We're approaching the 1-year anniversary since the Google Penguin introduction on April 24, 2012. Yet many marketers either still don't fully understand what the algorithm update entails or have been naive to the fact that ignoring the update can have major ramifications to how your website is ranked in search results -- if you still partake in old, web-spam SEO tactics (aka "black hat SEO tactics").
Like Google Panda, which rolled out in numerous installments, Google Penguin has evolved as well. And there's said to be another big Penguin update rolling out in 2013.
This post will provide an overview of the main updates that have rolled out to date and provide explanation on the top ways to get on Google Penquin's bad side if you're unwilling to change old habits that can now tarnish your website's search engine optimization (SEO).
1. Keyword Stuffing
The act of keyword stuffing has been frowned upon for quite some time but with the introduction of Penguin, websites using this tactic are being penalized. So, what classifies as keyword stuffing? Google defines it as "the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site's ranking in Google search results."
Keyword stuffing is most often used in the meta keywords section of a web page but is also used within the on-page text, which can cause a negative user experience. Examples include:
- lists or groups of phone numbers or cities/states
- repeating variations of a keyword within the page copy that a webpage is trying to rank for
Simply put: focus on creating unique, information-rich content that is useful to the end-user of your site, and only utilize keywords that are appropriate and in context of what the page is about.
2. Overuse of Exact-Match Link Text
One of the biggest concerns among SEO professionals when Penguin hatched was the penalty for over-optimized link/anchor text. What had become standard practice and a major influence on impacting search rank was coming back to haunt a lot of sites that had possibly overused this tactic.
Ben Holbrook of State of Search said it best in his post on the topic of Anchor Text Post Penguin, saying the NEW ‘Holy Grail’ of anchor text is variation. His example for Nike shoes illustrates the point perfectly. If a shoe store's primary keyword is "running shoes" and their brand of choice is "Nike," they could use the following link text variations:
- Read more about running shoes from Nike
- Find out more about Nike running shoes
- Modern running shoes from Nike
- New Nike running shoes
Google has also said that if 60-65% of your links all contain the exact same keywords, they'll consider it over-optimization. If you follow the new rule of variation you shouldn't have to worry too much on whether you're under this percentage.
3. Link Schemes
On the topic of links is another all-encompassing subject known as "link schemes." Since your site's ranking in Google search results is partly based on an analysis of other sites that link to yours, based on the quantity, quality, and relevance of these links, website admins and SEO professionals have been able to use tactics in the past to unnaturally build these links in an attempt to trick Google's algorithm.
According to Google, the most common forms of link schemes that can have a negative impact on your site's search results (under the Penguin update) include:
- Buying or selling links that pass PageRank
- Excessive link exchanging (e.g. "Link to me and I'll link to you")
- Linking to web spammers or unrelated sites with the intent to manipulate PageRank
- Building partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking
- Using automated programs or services to create links to your site
Some examples of "Unnatural Links" that violate Penguin guidelines, and that have been the root of many link building campaigns for years, include:
- Links that are inserted into web pages and blog articles without context
- Low-quality directory or bookmark site links
- Links embedded in widgets or infographics that are distributed across various sites
- Widely distributed links in footers of various sites (most often used by website developers, to put their name on their clients' websites)
- Forum and blog comments with keyword-rich links in the post or signature (a major pet peeve of ours here at Weidert Group with comments on our posts!)
In summary: focus on creating original, well-crafted content that offers valuable insights, and you'll organically attract links from others.
4. Overuse of Exact-Match Domains/URLs
The best way to sum up exact-match domains/URLs are those that exactly match the search query, which at one time was a tactic to trick the system into thinking your page/site was the best match.
With Penguin, the algorithm has gotten smarter and your approach with crafting custom URLs should be focused on the user. There's nothing saying you can't still incorporate keywords into your domain and custom page URLs but their weight on helping a page rank has diminished. So, keep them simple and clean.
5. Low-Quality Content Promotion & Blog Spam
We've covered this topic countless times and it's a recurring theme in the Inbound/Content Marketing industry, but your focus with creating content should ALWAYS be focused primarily on the user and not search engines. Simply creating content for frequency rather than quality and obsessing over keyword usage or how many sites you can share it on doesn't work if your spitting out low-quality content with no value.
The Google Webmaster guidelines for creating quality content is as followed:
- Don't deceive your users
- Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A useful test is to ask, "Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?"
- Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field!
If writing isn't your forte, enlist the help of a professional content writer or grab a copy of our content creation templates to help give your writing a strategic foundation.
6. Purposeful Duplicate Content
Every bit of content you create for your site should have a purpose obviously, but creating duplicate pages of the same content to optimize for different keywords is now looked down upon and can get you into some trouble with Penguin.
With that said don't get overly paranoid about a footer disclaimer and/or your contact information if it appears on all your web pages. These aren't looked upon as being "purposeful duplicate content" that are trying to increase a page's search rank.
It's yet to be seen what Google has in the Penguin queue for 2013 but what is known is the fact that old SEO tactics need to be forgotten. A strong focus on creating original and remarkable content, and a unique and pleasant user experience should be the focus if you want to create a website that will perform well in search for years to come.