Angry Birds: What does Google’s Penguin update mean for your website?

Imagine this: You’re working hard to build an online presence and it’s working—you get lots of calls and new leads through your website. Customers are finding you online. Then one day, the phone stops ringing. No new leads in your email box, either.

You scratch your head and wonder, “What happened?” Unfortunately, this scenario is real for many business owners with websites that were negatively impacted by Google’s recent update to their search engine-ranking algorithm. Google has a penchant for naming these updates after cute animals and this particularly damaging update was named “Penguin.”

What was Google trying to accomplish?
Google makes changes to the way they rank search results all the time. They made an estimated 600 updates in 2011. Their goal is simple; they want improve the quality of the search results that you, the user, get when you are looking for something. Google wants you to find exactly what you want quickly and easily to keep you coming back to Google for your information.

The Penguin update was an attempt to penalize websites that resort to “spammy” or unethical practices to improve their search engine rankings. Specifically, we are told that the penguin update targeted these techniques:

Keyword Stuffing Using certain words repeatedly in your web copy to the point that your site visitors would think of it as unusual.

Link Schemes Links to spammers and buying paid links on pages with the hopes of improving your search ranking vs. driving visitors to your site through those links.

Cloaking An attempt to show search engines one form of a website to help it rank better, while showing that same page to viewers in a completely different format (like Flash).

Duplicate Content The practice of borrowing content that you did not create, using it on your site and trying to pass it off as your own.

Unfortunately, there seems to be quite a bit of collateral damage with the penguin update. Many great websites with compelling content and ethical marketing standards seem to have suffered.

So How Do I Avoid Being Penalized by Google?
Google has addressed all of these spamming techniques in the past, and this type of algorithm updating isn’t new. If you have been in the industry for any amount of time, you understand that this is a standard operating procedure from Google. (You might have heard about the Panda update last year or any other cute mammal they use as a mascot for their latest algorithm update.)

There are two kinds of individuals in this industry: Some search engine optimization (SEO) “professionals” will spend their time trying to game the system, while other SEO professionals spend their time learning more about the best practices laid out by Google (and other search engines) and try to uphold the best and most ethical practices. These tactics are commonly referred to as Black Hat SEO techniques versus White Hat SEO techniques.

To make sure that your content is unique and purpose-driven, both for your target audience and for Google SEO, your web presence needs to be able to convey that you are the best at what you do and the most knowledgeable person in your market to the people who are performing keyword searches for the products and services that you offer.

If you commit yourself to writing original, compelling content for your audience, sharing that content in social media, and engaging and interacting with your community to maintain your authority and expertise, no Google-mammal-named-mascot-algorithm-change will ever be a concern of yours.

Herb Jones founded and owns Online Potential, a Gainesville-based company that specializes in Internet and email marketing, as well as search engine optimization and social media marketing. E-mail him at herb@online-potential.com; follow him at twitter.com/herbjones or visit his website at gainesville-marketing.com.

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