Have ya heard? A new animal may be wreaking havoc on your ability to get found in search. But this time, it doesn't take the form of a black and white bear. No -- this time, it's even more deceptively cute and harmless. This time ... it's a penguin.
Last week on April 24, Google released a new update called Google Penguin to combat spammy web pages' ability to turn up in Google search results. In fact, you may remember a blog post we wrote last month that hinted this update was coming, conveyed as one meant to target and penalize sites that were "over-optimized" for search. While Google has now clarified that the update was engineered to be more about combatting outright spammy tactics rather than vague instances of "over-optimization," this is the update they were referring to back in March. The Penguin Update slams sites that employ such tactics as keyword stuffing, duplicate content, or misleading/hidden/cloaked links, all of which Google clearly warns against in its Webmaster Guidelines regarding quality.
So now that Google has confirmed that the new update is completely live, how can you tell if you've been bitten by an angry Penguin -- and what should you do about it if you have been? Google and Search Engine Land have both shared some great advice, so let's dig into what you can do if you're suffering from Penguin backlash.
(And honestly, is anyone else curious as to why Google is so enamored with naming its algorithm updates after black and white colored animals? What's next -- Google Zebra?)
How to Tell if You've Been Penalized by Google Penguin
Although there's no way to log in to Google Webmaster Central to determine if you've been hit, Search Engine Land suggests a quick little test you can conduct to get a sense of whether your website is suffering in search since the update was deployed. And, in fact, Google agrees this is the way to go:
Take a look at your website analytics, comparing your organic search traffic from Google a few days before and in the days after Google Penguin launched (April 24). Note: Don't be fooled by Google Panda! Google rolled out an update to Panda, called Panda 3.5, on April 19. This update targets low-quality, not spammy, websites. So if you notice that you were starting to get hurt in terms of organic search traffic prior to April 24, you probably have a Panda problem on your hands. In that case, refer to this post to learn what you can do about it. If you've ruled out Panda, you'll notice 1 of 3 scenarios pertaining to the Penguin Update:
- Do you notice a drop in traffic in the days after? If so, you likely have a Penguin problem.
- Do you notice traffic is staying the same? This means you probably weren't impacted by the update at all; you're probably safe!
- Do you notice a spike in traffic? This could mean you've actually benefited from the update. Perhaps some of your competitors were penalized by Penguin, and you're swiping some of the traffic that otherwise would've been routed to them. Nice!
If the latter two scenarios are what's playing out for you, then keep up the good work. You're probably doing a good job of playing by Google's guidelines and aren't participating in spammy SEO behavior. If the first scenario sounds more like your situation, keep reading ...
How to Treat Your Google Penguin Wounds
If you're getting hit because of a spammy web presence, you're going to need to clean up those instances of spam.
First things first. Have you verified your Google Webmaster Account yet? There's a chance that Google has already sent you messages regarding your spammy behavior, but if you've never verified your account, you may never have known they were sitting there waiting for you! In fact, Google has been ramping up its attempts to notify users through its Webmaster Tools, using it to send over 700,000 messages to webmasters in January and February 2012. That's more than the total number of message it sent in the whole of 2011!
So, after you've checked your messages, your next step should be to fix any spammy behavior Google flagged and notified you about in particular. But don't stop there. Read through those Google Webmaster Quality Guidelines we mentioned earlier and check your site for instances where you may be participating in some spammy behavior. Then, well, fix those instances! Here is what you should be looking out for as you're auditing your site:
Specific Quality Guidelines From Google (Source):
- Avoid hidden text or hidden links.
- Don't use cloaking or sneaky redirects.
- Don't send automated queries to Google.
- Don't load pages with irrelevant keywords (AKA keyword stuffing).
- Don't create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content.
- Don't create pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware.
- Avoid "doorway" pages created just for search engines, or other "cookie cutter" approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content.
If any of these spammy behaviors sound applicable to your website, correct them as soon as possible.
Can You Air Your Grievances if You Feel You've Been Wronged by Penguin?
You may notice there is a tempting link at the bottom of Google's Webmaster Guidelines through which you can 'submit your site for reconsideration' if you've modified it after determining that it didn't meet these guidelines, but here's the deal. Google has said the Penguin update will ding spammy sites automatically, not manually. In other words, submitting a reconsideration request won't do much because Google won't be making any manual exceptions.
If you feel like your site has been penalized unjustly, you're better off using this form to air your grievances to Google, which was created exclusively for users who feel they've been wronged by the Penguin Update. Just do so in a way that explains why your site shouldn't be considered spammy, not using an attitude that blames Google for being a bad guy.
If you know a site affected by algo update that you don't think should be affected, we made a form to provide feedback: goo.gl/nt3Pz— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) April 26, 2012
What's the Takeaway for Marketers?
You can easily get swept up in the technicalities of any new Google algorithm update, but the lesson is always the same: create remarkable content that's written for your audience first and search engines next, and follow best practices to ensure that Google can easily crawl, understand, and index that content.
Marketers who stick to genuine, white-hat techniques and always keep Google's guidelines in the back of their minds shoudln't have to worry about getting dinged by the algorithm update from Google.
And if it feels like a black hat SEO tactic, it probably is.
How do you feel about Google's new Penguin Update?
Image Credit: HighlandBlade