A Roundup: Google Panda and Penguin Algorithm Updates and What To Do Next!

I have been reading and reading and reading until I thought my mind would explode. About what? The Google Panda and Penguin algorithm updates of course! So, rather than bombard you with 100 plus good blog posts to read, I thought I would recap my findings and share some personal thoughts…

Wondering what the heck am I talking about?

Read on…. It looks long, but I’ll make it worth your time.

What is an algorithm update?

When you use Google to search for something on the web, you are basically asking Google to serve you up the best, most relevant information on the subject you are searching for. When you use Google Search, your results are pulled from the algorithm Google created to calculate which web pages should be served up based off of relevancy and quality criteria.

Every so often Google updates their algorithm which changes the way they evaluate websites and calculate where these sites should rank organically in the search engine result pages (SERPs).

What is the Google Panda update?

The Google Panda update was first released in February 2011. The update aimed to lower the ranking of “low quality sites” and in turn raise the rankings of higher quality sites. It was said to only affect 12% of all search results, but as Panda 2 and 3 (I think we are at 3.3 now?) rolled out even more tweaks, many website across the web have been significantly impacted by this update.

So Google Panda targeted LOW QUALITY websites.

So, what does this mean to you?

Google used human quality testers who rated websites based on measures of quality including: design, trustworthiness, speed and even whether or not they would return to the website…. If you had a lot of ads on your pages, your content was lacking, your design was outdated or not user friendly – your site may have been flagged as “low quality” and therefore hit by THE PANDA.

However, as mentioned in a previous Panda and Penguin post by Kirstin Douglas here – just because your site lost some rankings doesn’t mean your site was penalized! Many, many other sites across the web were hit – particularly blog networks. If your backlink index contained links from these sources, they could have been hit and you are simply suffering from the loss in backlinks.

What is the Google Penguin update?

The Google Penguin update was first called the “over optimization filter” by Matt Cutts, then the webspam algorithm before finally being formally named the Penguin Update by Google. This update was first thought to be yet another version of Panda – but now we know it is its own animal (hardy har, I know). Having only rolled out this month (April 2012) there is still a lot of speculation as to what exactly this update impacts.

What we do know? Google Penguin targeted SPAM and OVER OPTIMIZATION (via what they consider “spammy”).

So, what does this mean to you?

If your rankings dropped this month, forget Panda – you might have been hit by THE PENGUIN! Unlike Panda, Google did release a list of questions that webmasters should ask themselves in order to ensure they are following the Google quality guidelines.

This awesome post from Webpronews lists them verbatim along with some additional thoughts for the areas that are still pretty grey:

There are 8 “specific guidelines”. They are (verbatim):

1. Avoid hidden text or hidden links.

2. Don’t use cloaking or sneaky redirects.

3. Don’t send automated queries to Google.

4. Don’t load pages with irrelevant keywords.

5. Don’t create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content.

6. Don’t create pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware.

7. Avoid “doorway” pages created just for search engines, or other “cookie cutter” approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content.

8. If your site participates in an affiliate program, make sure that your site adds value. Provide unique and relevant content that gives users a reason to visit your site first.

Some of them are more black and white than others. For example, avoiding hidden text or hidden links seems like a pretty obvious thing. Just don’t do it. The duplicate content one is a little different. What does Google consider “substantially duplicate content”? How much is too much?

Beyond the specific guidelines, Google also lists 4 “basic principles”. These are:

1. Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines. Don’t deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, which is commonly referred to as “cloaking.”

2. Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”

3. Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or “bad neighborhoods” on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.

4. Don’t use unauthorized computer programs to submit pages, check rankings, etc. Such programs consume computing resources and violate our Terms of Service. Google does not recommend the use of products such as WebPosition Gold™ that send automatic or programmatic queries to Google.

Google provides plenty more guidelines and elaboration on the quality guidelines in its help center.

Of course, none of this is new. It’s just that now Google has a better way to enforce them (or at least, it hopes it does).

END quote from WebProNews.com.


So, now what?

Run out and remove low quality links? Get rid of keyword stuffing and bad content? If I “fix” everything list above Google will automatically rank me again, right? Maybe… maybe not. Google has made a TON of algorithm changes in the last few months and they don’t appear to be stopping any time soon. Besides, do you know if you were hit by Panda or Penguin or hey, maybe you were one of the ones hit by the Google mistake parked domain classifier issue… ?

Of course you should do your best to follow the Google quality guidelines and PLEASE don’t use black hat spam (and if you were still using black hat spammy techniques, such as cloaking, you kinda deserve to be penalized, just sayin). AND, clearly make your website a great, quality site built for your USERS with awesome content (images, videos, design, function, speed, etc).

There is HOPE, keep reading…

No, SEO isn’t dead. Yes, there are still effective marketing techniques to get your site found again.

If you have been hit by Panda/Penguin, even if you have done everything you can do fix the issues – don’t expect to see your lost rankings recover over night. Google has come right out and said that the penalties are the effects of an algorithm change – so even if a human looked at your site, it takes spiders (not humans) to bring the rankings back up again. The best advice I can give is to be patient, carefully evaluate your current standings and make educated decisions. Getting too excited and making a ton of changes can create other issues. If your site is quality and deserves rankings – it CAN rank again. KEEP IN MIND, if you were marketing your site via SEO techniques before, your marketing is likely what helped you achieve your rankings in the first place. So, if you fix your issues you may no longer be “penalized” but that doesn’t mean you will rank again without continuing to market your website.

Don’t have time to wait for rankings to change?

Not sure what to do next?

Give us a call at 1.800.871.4130.

We are happy to do a discount website audit for anyone recently hit and help you come up with a strategic plan to get your site in order, diversify your long term marketing plans and help you supplement your organic traffic loss with other marketing techniques while we work on fixing your website issues.

Remember, Google is only ONE way to get traffic to your website…

Jenny Stradling

Owner and CEO at Eminent SEO in Mesa, Arizona. I started doing SEO and marketing work in 2005. I'm a {very} busy mom of 4 and I owe my sanity to my partner in work and life, Chris Weatherall. I love sharing and engaging in business and marketing conversations, and I'm heavy into social media and blogging on these topics. I love coffee, wine, food and other people who enjoy the adventure of seeking out the best places to eat and drink. In my free time (what's that?) you'll most likely find me studying philosophy and spirituality, cooking for my family or relaxing with a nice glass of wine, a funny movie and the people I love.

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2 thoughts on “A Roundup: Google Panda and Penguin Algorithm Updates and What To Do Next!

  1. Thomas

    Google has people that check search results as well. So if you are in the top 5 search results, you have an employee that manually goes through your website and the make the decision to move you up or down the list.

  2. Jenny Stradling

    @Thomas – There are Google moderators, yes, but they aren’t manually EVERY website. There are billions of ways someone can search in Google and so there are millions of websites ranking in the top 5 for any given keyword phrase. Most manual reviews are done because the site specifically hit a filter that indicated it needs further review. It’s much more cost effective for Google to automate the process as much as possible so it’s highly unlikely that they are replaying too heavily on manual reviews when they have spent millions of dollars to create an algorithm that can do it for them instead.


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