May 07 2012

What The Heck Is Penguin?

Category: organic seoTom Shivers

 

Google launched the latest algo change named Penguin on April 24th and gave plenty of warning about it. At the South by Southwest (SBSX) conference in March, Matt Cutts mentioned an algo update they were working on to better deal with sites that have been “over optimized.”

Most people complain about Google’s algo updates, but consider that the same percentage of sites that moved down also moved up; can I hear somebody say – “ain’t that sweet!”

Over optimized doesn’t mean sites that have done SEO are going to lose rank per se, but it does mean user experience is important now. But, who cares what I say, take a listen to Matt Cutts’ post about Penguin:

“The goal of many of our ranking changes is to help searchers find sites that provide a great user experience and fulfill their information needs. We also want the ‘good guys’ making great sites for users, not just algorithms, to see their effort rewarded. To that end we’ve launched Panda changes that successfully returned higher-quality sites in search results. And earlier this year we launched a page layout algorithm that reduces rankings for sites that don’t make much content available ‘above the fold.’

We’ve always targeted webspam in our rankings, and this algorithm represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content. While we can’t divulge specific signals because we don’t want to give people a way to game our search results and worsen the experience for users, our advice for webmasters is to focus on creating high quality sites that create a good user experience and employ white hat SEO methods instead of engaging in aggressive webspam tactics.” – Matt Cutts

Creating high quality sites that create a good user experience is a significant part of what SEO means today.

I talk to people every day about SEO and it doesn’t take long to discover if someone has updated their knowledge base.

For example, an in-house marketing person called recently asking for help to reorganize their website with lots of new images and content. When I asked how these changes would impact their search rank, he had some good answers, but then he said (with a wee bit of a defensive tone), “I’ve done everything to keep up with SEO: make sure all pages have a unique title tag and resubmit the site map twice a month whether it’s changed or not.”

A number of red flags popped up in my mind when he mentioned site maps and did not mention more significant things.

Anyway, since Panda came out over a year ago, Google has made it clear what they want in their search results and I dare say they will get it one way or another. So you may as well listen to what they are saying. Here are a few questions from a long list Google recommends you ask about your content:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?

Did you find yourself saying, “How the heck can an algorithm check for that?” Welcome to the club and don’t bother trying to figure it out. If you want to know more, see the video Inside the Google Mindset – an in depth interview of the top minds that manage the algo along with a quick cut index to the specific questions they were asked in the video.

Now let me ask you a question about SEO: do you cooperate with the search engines and do what’s best for users? If you do, then you have likely seen an increase in traffic to your site from Google this year thus far, my clients have. If you have seen a decline in traffic from Google this year so far, it’s very possible that Google’s algo has surgically lowered your site’s rank for specific keywords and web pages.

It’s still unclear what the Penguin update is looking for specifically and how to deal with it if your site has been affected negatively, we’ll likely know more in a couple weeks. If you want us to share what we learn about Penguin, leave a comment or tell us how you handle user experience.

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Image credit: SupraPolak

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4 Responses to “What The Heck Is Penguin?”

  1. Debbi says:

    For me, this is not the Penguin that is cute and cuddly. In fact, it may be “deadly” for your site.
    Debbi recently posted..a real learn and master guitar reviewMy Profile

  2. Tom Shivers says:

    Hi Debbi, sorry to hear that; it ain’t fun dealing with the negative side of the algos.
    Tom Shivers recently posted..Google: Changing Link Building ForeverMy Profile

  3. Stuart Stirling says:

    Nice post Tom. Google is not being real cool with this latest update. Not only the big ones like this but all the little ones in between make it very hard to keep up with.. even when you’re doing everything totally above board. Talk about chasing the white rabbit…
    Stuart Stirling

  4. Tom Shivers says:

    Hi Stuart. Yep, Google’s updates are pretty close to continuous and can be challenging to keep up with, so it makes more sense than ever to optimize for user experience and take a “less is more” approach to SEO.
    Tom Shivers recently posted..Are You a Victim of SEO Trends?My Profile