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Google Unleashes Penguin

At the end of April, Google released a new algorithm update designed to improve search results for users by targeting what Google considers to be “webspam.” The “Penguin Update”, as it is known, follows the “Panda” series of algorithm updates, which focused on penalizing low quality sites with poor content.

Targeting webspam is not a new thing for Google. As Matt Cutts explains in his Webmaster Central Blog post on the subject, this latest update is about improving their approach:

“We’ve always targeted webspam in our rankings, and this algorithm represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content. While we can’t divulge specific signals because we don’t want to give people a way to game our search results and worsen the experience for users, our advice for webmasters is to focus on creating high quality sites that create a good user experience and employ white hat SEO methods instead of engaging in aggressive webspam tactics.”

With the aftershocks of “panda slaps” fresh in memory, webmasters may be worried about “penguin pecks” and want to steer clear of offending practices. Some examples of webspam tactics include:

  • Link schemes – cross-linking for the sake of improving rank, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources, and the long-term impact it will have on their sites
  • Keyword stuffing – filling a webpage with keywords in an unnatural or hidden manner for the sole purpose of manipulating rankings
  • Cloaking – presenting users and search engines with a different webpage or content
  • “Sneaky” JavaScript redirects – using JavaScript to deceive search engines
  • Doorway pages – poor quality pages optimized for specific keywords
  • Duplicate content – substantive text blocks across or within domains that totally match or are significantly similar

When optimizing a website, the key is to first focus on creating a quality site rather than on ranking tricks. For example, while keyword stuffing is bad, writing useful, quality content that allows for the frequent use of keywords will add actual value to the webpage. And while link building schemes are verboten, it is still possible to build links without offending Google. In a recent Search Engine Land Local Search column, Andrew Shotland, explains that directory submissions are great way to build links, if attention is paid to four important factors:

  • Quality – only use high quality local, vertical and niche directories
  • Relevance – make sure the directories you link with are relevant
  • Diversity – use a variety of deep links with varying keyword rich descriptions
  • Timing – rather than using an automated tool, submit links over time

Whether Panda or Penguin, as the algorithm updates roll out, Google acknowledges there is always the potential for wrongful penalization. In this case, webmasters can request Google reconsideration of a website that has been unjustly slapped or pecked.