Google’s recent Penguin update as well as last year’s Panda algorithm change have forced many website owners to rethink their SEO tactics. We’re all familiar with the basics of effective SEO: a focus on quality, natural backlinks, keyword optimization and on-page optimization for easy indexing by search engines. Prior to Penguin and Panda, quite a few SEO gurus used shortcuts to game the system in their websites’ favor. The latest algorithm updates are Google’s attempt to level the playing field and make high-quality content king again. Ultimately, they’ve changed the SEO game and made certain optimization gimmicks obsolete.
Welcome to the Zoo
Released in February of 2011, Google’s Panda update was essentially a culling technique that went after sites with debatable value featuring marginal content. In a nutshell, Panda decreased the visibility of websites with far too many ads, far too little information and weak traffic. Hardest hit were the spam blogs, long tail niche sites and web pages that relied on link exchanges. Content farms and sites like EzineArticles took it on the chin as well and still haven’t entirely recovered. Panda adjusted Google’s ranking methodology to punish websites that relied on a gaggle of backlinks from low-quality sites as well as a mix of cheap optimization tricks.
The Penguin update, on the other hand, is more about pushing solid websites to the top rather than actively rooting out low-quality sites. However, Penguin does manage to step up Google’s efforts when it comes to filtering out weak sites that employ link schemes, keyword stuffing, link cloaking and shifty link redirects. The update also takes social media backlinks into consideration more heavily when determining a site’s PageRank. With Penguin, there’s less of a focus on things like meta tags and XML site maps. Ultimately, Google’s latest algorithm change isn’t fooled by over-optimization via exact keyword anchor text or duplicate content.
Understanding the Changes
Taken together, Google’s last two updates basically mean that website owners can’t rely on hyper-specific niche domination and linking strategies to rank highly anymore. Rather, quality content and reputation based on links from respected websites are taken into consideration more heavily when assessing PageRank. The message from Google is clear: you can’t rest solely on your laurels or your evergreen content if you want to remain relevant. To rank highly in your niche, your website must be constantly improving and delivering solid content to readers.
What to Do About It
Though the release of Penguin and Panda caused some to declare that SEO was dead, nothing could be further from the truth. Webmasters and marketers alike will simply need to invest more time and energy into their websites to stay at the top of the SERPs. That doesn’t necessarily mean that website upkeep and content creation will have to cost you significantly more. However, it will require that webmasters and website owners continue to prove their worth to the broader Internet community by delivering, you guessed it, value. That value will ultimately be based on solid content that’s linked organically to other websites and resources, creating a synergistic feedback loop that enriches the experience of the end user.
In spite of some collateral damage, Penguin and Panda are ultimately a blessing for quality websites that don’t rely on blog spam to attain high rankings. Some webmasters will need to make a few modifications to their layouts and content to stay in the game. Google’s primary mission is to deliver the most relevant results possible for any given search query. At the end of the day, Penguin will mean a little bit more work for website owners. Regardless, that investment will pay dividends in the future if you understand how the latest updates work and tailor your efforts to address the changes.