Those who don’t work in search may be surprised to know that Google is always changing. The algorithms that Google uses to match your search queries to the pertinent search results are not written in stone. In fact, Google changes its algorithms hundreds of times per year; every month, they release a lengthy report identifying all the changes they’ve implemented as of late.
It is probably fair to say, however, that there has never been a search engine update as extreme — or as controversial — as Penguin. Penguin is the name of a major algorithmic update that Google introduced at the end of April, and it sent shockwaves throughout the search community.
What is Penguin?
But what is the Penguin update all about, exactly? Essentially, it is only the latest incarnation of Google’s ongoing crusade against online spam.
This is hardly anything new. Google is vigilant in making sure that the results it provides are high-quality, and relevant to users. They are constantly tinkering with the algorithms to make sure that bad/spammy websites are de-indexed.
Penguin is the most major example of this. Penguin supposedly affected about 3% of English language search queries — and it de-indexed many websites in the process.
Google’s Big Flop
As you can imagine, many who work in search were less than pleased about Penguin — especially when they found that their content was no longer accessible through the search engine, or that their previously high volumes of Google-related traffic had dropped to zero.
What really makes Penguin a fail is the fact that, no matter what Google says, the algorithmic update just hasn’t made search results more reliable — in fact, it has led to many problems. There was a well-documented case of the official Viagra website being removed from Google, while many hacker Viagra sites remained intact. Some of these more glaring issues have been resolved, but the point is that Penguin is hardly a well-oiled machine.
Here to Stay
Still, there is no doubt that Penguin is here to stay — a Penguin 1.1 “data refresh” has already been unveiled. Google is adamant in its crusade against spam, and so the only thing Web pros can do is to ensure that their content is Penguin compliant.
Easier said than done? Perhaps — but by remembering a couple of basic tenets, you can ensure that your online strategies are capable of withstanding Penguin’s fury.
- The first thing to remember is that Penguin de-indexes content that is sees as being spam — so to avoid Penguin penalties, you need to avoid anything that smacks of spam. More or less, you can use your best instincts here. Anything that involves buying links, or obtaining them through otherwise shady means, is going to hurt you. So is keyword stuffing. So is cloaking, hidden text, redirects, and so forth. Basically, all of the search gimmicks are out of the question in this post-Penguin age.
- The flipside of the coin is that Google wants, more than anything else, to create search results that are relevant and useful for human users. So don’t worry about impressing Google itself; focus on the user experience. Craft compelling, relevant, and helpful content that people will read and benefit from. When you ditch the gimmicks and focus on actual readers, that’s when your content will truly succeed in Google-land.
That might almost seem counterintuitive, but it’s the way search pros must adapt to the Penguin Era. Google is serious about cracking down on spam — but there are strategies you can use to ensure that Penguin doesn’t come back to bite you.
Rich Gorman is a veteran of the direct response marketing industry and an expert in reputation management and direct response marketing for companies large and small. Rich also operates the official blog for the Direct Response industry, Direct Response, where he shares his thoughts on Direct Response Marketing.