Surveying the Carnage after Google's Penguin Updates

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

By: Weston Bonnelle

My Background with the Panda and Penguin Updates
Pandas and Penguins are both black and white animals which subtly symbolizes Google separating websites that engage in black hat websites from the white hat websites. Many Penguins live in the arctic and as we’ve witnessed, search engines are becoming an icier environment for SEO.

Much of the talk about the Penguin updates has ceased. Just as the Panda updates there’s initial outrage, press coverage offering intricate recovery advice, think thank webmaster threads outlining trends & possible solutions and then acceptance of defeat or decrees of victory. At least the petition asking Google to retract the Penguin update was thrown in the mix to add some spice to the usual sequence of events.

Despite the growing silence on the Penguin updates, I’m still concerned about the quality bloggers, honest affiliates and innocent small businesses that lost a sizable amount of revenue and page views. I’m waiting to see if Google will dramatically and publicly refine the webspam algorithm but I believe that they are determined to prove a point and show whose boss. I’m not really sure the extent to how much I was affected by the Penguin updates since I was largely affected by the freshness update, an algorithm that favors full time bloggers, news sites and sites with large budgets.

Even though I’m new blogger I felt that I had a full understanding of Panda due to my previous experiences writing for/attempting to write for several online platforms. I tried to write for Bright Hub however the editor commented that I didn’t stuff enough keywords. She didn’t comment on the content or the grammar just the fact that I didn’t use certain types and a certain number of keywords within a 600 word article. So I took the article and it ranked quite well on Google without extraneous keywords. Suite 101 paid pennies to encourage thousands of junk articles. Suite 101 was even bold enough to have tutorials giving specific instructions on how to manipulate search engines (as if a Google employee would never see it, lol) under the guise of SEO and helping their writers increase their earning potential. Demand Studios somewhat became the McDonalds of online articles with their logo on every article (even the articles outside of eHow) almost like the famous McDonalds arch, eHow articles with identical structures to maintain consistency, shallow low quality articles that are easily digestible, cheap writers and parasitic growth as they chased down millions of lucrative titles. I could clearly identify why they were hit by Panda.

Penguin is a bit more ambiguous. Therefore I’m not speaking as an authority just as a keen observer. I also used to be a search engine evaluator for Google so I have some insight into what they are looking for. Most search engine/SEO websites have already given great advice about the Penguin updates so that’s not my primary goal. I’m honestly intrigued by the updates and hopefully my thoughts can help people that looking for something new.

After Thoughts and Precautionary Advice

High CPC keywords are a trap for small/midsized sites. Targeting high CPC keywords as a small blogger, affiliate and business means whenever Google makes another algorithm update your site will be in the midst of those changes, you’re the ideal target for negative SEO, your site might have higher bounce rates than branded websites because visitors don’t know what to expect from you and you have less opportunities to attract credible backlinks since well-known brands have the monopoly on frequent media attention. Sites that are building their brand while trying to profit from high CPC keywords need to have at least 3 times the amount of quality than larger brands. There’s a popular mentality among successful businesses that consumers will only switch brands if the new brand is significantly better. Well you need to take on this mentality with consumers and Google. Consumers need a compelling reason to risk wasting energy, time and/or money to try a new brand.  If you are selling cupcakes and competing with larger brands then you need to figure out how to upstage them. For example, you can offer more personalization, rare flavors or natural ingredients.

You can focus on a niche or as the common advice given by SEOs - target long tail keywords. Instead of cupcakes try chocolate cupcakes, double chocolate cupcakes, mocha cupcakes, etc. Or you can go local. Google prefer smaller sites to be niche to give them the chance to build trust. After you excel in your niche and become a solid brand then you’ll be able to expand your product base with fewer objections from Google. For example Amazon, Apple and Google started off in books, computers and an innovative search engine before they moved to electronics, phones and email. Once you expand then you can market directly to your customers instead of starting off with a bunch of mediocre services & products and wrestling with Google. If you use this method make sure that the name of your site is scalable for example the names Amazon, Apple and Google aren’t restrictive.

Holistic advertising is preferred. Try to be creative instead of conforming to the typical advertising methods spammers use. If you are building backlinks, try to market your brand not just keywords. In fact a few SEO sites mentioned that Google didn’t mind self-generated backlinks that used the name/brand of the site. EasyLunchBoxes is making waves by offering 176 lunch box ideas. I hate using the word viral but the slideshow has grown viral within their target demographics. I’ve seen their lunch ideas shared on several forums and I’ve shared it myself. Unfortunately they don’t rank high for the term lunch box since global brands crowd out smaller competitors for those keywords. Therefore they discovered another method to generate sales. Right now I’m slowly putting up interesting slideshows on Slideshare and I’m thinking of other ways this blog can attract attention by adding value. Modcloth has done very well by sponsoring tons of small and mid-sized fashion blogs. Put yourself in the consumers’& potential clients’ shoes to figure out how to reach out to them. I explain more about holistic affiliate advertising here.

Google is suspicious of sites that get most of their traffic from search engines. One victim claimed that they received about 90% of their traffic from Google. Your traffic should be diversified to appear somewhat legitimate. It’s especially suspicious if you are making 90% of your profit from one keyword that you’ve spammed or if your conversion rate is high for a few pages out of hundreds. I believe that Google does give a bit leeway for newer domains however the older your domain/business is the more direct & referral traffic that you should be receiving. 

Keep a low profile for now. Do not mimic spammers. Don’t hang out where the spammers hang out. Don’t do what the spammers are doing. If you see spammers leaving keyword blog comments ….then don’t do that. If you see spammers buying thousands of backlinks don’t do it. If spammers love leaving links on a particular forum, do not create a profile and leave your blog url at that forum. 

I do understand that some SEOs and small businesses are aggressive. If you are aggressive try to do a variation of what they do. So if spammers are leaving keyword blog comments try leaving “snippets of genius” (a word I made up for knowledgeable comments that add value) with your brand name. If spammers are buying thousands of backlinks try writing articles or selling products that attract backlinks. If spammers are hanging out on forums, try building relationships on a less spammy forum. Small businesses owners could contact popular forum members who blog and send them free products to try out as an incentive to introduce your products & business to their forum and on their blogs.

If you employ SEO services don’t let them spam your site without your knowledge. Specifically tell them what you don’t want them to do. Keep an on eye your site’s backlink profile and speak up if your site is getting artificially high rankings. Generally Google may overly reward spam sites before they are deindexed or slammed down in the rankings.

Be a SEO psychic or SEO lazy. About 3 months before the Penguin updates I removed my old domain (which has a 301 redirect to Analyst District) from Technorati, Blog Engage and Blog Catalog. I just felt that something was on the horizon after the Panda Updates. I didn’t join them just for backlinks but mostly to connect with other bloggers. Since I didn’t achieve that goal I felt that Google would be a bit suspicious so I left (especially since spammers now love Technorati). It took literally 3 months to remove myself from Technorati. Technorati has no customer service and they are predatory towards small blogs. I had to make several contacts, constantly update the thread detailing my complaints and after 3 months they finally realized that I was serious. 

If you can’t be psychic then be SEO lazy. I was fortunate to receive this theme from a site called Premium Blogger Templates. The owner of the site, Lasantha, was SEO genius but not SEO psychic. In the footer of each template he used the anchor keywords "free blogger templates" which was quite effective for a while. After the Penguin updates, Google dropped his high rankings for those keywords. Fortunately he still ranks for "premium blogger templates" but the likeliness of novice bloggers (his target demographic) searching for those keywords is quite low. However many of his competitors were SEO lazy and probably never thought to use this tactic. Their rankings rose after the Penguin updates. The upside to this tale is that he was smart enough to distribute his best templates to sites that still are ranking for those terms. 

If your domain is old Google is expecting a certain amount of branding, growth and popularity. If you haven’t scaled well or if you haven’t made a name for yourself then Google will assume that you probably are a scammer or that your site offers little value. For example, popular sites and businesses are able to introduce new articles and products to an eager audience. If your new products or articles go unnoticed for long periods of time, this is not a positive signal to Google about the value of your site. Small businesses should attempt to gain media attention or at least become well known locally and before attempting to attract national and global consumers. If you don’t Google will take it upon themselves to restrict you locally. 

Were you affected by the Penguin updates? Tell me about it the comments maybe I can try to help J

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