Anyone who works in search — whether it’s basic SEO or something more specialized, like online reputation management — knows that search engines are constantly changing. Google is especially prone to adaptation, modifying its algorithms on a very regular basis. It’s one of the challenges of the job — something to keep all of us search professionals on our toes.
Every now and again, though, Google will introduce an update so extreme, it shakes the entire industry — and the recent Penguin update is a prime example. Penguin was not the first instance of Google aggressively targeting Web spam, but it may be the most extreme. In the wake of Penguin, which supposedly affected 3% of English language searches, many of us found that our online content had been de-indexed altogether.
It’s fair to say that Penguin is just the beginning; Google seems very serious in its campaign against online spam. There is little for search pros to do, then, but to adapt. Penguin is a tricky thing to pin down, but there are four basic steps you can take to ensure that your online content — whether a full website or a blog — remains Penguin-proof for the foreseeable future.
- Get a reality check. For success in SEO or ORM, it’s important that you work with Google; treating the search engine as your enemy is going to work against you in a big way. So take an honest assessment of your current search strategies. Look at what traffic sources are working, and which aren’t, and candidly evaluate how effective your strategies really are. That will give you a good foundation to build upon.
- Get real about what really constitutes “spam.” Remember that Penguin, like Panda before it, is all about targeting and removing spam — so if you want to avoid Penguin’s wrath, you’ve got to avoid spam. You can probably use common sense to figure out what doesn’t fly: Any unnatural link generation (i.e., paid links) are bad news. Keyword stuffing will also be constituted as spam. Disreputable means like cloaking, invisible or hidden content, page redirects, and so on are all going to get you penalized by Google, probably sooner rather than later.
- Instead of the spam and the gimmicks, focus on the end user. That’s what Google is really trying to do here; it’s not necessarily that they revel in screwing with SEO professionals, though there may well be some truth to that. Their end game is to provide higher-quality, more relevant results to end users. So rather than focus on impressing search engines, focus on impressing readers — and in the process, you will also appeal to Google’s new, Penguin Era standards. Create content that is relevant, useful, and unique. Don’t stuff keywords or spin the same content over and over. Keep it timely and fresh. The old adage that content is king has never been truer than in the Age of Penguin.
- Finally, diversify. That’s another primary objective of the Penguin patch — to get webmasters to diversify their traffic source. Look at the traffic sources that are proving most effective and successful right now. Then, look at some that have, perhaps, been neglected — like, say, social networking. Work on shoring up the weak ones while the strong ones are still strong.
The bottom line is that Internet success is dependent on playing nice with Penguin — which basically means focusing, more than ever before, on the end user experience, leaving the traffic-generating gimmicks out of your strategy altogether.
Rich Gorman is a serial internet entrepreneur with an extensive background in direct marketing, affiliate marketing, and online reputation management. In addition, Rich operates the official blog for the Direct Response industry, Direct Response, where he shares his thoughts on Direct Response Marketing.