The newest Google algorithm update, Penguin 3, has been a topic of conversation in marketing and SEO departments the last few days. Since algorithm updates have become more the norm than the exception, we thought it was an important topic to tackle. On our FOUND Friday episode on September 26, Ray Grieselhuber, CEO GinzaMetrics, and Erin Robbins O’Brien, COO, cleared the air and offered some advice to be prepared for ongoing algorithm updates.

Who’s Who in the Zoo?

In the last year, and particularly in the last 6 months, there have been a lot of animals to remember. There are Hummingbirds, Pandas, Penguins, Pigeons, and lots of other algorithm changes without specific zoology. For many, the 5-6 algorithm changes a year have been overwhelming. The articles on the subject often use scare tactics and strong language to grab attention and create a buzz.
Let’s start with a quick review of some of the recent algorithm changes:
Penguin was first launched in April of 2012. The change was aimed at decreasing rankings for websites violating Google Webmaster Guidelines. Black hat SEO tactics that artificially increased the rankings of a page by manipulating the number of links pointing to a page were targeted.
Panda was released in 2013 and was aimed at websites that provide poor user experiences and thin content. Sites that had too many ads or too little content above the fold were prevented from making their way to the top of the SERPs.
Pigeon was released in 2014 and created an impact on local search rankings. The change was aimed at improving search results and Google’s distance and location ranking parameters.
Hummingbird first appeared in 20113 and is focused on conversational search. The purpose of the change was to allow Google search engines to focus on the meaning of the search instead of focusing on individual keywords.
For content marketers, and the SEO departments they work with, a couple of big changes have caused the most concern, and no shortage of extra work. Prioritizing creating new content to meet these standards and going back and updating previous content to rank well is often difficult for small to medium size teams.

Panda Targets Content

The Panda updates were fairly straightfoward as they addressed the issues of thin and spammy content. Web pages with lots of ads and not a lot of content were caught in the Panda clean-up efforts. The effects of Panda are not over and the newest Panda 4.0 is designed to target spammy, low quality sites with low quality content. An interesting consequence of the Panda updates will be the effect on viral media sites, such as BuzzFeed, that are optimized for sharing on Facebook and Twitter. The popularity of these sites have been build upon “Top Ten Reasons For..” and “25 Things That..” type of content that’s psychologically attractive, but may not contain a lot of meaningful content. The future affects of Google updates on viral media sites will be an interesting trend to watch.

Penguin Lays the Content Marketing Egg

“Penguin is responsible for the increase and interest in content marketing over the last few years,” stated Ray. The Penguin updates went after overly optimized anchor tags and low quality links, prompting brands to focus in on their content creation efforts to make sure published content was good content. Some brands were caught with links from a “bad neighborhood” and punished for associating with the black hat crowd. For marketers, the final nail in the coffin of weak content is the penalties for anchor tags that are optimized at all. Links that point to other domains and even internal links that have optimized text may be seen as negative signals or an attempt to manipulate the crawler.
The problem for most writers in the ecosystem is that practices that were best practices last year, are now risky at best and may result in sanctions and loss of visibility. For those who cut their teeth on SEO in the last couple of years, this may be a hard habit to break.

 Penguin Evolution

Native advertising has been the savior of premium publishers. While most publishers mark paid content as ads, the waters get murky where there is some content on a site that has been paid for, but is not necessarily identified as paid content. Publishers will be watching updates to see if Google will try to detect and penalize some of this content going forward.
More than what it penalizes, Penguin is at the center of the marketing revolution. For large brands and agencies with hundreds, or thousands, of pages to manage, the task of updating, changing, and managing all the changes to keep content current and within the latest perameters is no small task. Where to start and how much to change is, as always, site dependent. Making an assessment of your site and your brand’s dependence on the site for sales conversions is the logical first step in determining the amount of effort to put into making changes. First, understand how much you have been affected by algorithm changes in the past. Secondly, determine how much your brand depends on the site for sales. The risk for your site will vary greatly on your brand’s dependence on the site for sales conversions.
Updates like Penguin can be particularly problematic for Ecommerce sites, or those that rely on a certain number of conversions. For brands that heavily rely on their site for sales conversions, or have a shopping cart associated with their site, a drop in rankings for certain keywords can have a direct impact on bottom line, or top line revenue because of lost traffic. For these types of companies, adjusting and watching for updates should be the highest priority.
On the other hand, sites whose purpose is more for branding and without a direct tie to revenue, there may be more leeway as to how much attention and time is spent on some of the details of the updates. No matter what the brand or the purpose of the site, updates should still be monitored to assess their impact on your visibility.

The Right Tools Can Help 

Analytics tools that can identify changes in the algorithm, changes in your site, identify issues, and offer recommendations can take a lot of the guess work out of what to change and when. Particularly important is the ability for daily rank tracking. Daily ranking allows you to start noticing patterns in rank fluxuations and enables you to get ahead of the game. Daily ranking allows marketers to know how your content and the content of competitors is affecting the brand’s ranking and the topics a company wants to rank for.
Instead of getting bogged down in trying to write content that follows all the latest rules, or throwing in the towel and writing content for the SEO department to fix and clean up, content marketers can follow a few simple guidelines that will keep them operating on the white hat side of the ecosystem.

  • Identify your audience – think about who you are writing for, what they are looking for, and how they will find your content. Is your audience following certain people, keywords, or topics? Understanding your audience is the most important guideline to follow.
  • Know what keywords to use.
  • Optimize content in a natural way. Make sure it is well structured. A little bit longer form content tends to perform better.
  • Watch the URL structure and make sure it brings in the audience you want to attract
  • Watch the quality of mark-ups and don’t over optimize tags

In general, the easiest guideline is to simply provide for a better user experience. That’s the spirit of the Google algorighm changes, anyway.

Am I Wearing the Right Hat?

A lot has been written about Black Hat, White Hat, and even Grey Hat SEO. With all the changes and best practices becoming spammy techniques, how do you know which side you are on? The easiest answer for content marketers is to create good content. Keyword stuffed, spammy content is not interesting to read and it will not get shared. If your intention is to create good content with your target audience in mind, the chances of tripping over Black Hat techniques is pretty low. The problem arises when well-meaning practitioners are doing things that are less optimal because they do not understand the basics of search engines or how they work. If you have not updated your knowelge about the current state and workings of search engines, it is easy to get up to speed in a few hours with a recent tutorial on the web. Don’t worry too much about the color of your hat, obvious Black Hat techniques require knowing what you are doing to actually institute them.

Google Trends Make Content Marketing Easier

In the short-term, marketers may be busy cleaning up optimized or over optimzed anchor text that was part of best practices a year ago. In the long run, Google’s trend to move toward symantic language processing will negate the need to optimze anchor tags. The result will be that marketers will not have to pay attention to the technical aspects of each of their pages to make content findable. The future of content marketing may be as simple as writing good content and publishing it.