while punishing those containing low-quality content.
Google sent Penguin on a mission to target the following spam tactics:
- Poor Linking Practices: Over the last several months, Google has been cracking down on bad links by removing various link networks from its search results. Google has also increased communication with webmasters, alerting them when “artificial or unnatural links” are pointing to their websites. Links from link farms and paid linking networks, as well as poor reciprocal linking strategies, will be highly targeted by Penguin.
- Low-Quality Content: Content is king in Google’s eyes. The search giant isn’t a fan of sites that contain poorly written copy or keyword-stuffed articles. Google also frowns upon websites that contain duplicate content or identical copy featured on more than one website.
- Over-Optimization on Each Page: Metadata should accurately describe the content on each page; however, it’s common to find metadata titles, descriptions, and keyword lists that feature information and terms that aren’t contained within the copy of the page. Other unfavorable optimization tactics include excessive bolding and internal linking.
After Google’s Panda Update in February, which affected around 12 percent of search queries, many webmasters began voicing concerns about potentially experiencing another significant decrease in rankings with Penguin. Amidst the chatter, worry, and online gossip swirling around Penguin, Amit Singhal, Senior VP and Google Fellow, states “data has shown [the Panda and Penguin updates] significantly improved the number of high quality sites being returned in results.” For all those worrying about their websites being unfairly targeted by Google, Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam Team, explained to SearchEngineLand.com that “Penguin was designed to be quite precise, to act against pages when there was an extremely high-confidence of spam being involved.” Cutts further explains that while there have been a few instances of websites that don’t contain spam being dinged by this update, “this change hasn’t had the same impact as Panda or Florida.”
If your website did experience a significant decrease in visits after April 24th, it was likely affected by Penguin. Previously, sites that were hurt by these updates had the option to file a “reconsider request” with Google to help regain their previous positioning, but this is not an option with the Penguin update. Google claims that sites will need to recover naturally by removing the spam from their site. If you’ve been affected by this update, here are some steps you can take to regain positioning:
- Closely Examine External Links: Dive into your Google Webmaster’s account to see which websites are linking to yours. If sites contain broken links or are obviously link farms, send an email to the webmaster kindly requesting that they remove the link to your site. Also, be sure to check your inbox in Webmaster Tools to see if you have received alerts from Google warning of unnatural links pointing to your site. Below you will find an example of what this email looks like:
- Develop User-Focused Content: If your site contains thin content or keyword-stuffed articles, revise your content to appeal more to the user, not the Google bots. Copy should contain useful information with a couple of relevant keywords on each page. Pages such as Q&As, testimonials, and reviews are great to include on your site. When developing new content, always ask yourself, “how will this page benefit my visitors?”
- Tone Down On-Page Optimization: Does your site contain a large number of bolded and linked keywords? If so, tone it down a notch. Try to include no more than three bolded or linked terms on each page. Also, be sure to follow best practices when developing metadata. Title tags should contain no more than 65 characters in order to correctly display in organic search results on Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Be sure to limit descriptions to 155 characters and ensure that the keyword list contains only the most relevant terms on each page.
As the web continues to evolve to become more user-focused, you can expect Google to release additional updates focusing on delivering results that are better aligned with the searcher’s intent. In what way do you think search engine results still need improvement? Let us know in the comments section below what issues you predict the “Next Big Algorithm Update” will address!