Some pretty widespread panic erupted in the SEO world a few weeks ago when Google rolled out its latest algorithm update, "Penguin." The update dumped many sites into the deep, dark abyss of page 100 in the search results. Oddly, others have not really been seriously hit at all, despite the fact that their link profiles are very manipulative.
This is turning out to be one of the more bizarre updates Google has released and it has kicked up a lot of debate on the subject of its real purpose.
Unlike the previous Panda update we all love so much (do we really need sarcasm tags?), this one doesn't seem to be aimed at improving Google's search results at all. Its primary purpose seems to be penalizing sites with manipulative link profiles, or sites that are in violation of Google's guidelines. Obviously, that could be seen as a contradictory statement.
Because, seriously: how can you remove spammy pages and not improve the search results? But consider it for a minute.
Well, think of it like this: Even if there are great sites in the top few positions, if one of them happens to be manipulative, Google will take it down, even though it's a quality search result.
Clearly, this means that Google is willing to make their search results worse (at least, temporarily), purely to send a message. So, what message are they trying to send?
That everyone has to follow their guidelines no matter what. No favoritism, handouts or favors.
This is a pretty tough pill to swallow for many sites out there that were ranking well, providing great value, but unfortunately (for them) were using some frowned-upon link building from an SEO service or link network.
There are some serious -30 and -100 penalties being doled out but the main thrust of the update seems to have been link devaluation. In fact, Penguin appears to be all about link profiles. There don't seem to be a whole lot of on-page factors being considered at all, other than really excessive keyword density (say, 7-8% or more).
While the focus has been to get rid of the worst spam out there, the sites with loads of spammy links and obvious manipulative practices, there also seem to be a lot of sites with somewhat less spammy links that have been affected. This included some pretty common (and, to our mind, legitimate) things like having your clients' sites linking back to you.
Another interesting fact that has come to light is that there seem to be more sites hit in the marketing and services field than any other. That said, this might not be niche-specific, but just simple correlation with the fact that these industries tend to buy more links than most others, and that they are significantly more vocal about SEO updates.
Due to the unpredictable (capricious?) nature of Penguin, Google has set up a form for anyone to fill out that feels their site has been penalized unfairly. This is highly unusual for Google, but seeing as though this update has nothing to do with search quality, there wasn't really any way for them to test it before rolling it out. So, if you really want to appeal to almighty Google, you can go and fill out the form here:
Anyway, the message Google is sending has become clear:
Stick to Google's guidelines or prepare to have your site penalized, whether it's good stuff you're putting out there, or not. Like the honey badger, Google doesn't care.
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