by Erin Everhart

There’s been a lot of talk about zoo animals recently. Ever since Google started naming its algorithm updates after furry black and white creatures, we’ve been inundated with talks of pandas and penguins, and how they’re taking down websites one ranking at a time.

Google changes its algorithm about 500 times a year. Most changes are minor, but every couple of months, a major update happens that gets people talking because of the impact it has on ranking results. The two most recent algorithm changes are:

Panda: Officially rolled out in February 2011, but there have been about 13 data refreshes of it since then. Now on Panda 3.7, it cracked down on sites with thin, stolen or duplicate content, as well as sites with a high ad-to-content ratio.

Penguin: Released April 2012, this algorithm put tighter guidelines on website optimization and adjusted a number of web spam factors, including keyword stuffing, cloaking, unnatural links and content spinning.
Contrary to popular belief, Google’s goal isn’t to run wild with algorithm updates and penalize every site until there are only 10 decent sites left. Google just wants to make the web a better place, and it does that by rewarding people who do things right. It’s been saying this all along, but people only seem to take notice when their analytics look something like this:

While Penguin was technically an algorithm update, it wasn’t really a change in how Google factors ranking; it was just the official word that Google is taking action against people trying to game the search system. Simply put, Penguin targeted web spam. So, if you were playing by the rules, you shouldn’t have been affected.

Take a look at a snapshot from my company’s analytics. The first line is Panda 2.5. We had somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-digits worth of duplicate content. We corrected it and started heavily playing by Google’s rules. The second line is Penguin.

So, how did we do it?

Keep Your Keywords in Check

For a while, everyone was hailing Penguin as putting a stop to over-optimization, which while true, caused a lot of people to adjust their website so heavily that it wasn’t even optimized at all. That boiled down to keywords.

With Penguin in place, you still need to have your keywords in your content. That’s how search engines know what your site is about. But you shouldn’t have your keywords as every other word, bolded in your text. That’s spam. Here’s how to keep your keywords in check:

  • Don’t write your content first and then put your keywords in. It will look unnatural. Have your keywords in mind and naturally incorporate them as you write.
  • Reread your body content. If it sounds shady, it probably is.
  • Title Tags: Still put your most important keyword first in your title tag, but make sure you have your brand name in there, too. I follow this formula: “Main Keyword | Company Name Secondary Keyword”
  • Image optimization: Name your images your keyword names only if they related to that keyword. For ALT attributes, they should describe the picture, which hopefully will include your keyword and some other descriptive words as well.

Diversify Your Link Building

The day it came out that having your keywords as the text in your links back to your website was both the worst and best day for online marketers. Yes, it’s critical and it still plays a very important role to having high search rankings for your terms, but it’s also one of the easiest things to manipulate. You want keywords in your anchor text, but more than that, you want a natural link profile. Here’s how you get it:

  • Brand name links: You should always have a higher number of brand name links than keyword links. This also includes your exact URL, too.
  • Mismatched keyword links: It’s improbable to think that everyone will link to your site using the same anchor text. Vary the links you get with different keywords. For instance, if your main keyword is “purple orchids,” try to get links with text, such as “orchids that are purple,” “orchids” and “a variety of color of orchids.”
  • Non-descriptive links: Having links like “Click here,” “website,” and “visit us here” are great ways to keep your profile looking natural.

Beef Up Your Content

Good content will never hurt you. Ever. If you have been on the receiving end of an algorithm update gone wrong, one of the best ways to get back in Google’s good graces is to feed it good, relevant content. How?

  • Have a blog and update it at least once a week.
  • Put out a press release once a month. Are you hosting an event in the community? Hiring someone new? Speaking at a conference? All of that is newsworthy.
  • Put out whitepapers. People love information. Tell them how you do things and share your expertise.

Content-building will always be the most time-consuming thing for businesses, but it’s also the most rewarding, so invest in it.

Listen To Your Webmaster Tools

Google is doing us all a great service with Webmaster Tools. It’s our direct connection to the search engine giant itself, and it can give us a wealth of information about how Google is reading our website. In some cases, they’ll even tell you when they’ve run into spam on your website.

Outside of spam, the tools also will tell you all of the technical errors that are happening on your website, like 404 errors, server errors, blocked content and more. While Penguin doesn’t address these technically problems specifically, you want to make it as easy as possible for search engines to crawl your site, so clean up any of the dead ends.

By All Means, Avoid These Things

Remember: Penguin is Google’s way of cleaning up web spam and rewarding sites that play by the rules. There has never been a stronger case to do things right than there is now. While keywords, links and content will have the biggest weight when it comes to cleaning up your site, you should by all means avoid these tactics if you want to bypass Penguin:

    • Cloaking: Serving up a different version of your website to search engines and users in order to improve rankings.
    • Content spinning: Taking an article, editing it slightly to change some words and then publishing. This isn’t rewriting. Rewriting takes time; spinning takes 15 minutes.

How did Penguin affect your business? Tell us in the comments.



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