In the world of SEO, the only thing constant is – change. Those who adapt to the changes will survive and those who cannot will fall by the wayside. Google search technology is the driving force that governs 99% of the internet marketing world and the big G makes sure that its search technology – made up of complex search algorithms – is safeguarded against circumvention and malpractice. From time to time, Google launches significant changes in its algorithms aimed to cut short the “bad” SEO practices and also improve the “search experience” of the users. Google Panda and Penguin updates have shaken the SEO world and the ever present threat of a Google crackdown has actually happened!
The latest Google Panda updates and Penguin update has affected all types of SEO practices – black, grey and white. The collateral damage is as severe as the targeted damage – there are many white hat SEO sites that have lost significant amount of traffic and SERP positions, directly because of these updates. We will try to understand the recent changes in the algorithms and also analyze their impact on SEO practices.
Google algorithm and its significance:
Google algorithm is a mathematical representation of the Google’s search engine technology. The technology is based on the “PageRank” and “SERP” rank permutations that Google follows.
There are numerous other influencing factors that individually and collectively affect the Page rank and SERP of a website. Google algorithm is a complex and very powerful tool that not only establishes the credence of a website but also determines the relevance of the site in relation to the search options that the end users are looking for. Google on its part tries to stop black/white/grey practices by changing the algorithms by adding or deleting some of the factors. They also constantly change the relevance/weight age of the influencing factors to keep the SEO practitioners guessing. This is a “cat and mouse” game played on the grand internet canvas – SEO experts try to reverse engineer the algos and over optimize on the most influential factors, while Google constantly upgrades/updates its algorithm to keep the SEO Practices honest.
Recent Google algorithm updates:
Most of the Google algo updates are minor in nature and may not always affect the SEO practices of most webmasters. But from time to time, Google introduces significant changes in its algorithm, which can throw a spanner in the SEO practices. Here is a list of the most recent(significant) updates and their effects on SEO practices.
Panda: Google Panda updates are a series of significant algorithmic changes that are aimed to eradicate bad quality websites with bad content, no trustworthiness, bad user experience, bad layout/design and abnormal link optimization. The series of changes started from February of 2011 and continue till date. The latest Panda update roll out was on 27th April 2012 (Panda 3.6).Experts indicate that there are more Panda updates in store for webmasters.
Monthly/minor and algo up-gradations: Panda updates were interspersed with the regular algo updates and most of them were minor in nature. Amongst these, the February 2012 pack update and January “ads above folds” updates are the most significant ones.
Google Penguin: Penguin Update was introduced on 24th April 2012 and is also considered to be a major, SEO shaking update. It is an extension of the over optimization changes that Google Panda introduced but with more relevance to link quality, link spamming and link anchor text over optimization.
Google Penguin and its relation to Panda:
Google Penguin is a scary monster because it affects all types of SEO practices black, white and grey alike. Till date, it has been an accepted norm to optimize backlinks with “money” keywords as anchor text – the money keywords being those that are actually used in the websites. Penguin has unleashed a penalty spree on all websites that has higher percentage of anchor text optimization in their links.
Link relevance is best established when backlinks are generated/originated within the same niche of the website. So, Google expects webmasters to have a high percentage of relevant links but at the same time, not over optimize on anchor text. This combination of factors is not only contradictory in nature, it is also very difficult to be “simulated” or practiced as an SEO activity. Quality of a backlink is established based on the authority and importance of the link originating source.
Penguin updates cannot be viewed in isolation – even thought their impact is independent–they have to be clubbed with the Panda updates and viewed as a whole. This is because there is a lot of relevance and relation between these two independent updates.
Understanding Google Penguin:
Three major factors that Penguin addresses are:
Anchor text: It is still early days since the penguin release but early indications point out a complete website penalty on sites that have higher percentage of money keyword anchor texts. If websites have more than 60% of their inbound links with money anchor texts, they are most definitely going to be penalized. If it has not already happened, it will happen in the coming days, for sure. For example, websites with larger money keyword groups are less affected than those that contain one or two money keywords in the anchor text. This not only denotes more importance to anchor text diversity but it also indicates that Google prefers broad niche websites over target niche ones.
Link Quality: Link network/farming and public networks are already on their way out – thanks to Panda. If anything, the Penguin update has hastened their demise. It is a well known fact that Google prefers high quality links but the penguin updates have realized the ever present threat of a Google crackdown or penalty on low quality links. Penguin calculates the quality of the back link in a much more profound way, which was not in existence till a few days ago. Google expects the majority of the backlinks to originate from high authority pages or at least good quality pages.
Link Relevance: Link relevance has not received so much importance as it is enjoying right now. Make no mistake – Google has always indicated that link relevance is important but it was willing to overlook this aspect for aged and good content sites. Google penguin has clearly indicated that Google will penalize sites that have majority of non relevant links. Natural backlinks come from varied sources and majority of them would come from niche relevant sources and that is what Google wants – less SEO on backlinks or even NO SEO on backlinks.
How to recover from Penguin penalties:
Here is a summary of the inferences from Penguin update analysis:
“Bad” SEO practices
Anchor text over optimization
Bad link quality
Link quantity over optimization (both good and bad links)
Poor Link relevance
Link relevance over optimization
Site niche limitations
“Good” SEO practices
Anchor text diversity
High quality links from good quality pages/sources
Link velocity/quantity minimization
Adequate link relevance
Link diversity must not undermine link quality parameters
Broad niche sites
The first step is to analyze and understand the reasons for the Penguin penalty. Identifying the reasons will not be a difficult task. Here are some tips that can help in this process – check for these:
Does your site:
- Have more than 50% of backlinks with money keyword anchor texts?
- Too many “Spam links” – low quality links? Do you have more than 50% backlinks of this quality?
- Do you have high percentage link velocity to your site? Is the velocity consistent or is it sporadic?
- Do you have at least 20% of relevant backlinks?
- Do you have more than 70% of backlinks that are niche relevant?
- Is your website optimized for a broader (comparative) niche? Does it hold content and quality relevance to the end user (organic search visitor)?
Penguin updates are algorithmic changes and so, are uniformly applicable for all websites. It is quite possible for a legitimate white hat site to also be penalized without recourse, as a direct result of Penguin.
The best recovery steps are:
- Diversify anchor text: Anchor text diversity must be maintained at a safe ratio of 50% money keywords and 50% relevant but non-money keywords. The best non money keywords are“www.yourwebsite.com”,“yourwebsite.com”,“yourwebsitename”,http://yourwebsite.com” and http://www.yourwebsite.com.
- Dilute/concentrate link quantity: If you have more percentage of low quality links, it is imperative to include good quality links in decently large numbers.
-Percentage: SEO’ers must keep it to a ratio of 70:30 – 70% being good quality and 30% being PR0 and similar quality.
-Link relevance: Link relevance percentage must always be associated with the good quality links. Amongst the good quality links (70% as mentioned above), at least 25% must be niche relevant and this percentage cannot be more than 80%. It is safe to maintain link relevance at 25% to 30% on overall backlinks.
Truth be told, the latest Penguin and Panda updates have been a long time coming. They are the natural and logical responses that any self respecting market leader would resort to. Most of the SEO practices were too brazen and left humungous footprints in the SEO realm. All said and done, Google search technology is just a logic/result based statistical algorithm. However, SEO is always a “work in progress” and “knowledge that is incomplete”; webmasters will have to constantly upgrade their skills and knowledge to successfully survive in the SEO world. If this guide has influenced even a handful of webmasters in a positive way and has helped them overcome Penguin penalties, it is well worth our effort.