Google Panda, Penguin, and the Rest of the Algorithm Managery

Google Analytics Search Engine Optimization

It’s been a busy few months at Google.  In March, Google released a refresh to Panda, changed some aspects of how they evaluate links, and squashed several private blog networks.  In April, Panda has returned for another refresh and Google launched another named update, Penguin.

The Panda update was and still is intended to lower the rankings of web pages Google considers to be lower quality and raise the rankings of pages Google considers to be higher quality.  This was not just a 1-time update, but an ongoing update with periodic “refreshes” being uploaded to Google’s algorithm.  The refreshes, for the most part, are mostly to apply the already existing algorithm updates, but they do also throw in some changes as they try to tweak the results of the update.  The key to Panda is to focus on creating high quality content for your website and avoiding having too many ads.

The focus of the Penguin update is spam and “over-optimization”.  Much of the effect of this update is simply that Google’s algorithm has gotten better at identifying various things that they already have said webmasters shouldn’t be doing.  These are things like keyword stuffing, hidden text, and doorway pages.  They have also indicated that websites need to better handle duplicate content either by setting up proper 301 redirects, using canonical tags, or by creating original content instead of stealing someone else’s ;).  If you were already following Google’s guidelines, this aspect of Penguin should not affect you.  You may even move up.

But there’s more to it.  Google is also now placing more emphasis on having a “natural” link profile.  While the definition of this is a little sketchy and most likely is a little different from niche to niche, the basic idea is that website generally have a similar link profile in terms of keyword-rich link text and the authority of links.

Keyword-rich Link Text:
For most sites that are not actively building links, the majority of the text in their inbound links is not keyword-rich.  Instead these links have non-targeted text like, “website”, “click here”, “more info”, someone’s name or the URL of the page.  When a majority of a website’s inbound links have their targeted keywords in the text, this, to Google, is an unnatural link profile indicating the website is trying to manipulate the search results through link building.  So, if you do intentionally build links, it’s important to diversify the link text both with variations of keywords and non-targeted text.

Authoritative Site Links:
While much of the buzz about Penguin has been focused on link text, there is also some indications that an unnatural link profile in terms the the authority of the pages linking to your site is also being penalized.  The idea here is that, for most sites, link profiles tend to have a lot of low authority links and fewer and fewer links as you move up the authority ladder.  If your link profile has a large percentage of high authority links and few low authority links, then your link profile looks unnatural and probably means you are either intentionally attempting to manipulate search results by link building or, more often, are buying links.  That can lead to penalties.  So, if you do intentionally build links, it’s important to get lots of low authority links in addition to the high authority links.  Also, never buy links…it’s just too risky.

Too Many Keywords:
As with the link profile, Google also appears to be penalizing sites if Google feels they have too many keywords on their pages, especially if those keywords are used in awkward ways like they are being forced in for the sake of SEO.  I’m not talking about keyword stuffing (which you shouldn’t do).  This is a more subtle thing Google is referring to as “over-optimization”.  It’s tricky to know exactly how many keywords on a page is too many, but if you think you’ve been hit by Penguin (your rankings are dropping like a stone), then you may want to try removing some of the keywords you are using on your pages.  Just try to make the text the same way you would talk…you know…if you didn’t think Google was listening.

Google has made several other changes in the past month, but these are the ones that have had the most impact on the most people.

These types of changes happen periodically.  It’s not the end of the world at all, rather it’s a good reason to make sure you consistently maintain your SEO.  The good news is that Google has indicated that if your rankings are affected by the new algorithm changes in relation to your on-page SEO, you should be able to make the necessary changes to your website and any penalty should go away when Google re-crawls your site.  It’s the same basic concept for the link profiles, except that modifying link profiles may take a little more time and effort.

We’ll keep watching what Google is doing as I’m sure this isn’t the last major shake-up they are planning.

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