Penguin Everflux is Here – What Your SEO Company Should Do About It

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The Google Penguin update now changes persistently in real-time. Make sure your SEO company does these things to stay in compliance.

How do you feel when you see Penguins these days?

They used to be these cute, cuddly, and lovable little creatures that were a little awkward on land and amazingly agile in water.

But it seems like Google does what it can to tarnish their reputation.

Enter Penguin Everflux.

Historically, Google has processed Penguin updates offline and then put the update online at a specific point in time. Then of course, you’d hear about the fallout from all the SEOs out there.

Now, with Everflux, Google says it’s going to continuously update the Penguin algorithm, optimizing it bit-by-bit and making those changes to their live ranking processes.

How Can You Protect Your Website from Getting Hit by Penguin?

Penguin 3.0 is really all about linking. And unless you’re a very ambitious business person, most of the responsibility for that falls on your SEO company.

Ask them which of these they do, and do not do, to make sure they’re doing the right thing for your website:

  1. Have your backlinks analyzed. Too many low-quality (“spammy”) websites linking to you makes Google unhappy. Unfortunately, this can happen even if you have a great SEO company.

That’s because some low-quality websites focus only on linking back to others, or copying their content and reposting it. Not fair to you, but it does happen.

  1. Audit your content. Websites choose to link (or not to link) to yours because of the quality of the content. To get those grade-A links, you must have the very best content of its kind available on the web. You’ll also want to monitor your website’s content for comment spam that could include bad links.
  2. Only link to websites that Google trusts already. Google assumes that high-quality websites choose to link to other high-quality websites.

Makes sense, right? So, if you link to Forbes, Google’s going to trust you more because of who you choose to associate with.

You don’t have to link to big brand names only, but you should be very selective with who you link to. Many websites e-mail you asking you to link to their site, but the majority of those requests are not good news for your site.

  1. No paid links. Your SEO company should never buy you links. Google’s been clear about this from the outset.
  1. Don’t use blog networks. Websites like PostJoint, though well-intentioned, charge a fee (others don’t) to hook you up with guest posts with other blog owners. Google doesn’t want this at all.
  1. Don’t use over-optimized anchor text. Links both on and off your website should include your primary keywords in their text less than 5% of the time at most. If you do any more than that, you are at high risk for a penalty.

It shouldn’t be your job to supervise your SEO company. But as you know by now, it’s something you do have to do.

Make sure they pass these simple checks. But remember to be fair and objective. You can get bad links to your website even with a SEO company with a high level of integrity.

What’s the New Google Pigeon Update all About?

If you want to know how hard it is to stay on top of all the Google updates, this is what we inbound marketing companies have to deal with:

  • 500 Google algorithm updates per year
  • 15-20 of them make the news
  • Even Matt Cutts, Google’s spokesman, makes mistakes when talking about the latest updates
  • These updates don’t always impact websites the way Google says they will, so we have to analyze the real results for clients

Google tends to pick animal names for its updates. Usually, they’re seemingly benign animals, with names like Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird.

Google did release the “Pigeon” update, but SEO thought leader Search Engine Land coined the official name.

So What’s the Point of Pigeon?

The whole reason it’s been rolled out is to make local search results more useful and relevant. One concrete example of what’s happened is that the local search pack listings that look like this now appear much less often:

google_pigeon

This blog post at Link Assistant says Pigeon means Google now focuses more on traditional domain authority factors as ranking signals for local search listings. To put it simply, domain authority is made of:

  • The quality and frequency of content published on your website
  • The number of links pointing to your site, and the quality of the websites linking to you
  • Getting listed on authoritative local business directory sites like Angie’s List and others relevant to your niche
  • Positive customer reviews
  • Optimizing everything on your site with as natural of language as possible

What Should You Do to Make Pigeon Happy?

Really, Google’s not changing what you need to do to rank well. They’re doing exactly what they’ve said they would do all along.

When you think of authority websites in ideal terms, envision those websites that are household names like:

  • Time.com
  • Forbes.com
  • The Huffington Post

“But my site will never attract massive readerships like those!” is your first objection.

You’re right – it won’t. Only a few websites attract such massive audiences. But the point is, the more you aim to be like those niche-leading websites, the better off you’ll be in the search rankings in the long run.

Remember, most local and small businesses do not understand the importance of content. Most also don’t realize what an “awesome website” looks like in the eyes of Google and their users.

If you realize and acknowledge where your website is and where it needs to be, you’ll be ahead of 98% of all other local businesses.

For a nice example of a simple, but useful website, check out PaylessPower.com and their blog. They have 4 blogs per month, and a simple web design anyone can use.

Can You Recover from a Google Penalty?

As great as Google is at giving searchers the best possible results for the keywords they enter, it’s filled with gaping flaws too.  Yes, Google is far from perfect.

Case in point:  A Moz blog post by the head of another digital marketing agency discusses a startling scenario.  Their client, a fairly large company that makes a number of spelling and grammar check tools that integrate with e-mail and other applications, got a notice that Google was penalizing them for “unnatural links.”

They lost 94% of their search traffic immediately (yikes!).

The digital marketing agency was caught totally off guard because they had not been acquiring any bad links.  In fact, since they serve primarily large brands, they’re extremely cautious in following SEO best practices.

So What Happened?

After a painful phone call with the client notifying them of the situation, the agency began to dig into the client’s link profile.  It was easy to spot the problem.  A massive number of spammy links had been acquired.

Someone had used a program that writes articles, changes the order of the words, and automatically posts the articles and a link on pornographic, pharmaceutical, gambling, and other low-quality websites Google does not like.  They repeatedly used the same keywords for the link’s anchor text.

Google explicitly states not to do this when building links.  Clearly, someone who wanted to destroy this company’s search traffic decided to attack the company with negative SEO.

Yes, this does happen sometimes.

Even More Shocking:  Google’s Response

So the director of the agency was at a conference and asked John Mueller, an employee at Google, why his client should get penalized for someone else building bad links to their site.  He also pointed out that it makes more sense to simply not allow certain links to count, rather than penalizing websites for having bad links.

John’s response went something like this:  “Yeah, it’s happened before.  Sometimes we (Google) can tell it’s a negative SEO campaign, but other times it’s harder.  However, if you get a manual penalty from us, you’ll be aware of the situation so you can simply disavow the links.”

Wow!  So basically, Google is aware that this happens, but really isn’t doing anything to stop dishonest individuals and companies from doing it?

True story.

What You Can Do

Unfortunately, there’s not a heck of a lot businesses can do, except work with a SEO company who monitors for negative SEO attacks like these.  The links are obvious and easy to spot, and it’s not too difficult (although it is time consuming) to use Google’s disavow tool and remove them.  But, it’s important to catch them prior to receiving a penalty because you don’t want to lose your rankings and all the business they bring.

And the digital marketing company’s client?  They’re still technically being penalized!  The agency was able to get 82% of their pre-penalty traffic back.  That’s good, but still not fair to the company who had done nothing wrong in the first place.

 

 

Is Your SEO Company Putting You at Risk for a Google Penalty?

Nothing is more terrifying for businesses engaging in digital marketing than suddenly receiving an e-mail from Google that says you have a penalty for unnatural links.  Such a penalty can cause the majority of your traffic to be lost.  In fact, you can even lose all of it.

It’s definitely gotten more difficult to do off-site SEO (link building) over the years.  Back in the very early 2000s, you barely needed any links at all to rank for your target keywords.

Now, though, it’s gotten much, much more complex, which has caused the cost of SEO to rise.  When links are built to your website, here’s the general parameters Google wants you to follow:

  1. Anchor text:  You know the blue text that appears on a link, like this?  That’s called “anchor text.”  Right now, around 5% of the links that point to your site, and perhaps even less, should have anchor text that contains the keywords your site tries to rank for.  Unfortunately, there’s no specific cutoff, so you have to guesstimate.  If you exceed this percentage significantly, though, you are at risk of an “unnatural links” penalty.
  2. Links must come from relevant websites:  If your website is about HVAC repair, you should have links coming from leading business directories, the chamber of commerce, DIY sites, and other HVAC blogs. If you have hundreds of links coming from sites selling mobile phones, Google looks at that as unnatural.  However, it is common sense enough to expect that some percentage of your links will come from completely irrelevant websites (Google factors in for that).  If this is a consistent pattern, though, a Google penalty may not be far off.
  3. Your links must be acquired at a natural rate.  If you have no links one day, and then 1000 the next week, Google becomes suspicious right away.  You see, some webmasters who owned many websites got together in the past, and then just posted links all over each other’s websites.  They manipulated themselves right to the top of Google’s rankings.  To be successful with link building, you have to get links at a nice even pace.
  4. You must not hang out in any “bad neighborhoods.”  Certain websites are viewed as bad places to be, or they’ve already been penalized themselves.  “Bad neighborhoods” sell links, exist solely for the purpose of getting links, have over optimized keywords and anchor text running throughout their site, and contain nothing of value for visitors to read or enjoy.  Google does not want to see any links coming to your site from these “bad neighborhoods.”

How to Check the Quality of Your Links

Unfortunately, many SEO companies still build links and manipulate your website to the top of the rankings.  The problem is that even if you don’t get caught now, Google will catch you sometime in the future.

It is easy, however, to check the quality of your links.  Simply go to http://www.opensiteexplorer.org, type in your website’s URL, and click “Search.”  This tool is built by Moz, a very reputable company in the digital marketing industry, and it checks a number of SEO factors.

The first page that comes up is “Inbound Links.”  If you have links that will get you in trouble, it’s fairly easy to catch right away.  Remember, you will have some completely irrelevant to your website, and a small percentage is okay.

Just look at the links – if a majority are from websites that have nothing to do with yours, there’s a problem.  Sometimes, you’ll even see you have tons of links from Chinese websites (link building gets pretty crazy sometimes).  You can also check the same from the “Linking Domains” tab.

If you notice a number of links from strange websites you’d never want your company to be found on, then it’s time to have a tough conversation with your SEO company, and maybe get a second opinion from another.

Google Changes Ad Colors

You remember how the old Google ads had a dark yellow background that made them real easy to see?  Well, Google’s decided to change that.  Now, they just have a nice yellow block saying “Ad” right below the big blue headline, like so:

google

Why did Google do This?

To some extent, Google is at odds with the government.  They know they have to build relationships there, as authorities could crack down on Google and call it a “monopoly” in the world of search if they really pursued that accusation legally. 

At one point, the FTC publicly voiced concerns the search engine results pages may not be clearly understood by searchers:

“We recommend that in distinguishing any top ads or other advertising results integrated into the natural search results, search engines should use: (1) more prominent shading that has a clear outline; (2) a prominent border that distinctly sets off advertising from the natural search results; or (3) both prominent shading and a border.”

So, that’s exactly the issue these changes address.  With those dark yellow buttons below the titles, searchers can clearly tell which ads are paid, and which are not.  No tests have been run yet, but you can logically assume the click-through rates will be greater because the ads are more noticeable. 

And guess what?  Google will likely see higher ad revenues as a result. 

But, Google tests the living daylights out of everything, so this change may not be a permanent one, should it lead to lower click through rates. 

Click-Throughs Could Decrease, but Sales Could Increase

As an example, one article mentioned a study was conducted on middle schoolers (prior to these changes being made), asking them to distinguish the difference between paid and unpaid search listings. 

Not a single one could do it. 

Logically, you could assume the same occurs with adults, but to a much lesser extent.  Less savvy internet users may not realize organic listings don’t result in Google making money, or the advertiser being charged by Google. 

So, if searchers realize some companies are paying to get found, and they know they’re really just searching for more information, they could be less likely to click on ads with no intention of buying.  That could lead to more sales per click for companies online. 

That’s just a theory, though, so don’t go running out the door and implementing it tomorrow. 

We’ll see what happens, and always make sure you test your own ads to find out what works. 

Don’t Fear the Hum of Hummingbird

A mass panic breaks out among SEOs and businesses every time Google releases a major algorithm update.

But, if you’ve been doing SEO ethically all along, you have nothing to fear from any Google update for any reason.  Ever. Period.

SEOs first started noticing changes in Google’s algorithm the last week of August and the first week of September.  But Google denied any major updates.

However, now it’s here.

What Does Hummingbird Do?

Don’t Fear the Hum of Hummingbird

At its simplest level, Hummingbird is a huge leap forward in semantic search.  “Semantic search” refers to the idea that Google now understands the relationships between keywords you type in better than ever before.

Google’s actually been working on this since, well, forever, but Hummingbird signifies a huge leap forward in this regard.

In its earliest days, Google was all about keywords.  If you typed in the keyword in Google’s search 10 years ago, the website with the word on its page the most showed up first.

Now, Google still reads keywords and ranks pages accordingly, but it understands the relationship between those keywords more effectively than ever.  So, you don’t have to focus on having the exact keyword on the page as much anymore.

A Specific Example of How Google’s Functioning Changes

Google’s Knowledge Graph is a database of over 570 million concepts.  Knowledge Graph stores known people, places, and historical events, which allows Google to return more intelligent results for searches along those lines.

Hummingbird expands Knowledge Graph.  Now, you can type in a question on Google, and it will give you an answer to the question.  You can even type in a follow-up question and get an answer to that.

Search Timeline 1997 - 2013

What Does This Mean for Your Website?

Step by step, Google is learning how to understand the web just like a human being.  So, the more you focus on developing your website for humans, the better.  Technical SEO is still important because that helps Google understand what your site is about and helps provide a good user experience.

Specifically, however, this is what to focus on:

  • Using long-tail keywords – Google understands the meanings among words better than ever.  Long tail searches will be more appropriately ranked for their topic, without requiring you to spam the phrase all over the page.
  • Providing value on every page of your website – You still need to get the keyword in there.  But really, the goal of this algorithm and every other one is to provide the most interesting result for every search.  So, make sure whatever you write contains in-depth information difficult to find anywhere else.
  • Treat your website like your physical business – Now, more than ever, it takes a team of skilled professionals to keep your web rankings high.  Just like you hire the best to work at your physical office, hire the best to ensure your website provides the optimal user experience.

Hummingbirds Aren’t so Scary After All…

And neither will any future Google update if you follow these guidelines.  Always do what’s best for your customer and Google will reward you.