SEO has a complex reputation. Many argue that practitioners just spout mumbo-jumbo but don’t add much value. Others try to attach different monikers to the profession to try to class it up – terms like “inbound marketing.”
And then we have Google, simultaneously increasing the value of thoughtful, experienced practitioners of organic search optimization while making us all sound completely crazypants as we discuss the concerns and impacts of recent Google updates. Google, with completely straight (public) faces, christened these updates “Panda” and “Penguin.”
Penguin & Panda? Seriously?!
Penguin and Panda are the most impactful changes in the Google algorithms of the recent past. Each tackles a different piece of the ranking equation, and specifically targets low-end faux-SEO approaches common amongst snake-oil practitioners.
- Google Panda: Initially launched in February 2009, Google Panda and its 25 updates addresses poor quality content in search results. Poor quality content can include over-optimized articles written by third-world “content writers,” content that is duplicated or copied from various sources and republished without permission or syndication, and content that duplicates as a result of technical shortcomings in how a web site is developed.Panda increases the value created by SEO practitioners who develop content based on legitimate user need states, and optimize around natural language. Technical SEOs, who can assist in the development of core web functionality, taxonomy and implementation best practices are also valuable in the wake of the launch of Panda. Quality copywriters – those who can write quality content based in research and expertise, using proper grammar and natural language – are also more valuable in the wake of Google Panda.
- Google Penguin: Initially launched in April 2012, Google Penguin specifically targets webspam, particularly in the forms of unnatural keyword use in content (keyword stuffing) and unnatural link patterns (the purchase of links to support web site ranking).Much like Google Panda, the Penguin algorithm increases the value of high-quality SEO services, including services that focus on creating sharable content that is naturally shared via social media and links on other web sites.
Meanwhile, while service value is increasing, SEO coherence is decreasing. We end up having to sit in meetings discussing “the impact of Panda on your traffic” and how “the Penguin update will force changes to your optimization approaches.” We sound like a bunch of nutters.
Signs of Penguin & Panda Incursion on Your Web Traffic
If there are stray leftover herring or bamboo leaves in your analytics reporting…
In general, if Google Panda or Google Penguin is impacting your web site, the signs are similar:
- Loss of rankings for core web site keywords in Google search
- Loss of rankings on branded terms in Google search
- A decrease in organic web traffic to your web site that cannot be explained by changes made in your web site (like a redesign), seasonality, decline in market media or other cyclical events
- Messages from Google in your Google Webmaster Tools account concerning “unnatural links” or spammy optimization techniques
If you lose rankings and traffic in Google but not Bing, this is often a leading indicator of coming traffic troubles.
Should you see any of these things occur, freaking out is a perfectly normal reaction. Cleanup can be tedious and take time. There are cases where some of this can occur and the issue is not a search penalty or algorithm issue – but it takes knowledge to be sure.
Selecting SEO Vendors in the New Age of Google’s Zoo
Google’s webspam updates make old-school “SEO” techniques a bad idea. If you have purchased links in the past, it’s time to knock that off. If you aren’t in any trouble (yet), there are some key things to look at as you consider an SEO vendor.
- Transparency: Will they tell you what they are doing, and why? Can they justify it via Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, or Bing’s Webmaster Guidelines? Quality agencies will create a roadmap and strategy for your SEO engagement.
- Tactics: If the provider promises you a “search engine submissions” package, social bookmarking, directory submissions, or article submissions, reject their proposal with prejudice. These are low-value, obsolete tactics at best, and at worst they are an express trip to penalty purgatory. A good strategy will likely include technical enhancements to your analytics and web site, structured approaches to content creation and optimization, and a hybrid approach to links and social sharing based on audience engagement.
- Measurement: A good agency will discuss your business goals and business purpose online with you. Ranking for a specific keyword is not a goal. It may be a tactic, but it’s not necessarily a goal. Goals are what you want to do – be it generate leads or opt-ins, make sales, get phone calls, or drive walk-in traffic at a bricks-and-mortar location. Ultimately, it’s about return on investment.
- Testimonials: Legitimate companies will offer case studies, testimonials and references from real clients, on request.
And yes, a good agency may occasionally sound a little insane, but if you ask them to clarify, they should be able to do so.
But don’t blame them for all the Panda-Penguin mayhem. That’s squarely on Google.