Pengiun-monium: What Google’s new algorithm changes means for SEO


If Panda was the new “law of the land,” Penguin is law enforcement. Google’s new algorithm update signals the beginning of the end for spammers, but it also spells trouble for honest webmasters. What Penguin does is try to better enforce the Panda filter by filtering over-optimized websites from its search results. That’s right, penalties aren’t just for blackhat sites anymore.

Webmaster’s Note: This is a guest post by Peter Nevis

What’s puzzling is that better enforcement of the Panda update might mean that legitimate sites get hurt in the crossfire. That’s OK, according to Google. It “levels the playing field” so that users presumably get a better experience when searching for whatever it is they’re searching for. One of the problems that webmasters have always faced is whether to write for search engines or write for users. In the past, even “White hat” sites had to struggle with this, because it was clear that Google was rewarding low-quality, spammy, websites by giving them prominence in the search results.

No More SEO

Now, those white knights of the Internet can go back to focusing on content. Matt Cutts has been pretty clear on this one, stating that:

“And so that’s the sort of thing where we try to make the web site, uh Google Bot smarter, we try to make our relevance more adaptive so that people don’t do SEO, we handle that”

Yes, Cutts is basically saying that Google doesn’t want people to do SEO. That’s going to be a hard rule to break for most people. They’re so used to trying to figure out what Google wants. Now, they’re being asked to trust Google to do its thing and let the rankings fall where they may. This focus on creating quality content means that Google clearly wants you to write for web visitors, not for the search engines.

You basically have to ask yourself some key questions:

  1. Would you trust the information in the article you just wrote if you were a stranger reading it for the first time?
  1. Are you an enthusiast or expert writing about this topic?
  1. Is your article similar to other articles on your site or does it contain overlapping or outright duplicate content?
  1. Does your article contain a lot of spelling errors?
  1. Are you honestly providing substantial value to your readers?
  1. Are you being objective?
  1. If you waived your hand at Google, and put a bulls-eye on your site, would Google congratulate you or would they ban your site from the Internet? In other words, would you be ashamed of making your content public to a real human being that judges whether a site sinks or swims in a search engine?

Negative SEO

The side-effect of the new Penguin update is that it might have inadvertently increased the effectiveness of something called “negative SEO.” This is a strategy whereby a competitor tries to harm your site through link building or other blackhat SEO strategies. The competitor makes you look like you’re the bad guy, and your site gets caught in the algorithm and your rank suffers.

Penguin looks for a few things to determine what to do with sites. First, it looks at the exact match anchor text in poor quality articles. Second, it looks at the ratio of bad links coming from unmoderated blogs. Finally, it looks at the ratio of a vacant blog. In other words, a blog with no real activity on it compared to the inbound links. If a competitor buys an SEO service with the intent of serving up poor-quality articles and spammy-looking links that point to your site, he could theoretically trip the new Penguin filter and have your site devalued. In fact, a few tests have already been done to show that this method actually works better than before the update.

What can you do about it? Unfortunately, not much. The best you can do is to continue to create quality content and report any suspicious link activity you see to Google. Let it be known that you’re engaged in any nefarious link building activity. It may or may not help, but until Google comes up with a patch for this, it’s the best you can do for your organic ranking.

If you’re willing to venture outside the world of organic ranking, you can try to increase your click-through traffic by doing guest blog posts, focusing more on your social media presence, and buying ads on Google’s advertising network to boost traffic.

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  • I guess we should have expected this inevitability from Google. They are tired to trying to figure out if someone is a “black” or “white” hat SEO and are tired of giving higher rankings to lower-quality sites. We now should just focus on the content and get traffic from people WANTING to view our content, not just who can put the most links out there…

    • Couldn’t agree with you more Greg. I’m trying to put out a ‘Content Tutorial’ as my next series in SEO Hacker School.

  • Great post.
    I agree on the tips. It is mainly about content and how user-friendly (shareable) that content is.
    I picked up a client on Apr 27th that was badly damaged by the penguin updates.
    From #1 in Google to nowhere in the top 100.
    With a little over a month’s worth of work, we are now back on the front page for his main keywords.
    Its the lower part of the top 10, but we are inching closer back to the top :)

    I added a lot of work to Pinterest, built some strong backlinks, cleaned up some crappy ones, and cleaned up content, as well as created new content. Now we are heading back to the top and he and I both couldn’t be happier.

    I just wanted to share that success story and let everyone know that you can recover from the penguin.
    Thanks for the article and the post here Peter.

    • Pinterest? How’d pinterest get you out of Penguin? That’s something worth hearing.
      Congrats to your recovery from Penguin Ryan. Wish more SEO specialists did their job in a ‘Future-proof’ manner.

  • Hi Peter,
    Despite having negative effects, I think this Penguin update is quite a good thing if it results in producing better content that actually provides value to readers.
    I’ve just been reading a post on using some simple but solid SEO principles and not worrying about being affected by any future updates. The author, Steve Hippel, shares his tips on using LSI keywords, writing for the reader and tweaking for the search engines, building good relationships and readerships instead of thousands of links, etc.
    It may be slow work at first but will serve webmasters well in the long term.
    Thanks for sharing this info about Penguin, Peter.

    • What Steve Hippel says is true. That’s the kind of SEO that Google is looking to work with. That’s what’s going to be ‘future-proof’ because it is a user-centric approach.

  • Cheryl

    Yeah, there’s not really much we can do about it but focus on creating quality content, social media and hopefully get quality traffic also.

  • Good article, Peter, but I have to disagree with your conclusion that Google doesn’t want anyone to do SEO. Matt Cutts has been pretty clear that Google sees SEO as a good thing when it is focused upon helping Google to figure out what your site is really all about, or writing in a way that will highlight your content more effectively in relevant search terms.

    In other words, Google wants you to do SEO, but only if your SEO efforts are all about doing their job for them.

    The fact is, though, that SEO – even off-site SEO still works and is still necessary for a site’s success.

    I do have to agree, though, that Penguin and Panda have shifted the focus back to creating great cntent rather than engaging in distasteful and questionable SEO tactics just in order to keep up.

    Link building, however, is still necessary, and social media SEO is becoming more and more crucial.

    • Hey Larry,
      Good insight. SEO is here to stay because it consequently helps Google – they call the shots anyway and we follow. That’s just how it works.

      • Thanks sean I agreed. None of us can ever be perfect, and no one expects us to be. However, we can all improve our style and sound smarter by following these tips.
        Put your user first.
        Put yourself in the background.
        Focus on your contant.

  • Agam Bhatnagar

    Great article and discussion here…..