A few months have now passed since we found out that not all penguins are cute and friendly. Google’s “Penguin” algorithm update came with a considerable bite for some digital publishers.
Anyone engaged in internet marketing at any level will be familiar with “Penguin”. Google’s latest algorithm adjustment was designed to weed out low quality websites and, those engaged in activities designed to inflate their site’s rankings in breach of Google’s webmaster guidelines.
For those that are not familiar with Google’s Penguin a little background recap. Each year Google issues hundreds of updates to its search engine algorithm and most of these go unnoticed, generally creating a little bot of noise within the industry but little beyond that. Occasionally, however, Google issues an update that has a significant impact and these updates usually get their own benign sounding name. In this instance the update was called “Penguin” and it was launched on 24th April 2012.
This particular update set the internet marketing forums alight with chatter and had many website owners up in arms claiming their business had been destroyed over night. Indeed, many an established business was wiped out. But on the whole those businesses had not been playing fair for some time. In Google’s own words the update was aimed at targeting websites that were employing tactics to manipulate their search rankings that fell outside Google’s guidelines.
So now that the dust has generally settled and search nerds like myself have had time to analyse the factors that caused some sites to rise and others to fall into oblivion, what exactly were the factors that triggered this particular penguin to bite?
From the considerable research we have conducted over the past months it appears that 5 key factors attracted the attention of Penguin. A site employing any one of these tactics was very likely to have been picked up on by Penguin. Therefore, for those developing new websites make sure you avoid these factors to remain friends with the Penguin.
The 5 key factors are:
1. A High Concentration Of keyword Anchor Text
As recently as six months ago it was all about the anchor text. This is the keywords that are placed within a link to a website. The more anchor text links that you had for a specific keyword or phrase the higher your website would rank (subject to a few qualitative considerations).
This lead many website owners to focus in on a narrow range of anchor texts in their backlink building efforts. Fast forward a few months and this pattern of tightly focused anchor text linking now acts like a giant red flag to the Penguin and marks out your website as one that has probably been trying to manipulate its rankings.
When creating and distributing content pick anchor texts that are meaningful and fit naturally with the content. Don’t focus on your target keywords. Instead use anchor text focused “around” your target keywords.
2. Insufficient Variation Of Link Types
Building backlinks to a website is easy. Doing it in a way that results in the distribution of high quality content is not so easy. Website marketers had for many years knocked out worthless content that they submitted to article directory after article directory. Google was so bad at telling good content from bad content that it made no difference what content they pushed out. The result was that websites looking for a quick route to higher rankings often focused on one type of link generation, got good at it and kept on pushing at that tactic. The result was a very narrow link profile and probably the second biggest flag to this Penguin.
Create quality “linkbait” and you will naturally generate a diverse range of inbound links.
3. Too High A Percentage Of Non Related Links
It was always far easier to get links from websites that are not related topically to your own website. For example generic websites like article directories, classified adverts or low quality blogs that would accept your content for a small payment. But getting high quality links from established websites or blogs in your own sector was always much harder. Owners of legitimate blogs or websites that they cared about are unlikely to link out to unrelated sites that will not have a value for their own readers.
By all means engage in “outreach” link development but focus on building relationships with websites in your sector.
4. Excessive On Page Optimisation
Once upon a time repeating your target keywords over and over within your page copy and stuffing them into your title and header tags would have been enough to shoot your site up to the 1st page for most keywords. This of course meant that the search results were full of spam fly by night websites. Over time Google has got very good at detecting this spam. The non spam brigade would always say “write for your readers not search engines” and this holds particularly true in the post Penguin era. Google doesn’t need you to repeat a keyword dozens of times in order to know what the content is about. It is important that the content contains your target
Google wants to see natural writing that educates and engages the attention of readers. Content that genuinely adds value.
5. No evidence of Visitor Engagement
Visitors naturally engage with quality website pages. If a visitor hits a page and then leaves it very quickly that is a good signal to Google that the page is of a low quality. It didn’t engage the visitor so why should Google place it high up the listings?!
Of particular importance is the web page’s bounce rate. Bounce rate measure the percentage of visitors that remain on a page for more than 3 seconds. If your bounce rate is higher than 60% then you are at risk. If your bounce rate is greater than 80% then you are waving one great big flag and can expect.
Social signals come into play here too. Truly engaging content tends to give off strong social signals as it is naturally shared.
Add quality related content to web pages to increase engagement. Related articles, guides, videos and even good graphics help to keep visitors on your web pages longer, whilst also encouraging them t share that content socially.