…And How Can I Make Friends With Google?
Google operates and maintains an extremely complex and multi-faceted search engine algorithm that is constantly adjusted, modified, and altered to ensure users are receiving the most relevant, up to date and accurate information on the search engine results page (SERP). It is important to remember that, above all, Google serves itself and its users. As Google engineer and SEO expert Matt Cutts puts it: “Don’t chase after Google’s algorithms, chase after your best interpretation of what users want, because that’s what Google’s after.”
So, in interest of keeping your users close and your enemies even closer, it’d be wise to know what you’re up against in the dog-eat-dog algorithm world of SEO, which is what this article aims to do. First, we’ll delve into the difference between Google Panda and Google Penguin, and then briefly cover the basis of other algorithmic facets, such as Google Hummingbird and Google Local (aka Google Pigeon).
A Little SEO Background
Google changes its search algorithm around 600 times annually–at least–implementing some major and some minor adjustments throughout the year. Occasional roll out of a major algorithmic update (like Penguin, Panda, Hummingbird, Local) that affect search results in significant, specific, measurable ways to the SERP.
Google Panda is an algorithm that launched in February 2011 and has been rolling out monthly updates/”surges” since, all of which aim to remove low quality content from the SERP on a continual basis. These updates mark and remove redundant, irrelevant content and spam from Google’s index and SERP. Panda 4.1 was rolled out on September 23, 2014, and, according to Google’s Pierre Far, is “targeted at identifying low-quality content more precisely.” So far (no pun intended), the SEO/SEM world has taken notes on what 4.1 means to the Internet marketing world, and it seems as if this update hit pages with thin content, particularly games, lyrics, or medical portals.
In May 2014, a Panda update hit online auction house eBay, causing over 75% of first page rankings to disappear overnight (source). Looking for an explanations, Panda’s cutthroat mentality is to blame. While Google can’t help but acknowledge eBay’s prowess, which is why the site used to be one of the top ten internet domains, the endless stream of user-generated thin content on eBay was deemed irrelevant to most users by Google, and why it was subsequently cut from most keyword SERP.
The Panda update has also been nicknamed “Farmer” because it has negatively affected many content farms. Content farms are sites that aggregate info from many sources, stealing content from other sites in order to create a large index of pages as to rank well in Google for lots of keywords, which is why creating original content is king in terms of search engine optimization.
Main point to walk away with when thinking about avoiding Panda’s frequent blasts: thin and duplicate content will be found and marked by Google as the algorithm continues to mature, negatively impacting those sites who have not taken proper measure to create original, quality content.
Google Penguin is also an algorithm, but targets over optimization. “Over optimization” is considered anything involving keyword stuffing and bad link building techniques.
Keyword stuffing is a practice of overloading a site’s content with unnecessary, unnatural, or irrelevant keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate the domain’s page rank on Google Search. Google’s Webmaster Tools page gives three good examples of keyword stuffing:
- Lists of phone numbers without substantial added value
- Blocks of text listing cities and states a webpage is trying to rank for
- Repeating the same words or phrases so often that it sounds unnatural, for example:
We sell custom cigar humidors. Our custom cigar humidors are handmade. If you’re thinking of buying a custom cigar humidor, please contact our custom cigar humidor specialists at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bad link building techniques are prevent in today’s pay-to-see-immediately-improved-rankings, so watch out! Links are good references to your site. If a strong website links/references to your site, the visibility and strength of your domain increases. The anchor text of the link is also important in building a stronger keyword vocabulary for your site, a hint to Google that your s is a good resource for the anchor text keywords being used. However, paying for links from random sites that are of no relevance to your own is where webmasters can go very, very wrong.If taken too far, domains are unable to recover after extensive bad link building.The Penguin update targets spammy links thanks to irrelevant anchor text and/or irrelevant content on random websites whose own content is irrelevant, spammy, or unrelated to the website at hand. For example, www.caribbeanvacation.com shouldn’t link back to an Orthodontist in Milwaukee. But all hope shouldn’t be lost if you’ve fallen victim to bad link building. In order to recover from bad link building techniques, remove unnatural or spammy links to your site manually by contacting the domain owners, or disavow bad links in Google Webmaster Tools. Though recovery by disavow or unlinking sites is not immediate, gaining momentum and Google trust will happen again.
The newest update, Penguin 3.0, is rumored to have rolled out as of October 18, 2014, as reverberations or “tremors” of the update have been seen effecting websites taken out by fifth update Penguin 2.0, improving those sites whose ranking were damaged previously. Penguin updates tend to happen periodically, so their updates are highly anticipated and prepared for.
- Panda: Targets low quality content – redundant, irrelevant, spammy sites.
- Penguin: Targets over optimization – bad links, keyword stuffing.
- Hummingbird: Focuses on user’s intent – resurgence of long-tail keywords.
- Pigeon (Local): Hyperlocalizes search results
An algorithm update can therefore be a friend or foe, depending on what SEO tactics you follow. Original and engaging content is still king, legitimate natural back links that are earned using proper SEO techniques are still imperative, and logical keywords still need to be carefully placed and used in moderation. In other words, following good Google optimization guidelines is the way to stay safe from the potentially lethal algorithm updates.