Google Search Update: What to Do When the Penguin Strikes

Google Algo ZooA week ago Google rolled out its fresh search algo update codenamed Penguin. Nobody knows exactly the reason for naming the update like that - some users talk about the black-and-white animals theory :) - however, everybody knows what Googlers are up to - make search results clearer and more relevant (though they fail pretty often :p).

As usual, it’s not only some black-hat SEOs who have been victims to the update, but some decent websites lost part of their rankings as well due to the changes. Luckily, there’s a workaround for webmaster described below.

First, what has changed in the SEO world?

In the Webmaster Central blog post, we learn that sites practicing web spam tactics, such as keyword stuffing and link schemes, are likely to get hit by the update. Sounds fair enough, right? Well, almost.

What keeps me confused all the time is that Google never reveals any numbers that might be useful to us. For instance, when I work on on-page optimization and think about using the target keywords in content, can I get hit by Penguin or not? If I put too many keywords - yes. But what’s too many - 3, 5, 7? And even if I have a lot of keywords used, but they do not impact the readability of the text?

The same goes about link schemes. All SEO specialists are well aware of the importance of backlinks, that’s why people have been (and surely will be) trying to get as many backlinks as possible. When Google speaks about link schemes, they usually mean paid links and link networks. Okay, let’s say I have three websites:

  1. The first website is about pandas
  2. The second website is about penguins
  3. The third website is about black-and-white animals

Would it be logical to link all these sites, so that users looking for black-and-white animals will be able to learn more about some certain species? Yes! Would it be considered a link scheme and impact your rankings? There’s no definite answer to that one.

Ok, what shall I do with my website now?

The good thing is that Google says that SEO is not actually a bad thing (so we, SEOs, have some hope!):

““White hat” search engine optimizers often improve the usability of a site, help create great content, or make sites faster, which is good for both users and search engines. Good search engine optimization can also mean good marketing: thinking about creative ways to make a site more compelling, which can help with search engines as well as social media.”

Have you noticed that Google names 3 things under “white-hat SEO”

  • Usability
  • Great content
  • Page load speed

Not a single word about backlinks, though they have been considered the major ranking factor for years!

My suggestion to webmasters is pretty old and simple: look at the winners and try to copy their strategy.

Polish your On-page Elements

You can for instance analyze the on-page elements of the top after-penguin websites and compare them to your website. To save time and enhance your working efficiency, it would be times better to use some SEO software tailored to these needs.

For example, with WebSite Auditor on-page report, you are able to spot good keyword density and eliminate duplicate content issues. To make your pages meet the Google's new standards, all you have to do is let the tool calculate keyword density used by your currently top-ranking competitors and use it on your website. If that technique lets your competitors rank top, than this is the key to creating what Google sees as relevant and non-spammy content!

Note: Even if you've already optimized your pages' content, run the check again and see if the keyword density requirements have changed in your niche after the Penguin update.

Additionally, you should consider reviewing:

  • All of your titles and descriptions
  • Your robots.txt file (which helps control the content accessible by search engines)

Monitor Backlinks Regularly

Similarly, you can look at the backlink profiles of the top performing websites in Google (for your targeted keywords) and analyze what kind of backlinks proved to be the safest ones. About a year ago, I’d suggest using Yahoo Open Site Explorer, but since it doesn’t work anymore, you can try the SEO SpyGlass backlink research tool.
Additionally, you will be able to spot and get rid of:

  • Site-wide links that are likely to be paid
  • Links coming from suspicious spammy websites
  • Links coming from irrelevant sites and so on

And remember, whatever the algo Google brings to us (can it be Zebra next time? :D), there are fundamental things that are always safe to do. Dedicate most of your time to working on them consistently, and your chance for getting to the top will rise proportionally.

By Inessa Bokhan