For most people, the 23rd of May was just another Thursday. Everyone was waiting for Friday and the long weekend ahead. For internet marketers, the 23rd was marked by another infamous Google update; Penguin 2.0. The new update (humorously labeled after a black and white animal to showcase it’s impact on black hat techniques) is the most comprehensive Google update to date. Previously, Penguin 1.0 only targeted the homepage of a website. With the latest update, Google is hitting out at internal pages as well. In addition, the update is also attacking contested industries, where spam is more prevalent (such as Pay Day Loans in the UK). One thing is for certain, if you have been using questionable SEO techniques, you are in for quite an eventful summer. How do you know if your website (or your client’s websites) has been hit by this new update? Well, for one, check your rankings. If they dropped for your targeted keywords on the 23rd of May, you can be quite certain your site was hit. Also check for traffic. Do you see a significant drop in traffic around the 23rd of May? If so, then that’s another telltale sign of a hit. On the other hand, fluctuations within 1-2 positions is quite normal in the on-line marketing world. Anything more and you can be quite sure that your site was hit with the update. According to MozCast (a system developed by SEOmoz to track algorithm fluctuations), the industries affected the most by this update are Retail & General Merchandise and Real Estate. SEOmoz has a collection of data from multiple industries (according to industry breakdown by AdWords), where they constantly track ranking fluctuation. Its only a small sub-set of data, but it does shed some meaningful light on algorithmic changes.
For those unfamiliar with this update, Penguin is essentially an over-optimization penalty. Anyone aggressively chasing keywords with exact match anchor text will certainly be hit hard. It’s tempting to target links with exact match anchor text, but this is also very unnatural and an early warning sign to Google. Getting questionable or low quality links can also negatively impact your site. Each month, Google is discovering more and more blog networks, which are then de-indexed immediately. It’s tempting to see results fast by taking short cuts, but this always comes at a price. Sure, your site will skyrocket to the first page with these “shortcuts”, but it will soon drop as quickly as it rose. This is the nature of black hat SEO techniques. They are short lived. The problem lies in the outlook of those implementing these types of SEO strategies. Those with a broader vision, will never be seduced by black hat techniques. Those who are lazy and want to see results fast, are the easiest to be duped into using questionable techniques. I have been involved in the SEO world ever since the first Panda update (which hit out at low quality content, directories and link farms). I was also there for Penguin 1.0 and all the latest iterations of Panda. You can call me a battle-hardened SEO practitioner. I know what to look out for.
So how do you avoid another Penguin, Zebra, or Skunk update? Here is a step by step method of avoiding the next Google update:
1. Create unique, compelling content (on or off your site). This is where SEO consultants get lazy. Content is key.
2. Vary that anchor text! Never have your targeted keywords comprise more than 5-10% of your total backlink profile. Get a decent backlink tool such as Ahrefs or Majestic, so that you can easily calculate the anchor text ratio. Remember, it’s only an approximation, but at least you have a general idea of what your anchor text ratio looks like.
3. It goes without saying, stay away from blog networks, link farms, low quality directories or any other form of questionable link sources. Build everything by hand.
4. Go social. There’s no way your site is ranking on the first page and you have zero or little social presence. Make sure your site is on all the popular social platforms and you are active on them.
The more effort you put in early in the course of an SEO campaign, the better your chances are of not getting hit by the next update. Google is constantly working at keeping it’s rankings as clean as possible and this means a more sensitive algorithm.
I hope the above tips will help your site from a future Google update.
Until next time, good luck and may the SEO force be with you!