It’s Sunday afternoon. If you’re like most normal people, you’re grabbing a quick afternoon nap or shuttling the kids to and from games or birthday parties. The last thing that’s on your mind is Matt Cutts. Hell, you probably don’t even know who Matt Cutts is! And why should you? He’s only the head of web spam at Google.
This past Friday, October 4, 2013, at 4:50 PM, good ole Matt Cutts announces via Twitter that, “Penguin 2.1 launching today. Affects ~1% of searches to a noticeable degree.” Nothing like an update to Google’s organic ranking algorithm to snap a web marketer out of weekend-induced euphoria and back into work mode.
About Google’s Updates
If you’re like most of the visitors to this site, you’re a business owner. You probably have no clue what I’m talking about when I mention organic ranking algorithm updates. For all you know, Google Penguin 2.1 refers to a new video game.
And maybe you don’t care … That is, until you get to the office tomorrow and the phone is silent. You pick it up and listen for a dial tone. The line isn’t dead, you’re just not getting any calls. You dig through your desk drawers trying to find that username and password your web guy sent you to access Google Analytics.
When you finally log in, you see the problem.
What happened to all your website traffic? Maybe your website has crashed or your bonehead web guy forgot to pay the web hosting bill? You enter your website address into Internet Explorer, and to your surprise, your site loads just fine.
Something’s not right, but what could it be?
You might be experiencing what many other business owners are all too familiar with—a website penalty caused by an update to Google’s organic search ranking algorithm. Now, suddenly you’re curious to know who Matt Cutts is and what Google Penguin 2.1 is all about.
Google uses an ever-changing and extremely complex algorithm to determine which websites rank where within its organic search results. In an attempt to create higher-ranking websites, search engine optimization (SEO) companies are constantly trying to reverse engineer Google’s algorithm.
For example (and this and the example below are just that—examples!), let’s say an SEO company determines through analysis that websites with frequently updated blogs rank higher on Google than those without frequently updated blogs. This would give business owners a compelling reason to blog on a more regular basis. Want to rank higher on Google, Mr. Business Owner? You better start blogging or hire me to do it for you!
There’s nothing wrong with SEO companies trying to figure out Google’s magic formula. The problem arises when companies exploit some aspect of Google’s ranking algorithm to rank a website that really doesn’t deserve to be ranking well for a particular set of keywords.
For example, let’s say Joe’s Cars in Nowhereville, USA, hires an SEO company to rank them for the keyword “used cars.” Joe’s Cars has an inventory of about 15 used pickup trucks and they sell them to people within a 20-30 mile radius of their lot in Nowhereville. The SEO company they hire happens to have access to a massive network of random websites they use to create links for their clients (aka, a link farm or a link scheme). The SEO company uses their link farm to create millions of links to Joe’s Cars. Suddenly, Joe’s Cars is ranking on the first page of Google for these search phrases! Presto—great success!
The trouble is, in this scenario, there’s only one winner.
For the purposes of this blog, let’s operate under the assumption that Google wants to provide searchers with the most relevant and authoritative organic results given the query. Visitors expect Google’s top organic results to be relevant to whatever they searched. Someone living in Chicago and searching “used cars” expects to find Cars.com, Carmax, or, at a local level, the used car lot right down the street—the one with the most inventory and great reviews (something that’s rare in the used car world).
If they happened to find Joe’s Cars on the first page and clicked it, they’d “bounce” back to the search page in frustration. Joe’s Cars is of ZERO value to virtually every visitor that finds the site, because their inventory is tiny and they are located in the middle of nowhere. Joe’s Cars’s used pickup trucks are relevant to someone living in Nowhereville looking for a used pickup truck. While Joe’s probably should rank for searches like “used pickup truck dealership Nowhereville,” they should NOT be ranking for “used cars.”
So the SEO community is constantly trying to figure out how Google works, and Google is constantly updating its algorithm to keep them guessing, except not really.
Google’s updates are not really designed with the SEO community in mind; at least I don’t think they are. Google updates are designed to make the web look more like the real world. If you walked into a retail store called Discount Mattresses and found yourself surrounded by chairs, you’d be annoyed. The web is no different. If you search for something, you want to find search results that match up with what you searched.
Google Panda vs. Penguin
Google claims that it makes thousands of updates to its organic ranking algorithm each year. As you might imagine, most of these updates are not publicly announced. However, some larger updates are announced and even given names—like Panda and Penguin.
What’s the difference between Google Panda and Google Penguin?
Google’s Panda update, first announced in February 2011, was designed to punish websites using low-quality sites—particularly those with low-quality content, copied content, content farms, etc.
Google Penguin was launched on April 24, 2012, and was designed to fight web spam and “black hat SEO techniques” (SEO techniques clearly against Google’s Webmaster Quality Guidelines). Sites penalized by Google Penguin were often found using SEO tactics such as keyword stuffing, link schemes, cloaking, and more.