It has been two weeks since Google rolled out the Penguin 2.0 algorithm; the update that promised to be 'big' and left SEOs everywhere biting their nails in nervous anticipation.
Google seem to have a knack for pulling animals out of hats at the most unexpected of times, and despite their cute personas, Google's menagerie is full of critters that tend to wreak havoc for SEOs. With this reputation in tow, it is no wonder that when Google's distinguished engineer Matt Cutts released a certain video blog on the 13th May cryptically announcing that, '(Google) are relatively close to deploying the next generation of Penguin' SEOs were preparing themselves for an SEO blitz.
The changes that Cutts prophesied were portentous, sending shivers down spines when he stated that, 'Penguin 2.0 will be a little more comprehensive than Penguin 1.0 and is expected to go a little more deeper and have a little more impact.' Obviously, 'a little more' was an expected understatement; Google has demonstrated its bottom-of-the-boot justice to those who defy its PageRank and 'quality' link etiquette quite elaborately this year 'remember Interflora'- Google forgot them for a while).
While Google's crusade to provide a utopian internet service is a perfectly just cause for strict measures, the issue that had many SEOs sweating in the wake of Penguin 2.0's rollout was that Google are incredibly nebulous as to the exactitudes of what they publically declare a 'bad link'; essentially, apart from the hints released by Cutts, we were all shooting in the dark.
D day came on the 22nd May, Google rolled out its Penguin 2.0 algorithm. Cutt's announced the completion of the roll out in the afternoon of the 22nd along with information that;
'About 2.3% of English-US queries are affected to the degree that a regular user might notice. The change has also finished rolling out for other languages world-wide. The scope of Penguin varies by language, e.g. languages with more webspam will see more impact...'
So that was it; Penguin 2.0 (dubbed the 'webspam' update) was loosed into the web. Penguin 2.0 is designed to relentlessly target anything considered black-hat in terms of SEO. Due to the fact that it is supposed to 'dig-deeper' than any algorithm predecessor before it, you can expect turbulence over the coming months in regards to your SEO.
So, let's check the damage
Obviously we are two weeks since the release date now, so now that the dust has settled a bit let's take a look into the impact made by Penguin 2.0.
Indeed Google didn't lie when they said that Penguin 2.0 would 'dig deeper' than its predecessor. Penguin 2.0 seems to be far more acute in the know-how of what website content to rank and what not to rank; how your backlinks work, where they are from, your indexing patterns and a plethora of other things regarding your SEO.
One of the biggest changes that has come from Penguin 2.0 is how Google calculates PageRank. If you have watched the video at the beginning of this article then you will recognise Matt Cutt's promise to those building content with integrity;
'As long as you're working hard for your users, we're working hard to show your high quality content to users as well. If you're doing high quality content with SEO, you won't have to worry. If you've been hanging out on the black hat forums, it will be a more eventful summer for you.'
Ok, but this is the usual enigma with Google; high-quality content is a yes, obviously, but what exactly qualifies as high-quality? Well it seems that in order to gain PageRank, Google want social engagement. Google will judge the quality of your site through means such as, the amount of times your site gets bookmarked; the amount of times it is shared on social platforms; the amount of times it is revisited...of course all of these things MUST be natural; Google will also know when the engagement that you receive has been purchased.
Furthermore, Google know how long someone is spending on a page for a website. If someone clicks on a search result and spends a lot of time on that site, Google will reward it by bumping it up in the search results. Similarly, if someone clicks on a search result and is dulled by the content after ten seconds and clicks away then the site will go down in rank.
Similarly you will have to engage far more with your audience socially; blogging, conversing, regularly posting new, fresh articles on your website: basically you need to be far more in tune with your audience. Gone are the days when you could buy love, now you need to earn it through organically raising your PageRank.
So, we revert back to the good old maxim; content is king, though more so now than ever before. Due to the fact that Google now penetrates a website's SEO more than ever before, it means that the quality of content is more important than ever. Now that a website is judged by its level of social engagement, a page can outrank another page even if its backlinks are lesser and of a worse quality. Your content needs to be more authoritative than other websites in the same subject; it needs to be wiley and it needs to compel. Best start getting your copywriters busy.
But that's not all...
Cutts stated in, 'What should we expect in the next few months in terms of SEO for Google?';
'One of the reasons we don't usually talk that much about the kind of things we are working on is that the plans can change, plans can change, timing can change so take (this) with a grain of salt. This is things as of today that look like they have gotten some approval.'
The typical shroud of mystery lingers in Cutts' statements in the exact things that Google will be investing into Penguin 2.0's updates over the next few months, but it is certain that things will be rocky for SEOs. What Cutts seemed to suggest is that areas that will form the core of Penguin 2.0 include how it treats spammy links and how PageRank is influenced.
I touched on how PageRank will be influenced earlier, so let's talk a little about Spam links. Link spamming has been hit hard by Penguin 2.0 and is set to come back around harder with Penguin 2.0 updates. Advertising will no longer play the big part in influencing PageRank, therefore many sites that rely on advertising that haven't already been hit by Penguin 2.0 can expect to be soon, unless they alter their SEO tactics fast. So if your website relies on the following things, you can expect to feel the backhand (or wing...) of Penguin 2.0;
- Low quality/ paid guest blogging
- Comment spam (i.e purchasing low quality blog comments)
- Links from sites that pose danger to users
- Backlinks purchased using exact matching anchor text
- Duplicate content
If this has left you feeling a bit nervous then you should really read our article, ' How to recover from Google SEO penalisation' to see how you can clean up your SEO before Google takes you to the cleaners. Speaking of which...
Taken to the cleaners
Many big names were hit by Penguin 2.0. From nosing around the internet a little bit, Dish.com and Educational Testing Service were a couple of the big names that were penalised for using bad SEO on their websites. According to Moz (formerly SEOmoz), Retailers and Real Estate were the industries that was hit the hardest by the update with a 33% affected rate. SearchMetrics analysed a whole list of companies that were hit by Penguin 2.0 which can be found here. There are actually a few names in there that you wouldn't have expected; amongst the flurry of obvious porn websites and what not.
Some final food for thought
It may seem like a lot to take in at this stage, but Penguin 2.0 seems to be set on completely eradicating websites that abuse their SEO guidelines. Granted that your website abides by Google's guidelines and is full of good-quality content you should be fine. To put your mind a little more at ease, consider your website and then consider these three points;
- Content must be original, high-quality and relative. Furthermore it must be updated regularly. The amount of content you publish; the value of that content and the originality of it all play a major part in SERP rankings. The quality of your content is the single most important factor in maintaining the success of your website's online presence. Trying to get around or taking shortcuts with your content just won't cut it any more.
- Invest in reputable inbound links. That's right, invest. Though you may have to pay for high quality backlinks for your website then do so. Trying to gain a cornucopia of free, or cheap backlinks won't do it anymore. Try getting to know figures in your industry and publish guest blogs on their website as a means of getting a good, relative link.
- Maximise your social presence and engage. This means stop being shy and utilise your social network platforms to the max. Start engaging with your audience, spark discussions and advertise your posts to your followers.
We will be returning with more posts covering the topics of Penguin 2.0 and how to go about maintaining a successful SEO profile. Try not to look at Penguin 2.0 as a pain in the backside for online marketing, but rather a new dawning of a more creative era.
If your website has suffered because of Penguin 2.0 then let us know your story. Get socialising and share your thoughts! You can only benefit from it now anyway. Also if you have come across any spammy sites that seem to have dodged the bullet, you can report them to Google by filling in the form found here.