Everything You Need to Know About Google's Penguin Algorithm
It’s been about a week since Google released its “Penguin Update”, but the web is still buzzing loudly about it. For the uninitiated, Penguin is a new search algorithm that aims to combat webspam in SERPs. This is one of Google’s biggest updates since Panda back in February 2011, and it is supposed affect 3% of queries.
What is Penguin all about?
Google’s Penguin update targets websites that implement “black hat” SEO tactics such as “cloaking” or “keyword stuffing” to get ahead in search results. Google wants to reward webmasters who come up great sites, while making sure that webspam gets buried in search results. According to the search giant’s official blog post:
The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines. We’ve always targeted webspam in our rankings, and this algorithm represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content. While we can't divulge specific signals because we don't want to give people a way to game our search results and worsen the experience for users, our advice for webmasters is to focus on creating high quality sites that create a good user experience and employ white hat SEO methods instead of engaging in aggressive webspam tactics.
As usual, the specific details on how the new algorithm works is kept top secret, but Google did provide specific examples of the websites that will be affected. (See below.)
Will your website take a hit?
While the Penguin update will affect a smaller number of queries compared to last year’s Panda algorithm (Penguin affects 3% while Panda affected 12% of search queries), Google states that a regular user is still bound to notice it.
In essence, websites that don’t adhere to Google’s quality guidelines are the ones most likely to be affected by this update. If you’ve gotten involved in link schemes designed to boost your PageRank or if you have any links to spammy websites on the Internet, then your site could take a hit with the Penguin update.
Other tactics that could contribute to a negative effect on your rankings include:
Keyword stuffing – The first of the two images that Google posted is a clear example of keyword stuffing which a big no-no for SEOs. Try not to reiterate your keywords too much in a post, in order to not raise any eyebrows. A good rule is to stick to 2 – 4 keyword mentions. Also avoid randomly repeating keywords in a page and make sure that the content actually makes sense.
Hidden text and links – This violation includes making the text or link color the same as the background color, using CSS to hide text/links, setting the font size down to 0, and hiding text and links behind images.
Cloaking – According to Google webmaster tools, this tactic usually involves “Serving different content to search engines than to users” or “Serving a page of HTML text to search engines, while showing a page of images or Flash to users.”
Doorway pages – These “are typically large sets of poor-quality pages where each page is optimized for a specific keyword or phrase. In many cases, doorway pages are written to rank for a particular phrase and then funnel users to a single destination.”
Duplicate Content – Google highly favors original, high quality content in its search results, because it wants to keep its SERPs lean and as informative as possible. Deliberately spreading duplicate or highly similar content to gain traffic or to deceive search engines is a violation of the search engine’s quality guidelines.
How to check if Penguin affected you
Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land offered some great advice on determining if your site was affected by Google’s Penguin algorithm. According to him, simply check your search-related traffic from Google after April 24. If you see a drop compared to previous days, then you may have been affected. “See a rise in traffic? You probably benefited from Penguin. See no change? Then it really had no impact on you.”
Guilty? What to do to get back in Google’s good graces
If your website was affected by this new update, check your messages in Google Webmaster Central and see if there’s anything that was flagged as spam. If so, then simply remove those spammy items. Google doesn’t always alert webmasters for spam though, so if there were no items flagged, then manually examine the pages on your website and see if there’s anything that might be in violation of Google’s quality guidelines.
Make sure that you don’t have any hidden content or links and keep an eye out for the sneaky redirects mentioned above. Do you have a lot of duplicated, spun, or auto-generated content on your site? If so, take them down. The same goes for poor quality content. If a page has far too many words but provides very little value to users, then be sure to make improvements.
Affected by Penguin but didn’t do anything wrong? Here’s how to reach out to Google
If you checked all the pages on your website and you’re positive that you didn’t do anything wrong, you can contact Google through the Penguin Feedback form here. In the form, you’ll be asked to provide the URL of the affected page as well as the query showing “non-ideal” results. Also add a description about your website as well as any comments that you might have about why you shouldn’t be affected by the update.
On the other hand, if you’re running across spammy content and sites using “black hat” techniques that aren’t affected by the update, you can report them using Google’s spam reporting page on Webmaster Tools. Be sure to include the term “penguin” in the details.
People Aren’t Pleased with Penguin
Businesses and publishers that were negatively affected by the Penguin algorithm are now speaking up against the search giant. Yesterday, a petition that calls for Google to “kill” the Penguin update was published on change.org
The petition states that the recent update has made it “nearly impossible for small content based websites to stay competitive with large publishers like eHow, WikiHow, Yahoo Answers and Amazon.” It furthers that “countless webmasters have seen their livelihoods vanish overnight,” and it lists stories from independent publishers affected by the algorithm. You view the petition here.