Over 2 years ago, Google unleashed a wild animal on the online world that wreaked havoc on search engine rankings. Its colors? Black and white.
A year later, the company let loose another monochrome monster that was the cause of grief of many a website owner.
Though they might not be literal feral beasts, the Google Updates Panda and Penguin had SEO professionals scrambling to fix the websites they were handling as if they were being chased.
As the biggest and most widely used search engine in the world, Google has to deal with billions of websites all competing for high search engine results page (SERP) rankings.
In its mission to deliver the best content to its users, Google then has to use a complex algorithm to make sure that only quality websites would get ranked highly.
Some SEO specialists execute all sorts of methods and strategies to get good ranks for their websites, even if it means performing unethical practices to exploit holes in Google’s algorithm.
Google Updates like Panda and Penguin happen to fix such flaws, so that SERPs are as clean and natural as possible.
This particular update took effect on February 23, 2011 on US-based websites. On April of the same year, it took effect on all English search queries.
It was then applied for non-English search queries—with the exception of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean—on August 12, 2011.
The update was named after one of Google’s own engineers, Navneet Panda, who was one of the major contributors to the algorithm change.
Google has never divulged any specifics as to how its algorithms and its updates work, but the effects on multitudes of websites tell the story.
The Panda update weeds out sites based on a number of factors, such as plenty of duplicate content, little original content, search queries that rank high but don’t match content or advertisements, and few or no quality inbound links.
All these factors are considered, which would then affect the entire website.
When it first hit, 12% of search results on Google were affected. Google continues to apply minor updates based on the first Panda change, with the latest version rolled out on June 11, 2013.
On April 24, 2012, Google rolled out another major update called Penguin. This update was born out of a desire to reduce the number of low-quality websites ranking high due to “over optimized” web pages.
These are basically websites that are filled with spam, as seen on their content and internal and outbound links stuffed with keywords.
Other main targets are websites that practice unnatural linking methods, such as irrelevant links, purchasing links, and joining link networks.
The SEO experts in charge of such websites gave priority to making them look “attractive” to search engines, sacrificing good user experience in the process. Again, this goes contrary to what Google sets out to do in the first place.
The company reported that 3.1% of English search queries have been affected by the Penguin update.
Although there have been complaints about legitimate quality websites getting penalized while some spam-filled websites ranked high, Google believes in the effectiveness of the algorithm.
The company even denies reconsideration requests, saying that affected websites need to just clean up spam and they will no longer be penalized.
Surviving the Panda and the Penguin
Now that you have an understanding of how the two updates work on a fundamental level, you can then take the necessary actions to guarantee that your website/s can rank high without fear of getting penalized now or in the future.
Stick to White Hat SEO
The first thing you need to do is adopt the proper mindset of focusing on marketing your business and not getting distracted by your competition’s own unethical practices that produce high SERP rankings, especially from many links built on spam.
It might be tempting to emulate such shady methods. However, Google will find out sooner or later, and those websites will suffer heavy penalties in the future. As pointed out earlier, such black hat SEO practices are the exact reasons why Google implements these updates.
Research Link Prospects
Link building helps greatly in improving your website’s SERP ranking, but you need to be extra careful in getting inbound links from other websites.
Some obvious signs that you have to watch out for are websites that are littered with ads and those with poor content (i.e., grammatically flawed, outdated or uninformative, duplicate content).
You should also be wary of websites that have plenty of content but do not generate much activity on-site or on social media.
And of course, you do not want to force your own link building strategy by spamming multiple blogs’ comments sections with your profile and website links through the use of automated tools.
Keep Keywords to a Minimum
Having the right keywords placed in your website’s code and content is necessary to achieving good rankings. However, you cannot place keywords left and right without expecting your website not to be penalized, especially if they aren’t relevant to the content.
Keyword stuffing is one of the practices Google Updates aim to make obsolete.
A good amount of keywords relative to the overall amount of words in the content (known as “keyword density”) should be around 3% to 4%.
Do take note that you should not force keywords onto content just to reach that ratio if it leads to the content sounding unnatural.
Remember that your primary goal should be to give users a good experience visiting your site, not merely “impressing” search engines.
Streamline Your Website’s Navigation
Part of a good user experience is being able to navigate a website with ease. Thus, you have to make it convenient for your visitors to hop from page to page in your website through good internal linking.
You would also want to direct your visitors to the appropriate pages where they will find the content their searches are most relevant to.
Link related content if you feel that visitors can do with more information. Also, link to product pages when you think they will be ready to make purchases.
Google Updates in the Future
Because of the impact these updates on Google’s algorithm bring to SERP rankings, the SEO industry is always on the lookout for the next couple of updates.
The money involved in keeping websites ranking high is too great for any business to be careless.
Matt Cutts, one of the head engineers at Google, had already given due warning to SEO specialists about the pending Penguin update.
He said that, similar to the Panda updates, Penguin updates will take time between releases before people can expect them to roll out, but these will have a bigger impact due to even more additional signals with each update.
The algorithm is not going to be modified monthly, but these updates will not be simple data refreshes.
Besides that, there is not much concrete evidence as to what to expect in the future. The only other thing that will possibly stay the same is Google sticking to the animal theme to name the updates.