It’s been a few weeks since Google announced and subsequently rolled out its latest algorithm change, Penguin 2.0—and as the dust settles, it’s becoming apparent that SEO professionals of all stripes need to take stock of their strategies.
Like the other algorithm changes that have shaken up the industry, Penguin 2.0 promises to improve reward systems for quality content while only penalizing sites that cross the line between black hat and white hat marketing techniques. The real shocker, though, is for those who have been skirting that line—the line just got moved, and you might need to make some changes to stay on the right side of it. Now that the industry is well into post-rollout recovery mode, it’s time to examine the good, the bad and the ugly sides of Penguin 2.0.
As Google webspam guru Matt Cutts continually assures industry veterans, Penguin 2.0 is designed to improve the web’s functionality. Like a trip to the dentist, it’s not necessarily pleasant, but you’re better off in the long run.
The two most important words to remember with this update are quality content. With its latest algorithm, Google wants to better-reward websites that regularly produce quality content and cultivate a good reputation on the web.
While backlinks have long been considered a marker of good content, Google is re-examining the way it values them—if your inbound links aren’t highly relevant or are built too quickly, they could lose their value. By focusing on quality, credibility and relevance over quantity, you can stay in the search engine’s good graces and minimize your penalties. Basically, if you don’t do anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about—in theory, anyway.
In practice, it’s a slightly different story, because strategies that once occupied a certain gray area are now punishable offenses. That’s the bad news—it’s time to clean house, and depending on the strategies you’ve adopted in the past, this could mean a lot of work.
You need to hunt down and disavow bad backlinks—even ones that Google didn’t think twice about before. The search engine is adopting stricter guidelines for what makes backlinks credible, focusing on the relevance of the site and even the anchor text you use. It may hurt to watch your hard work go to waste, and it will definitely take a good, long time to perform all of this maintenance, but be ruthless in your efforts to eliminate questionable inbound links—you’re better off losing them altogether than being penalized for them.
Of course, there’s always been an ugly side to SEO, and with Penguin 2.0, it just got a whole lot uglier.
This latest update leaves your website even more vulnerable than before, and is going to require near-constant vigilance on your part, especially as it opens the door to a potential new wave in negative SEO.
When Google determines that your site is the destination of low-quality backlinks, or that the content on your pages is identical to content somewhere else, it doesn’t matter who’s to blame—you’re going to be penalized. This has led to negative SEO, the practice of intentionally hurting another website’s rank by making it appear unfavorable to Google.
For example, if a competitor buys thousands of low-quality links to your website, you’re the one that’s going to be penalized. Penguin 2.0 penalizes users for low-quality off-site optimization, and because virtually anyone can “optimize” you off-site, you have to diligently ensure that you aren’t being victimized.
Closely monitor your backlink profile, and analyze any unnatural or unexpected spikes. While the odds of being targeted by negative SEO are relatively slim, the consequences can be devastating if you don’t catch it early and stop it in its tracks.
Living with Penguin
Ultimately, Penguin 2.0 demonstrates that the more things change, the more things stay the same. As usual, the update should refine the SEO process for ethical marketers, even if they feel a little more pressure from the strict guidelines implemented to weed out spammers. While you may have to rethink your strategies, undo your past work and monitor your performance more closely, Penguin 2.0 encourages better practices and levels the playing field for everyone who plays by the rules.
How has your SEO strategy changed with the Penguin 2.0 rollout?
Solomon Thimothy is the founder and CEO of integrated marketing firm OneIMS and its online marketing division, ClickXPosure. From their joint headquarters in Chicago, he specializes in web design and development, SEO, PPC, and a wide range of digital and traditional marketing strategies. You can connect with Solomon on Twitter or on Google+.