SEO for PR: Google’s ‘Penguin’ update could affect your search results

What you can do if your search rankings are suffering.

On April 24, Google announced an update to the way it ranks web pages. The update is called “Penguin” or the webspam update.

It should not be confused with the recent “Knowledge Graph” changes PR Daily covered in March. Since the Penguin update, some brands may have seen changes in the way their articles or websites rank in Google, but for the most part, sites which adhere to Google’s SEO guidelines or quality guidelines should be safe from any serious changes to their organic search traffic and rankings.

In fact, the update could benefit websites practicing “white hat” search engine optimization (SEO) tactics (that’s in accordance with Google’s guidelines) by dropping sites that practice “black hat” or “spammy” SEO.

Why did Google make the update?

Google makes many updates to its ranking algorithm throughout the year to provide users the best organic search experience. Over the years, a lot of spam websites have emerged. They are designed to manipulate the algorithm to rank for high-volume searches.

Google wants to assure users that only sites that legitimately deserve a high ranking will appear because they provide quality, relevant content. By screening underserving listings, Google aims to keep users happy—as the company points out on its Webmaster Central Blog:

“The goal of many of our ranking changes is to help searchers find sites that provide a great user experience and fulfill their information needs.”

What are black-hat SEO behaviors?

There are many black-hat SEO tactics, but the Penguin update is primarily focused on the following:

Keyword Stuffing. Placing a hodgepodge of terms on your page with the hopes of your page ranking for as many of them as possible. This is a popular tactic, which Google is sniffing out even stronger via Penguin. To prevent your site getting flagged for keyword stuffing, keep content and tags focused around a few (ideally one to two) keywords or central themes.

Abusive Link Practices. Since search engines rely on the number of links pointing to a page to determine credibility, some people employ pay-for-links services. As Google outlined, these services sometime get links from irrelevant or poorly rated sites. Many black hat SEO’ers use this tactic to get a higher page value, but Google’s getting more sophisticated about sniffing this out. Link building can be a land mine tactic, so it’s best to build links organically by providing genuinely useful and unique content that users will be apt to link to or share.

What should I do if I notice a drop in rankings or anything else negative on the results page?

Do a search for your brand name or an important topic that’s relevant to your brand to see if anything looks different. You can also track your site analytics to see if there have been noticeable changes in your traffic.

If so, Penguin and Google may have flagged your content and dropped your page from the search results. Notify your SEO team if anything looks funny and/or reach proactively to ask if they’re seeing any negative effects as a result of Penguin (and if they are, what they’re doing about it). If you are seeing any negative effects, find out what is causing it on the small chance you’re inadvertently doing something like keyword stuffing your articles.

While this latest update is only expected to affect 3.1 percent of searches, it’s a notable change. Continue to check the search results for your brand to monitor any potential impact.

Nick Papagiannis is director of interactive/search for independent marketing and communications firm Cramer-Krasselt.

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