Penguins, Pandas and Other Deadly Creatures

Jul 16, 2012  |  By Ron Wesson  |  

There has been much murmuring in the internet world about the recent major updates by Google to how they determine search result rankings, innocuously named Panda and Penguin. These friendly-sounding creatures have turned out to be quite vicious in some instances, apparently swallowing entire websites whole or sinking them deep into the nether regions of the search results pages. If you were someone whose website essentially dropped off of virtual earth you know what I mean.

So what happened?  How do you protect yourself and your loved ones (websites) from these innocent-looking animals of mass destruction? Turns out, the secret is to do things the right way;  just like your dad always told you.

Think about it. Google’s job is to crawl the entire internet, read every website, figure out what each page is about, and store that information. Then, when John Q. Public does an internet search for anything from “where to find the best roasted garbanzo beans” to “how to potty-train a guinea pig,” Google looks through its massive database and determines within seconds which website is most likely to be the one John would be interested in. They do this with an incredibly complex equation of factors known as the Google Algorithm. This exact algorithm is as much a secret as Colonel  Sanders’  blend  of 11 herbs and spices but experts in this sort of thing, known as Search Engine Optimization specialists, or SEOs, have pieced together many of the elements. They have done this both through experimentation and also through Google’s own documentation. What happens next is inevitable.

In the ultra-competitive world of search engine marketing, where websites exist for every conceivable (and some inconceivable) subject and purpose, website owners and marketers will do anything they can to rise above the din. Ranking first on Google’s search results for a competitive search term can mean the difference between running a multi-million dollar business and having to ask, “Do you want fries with that, sir?”

Unfortunately, some of the most important factors of the Google algorithm can be abused as webmasters and SEOs attempt to “out-optimize” each other, often to the detriment of the website and the internet searcher. Anyone who has ever done a search for “great cupcake recipes” and was sent to a website trying to sell them sexual performance medication knows what I’m talking about. This is not only bad for someone who wants a cupcake, it’s bad for Google as well since their business depends on being able to accurately respond to user search queries.

Google responds to this “over-optimization” by adjusting their algorithm, introducing special filters, or even manually making adjustments if necessary. As a result of these methods to try and neutralize the algorithm abusers, many other websites can get caught in the fracas and if you’re not aware of the techniques you, or your web marketing team have introduced into your website for SEO, you may sustain some serious collateral damage as well.

Since Panda and Penguin are Google’s attempt to combat thin or duplicate website content and what they refer to as “over optimization,” there are definitely steps you can take to avoid these problem. I will introduce the concepts below and in the following weeks we will get more in depth into each of them.

Provide Quality Content

You must continue to add relevant, quality content to your website. This can vary depending on the type of website, but if you want your site to “outrank” your competitors in terms of search results, you better provide fresher, more relevant, more shared and more useable original content than your competitors.

Avoid Over-Optimization

Build your website for your readers, not for Google.  Although you definitely want Google to be able to read your content and know what it is about, Google is not your audience. Unnaturally stuffing targeted keywords into every corner of your website is so early 2,000’s. Strive to make the language natural and organic, while at the same time introducing your desired keywords and phrases. Don’t be afraid to vary the terms. Google is becoming increasingly sophisticated about figuring out the subject matter of your website, let the content get you the rankings, not keyword stuffing.

Build Natural Links

Linking from outside websites has always been a major part of Google’s search algorithm; it has also been one of the most abused. By providing the quality content as listed above and avoiding the temptation to over-optimize by stuffing keywords, you will attract links to your website that are natural and organic. These are the links that will survive as Google continues to step up their efforts to prune search results.

Just think, with so much trouble coming from friendly sounding updates like Panda and Penguin, what happens when Google really gets serious and comes out with a Great White Shark or Honey Badger update? Be prepared.

Ron Wesson
Search Engine Optimization Specialist

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