If your organic search metrics have been fluctuating more than usual recently, you’re in good company. Google rolled out four notable algorithm updates in the two months between May 21 and July 15, including a Panda update and the much-anticipated Penguin 2.0 update.
Each of the updates shares a focus on improving the quality of search results by detecting and removing factors that give some sites unfair advantage over others in the rankings. This summer’s updates focus on low-quality link signals, content quality and domain advantages. In each case, Google’s intent is to combat the low-quality or spammy search results that can gum up its search results and lead to poor searcher experience.
Penguin 2.0: Next Generation Link Spam Weapon
On May 21, Google released a new version of its anti-link-spam technology, dubbed Penguin 2.0. This update has been anticipated for months, with Google warning that it would be a big one. Approximately 2.3 percent of English queries are noticeably affected by this update. That may not sound like much, but the largest reported impact to search results was 3.1 percent of queries noticeably affected with the first Penguin update in April 2012.
According to Google’s Head of Webspam Matt Cutts, the Penguin 2.0 update is more comprehensive and deeper-targeting than the previous iteration of the algorithm. Sites that have struggled with devalued link profiles since April of last year will likely have more issues with this update.
In many cases, sites that have been around for years have amassed link profiles that contain links from sites that are considered spammy today. For example, article marketing was once a popular SEO practice. However, sites began churning out low-value articles full of links just to manufacture link authority. Today the phrase article marketing makes SEOs cringe and the links built in the past through article hubs have been devalued algorithmically.
It’s important to understand two things about Penguin. First, sites aren’t technically penalized retroactively for link building practices that were legitimate in years past and are now considered dodgy. However, the value that those now-dodgy links provided is removed, so the effect is still a decreased ability to compete in search results. Second, link authority is removed automatically and algorithmically when link spam is detected. Because no manual, human penalty is applied, sites cannot submit for re-inclusion.
To recover from the effect of a Penguin update, sites need to focus on regaining the link authority they lost when those now-dodgy links were devalued. Simply manufacturing new links won’t do the trick, though, as links need to be earned naturally to have lasting value. It may also be beneficial to examine your link portfolio via Google Webmaster Tools to identify and disavow obviously spammy links.
Payday Loan Algorithm: Spammy Queries
In June, Google began targeting link spam on sites ranking for notoriously spammy queries, such as those related to payday loans, pornography, and gambling. These sites tend to have unique link schemes that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. These updates will be rolling out slowly worldwide over the next couple of months. In the U.S. only 0.3 percent of queries will likely be affected. But countries like Turkey with more webspam issues are expected to see as high as 4 percent change in queries affected.
As with the Penguin 2.0 update, the key to recovering from the Payday Loan Algorithm is focusing on earning links naturally.
Partial Match Domain Update
Many ecommerce marketers are frustrated by the relative ease with which sites that purchase keyword domains compete in rankings. In September 2012, exact-match domains were devalued as a ranking signal. SEO industry blog Moz reported a 10 percent decrease in the number of exact match domains — like “www.teethwhitening.com” — that ranked in the dataset they track daily.
The partial match update takes things a step further by devaluing domains that partially match the search phrase. For instance, if the domain www.betterteethwhitening.com ranked for a search for “teeth whitening,” it would be considered a partial match domain and could see the signals sent by its keyword domain name devalued.
To be clear, the keyword domain algorithm updates don’t penalize sites with exact or partial match domains. As with Penguin where specific links lose their value, the strength of the keyword signal that the domains send is devalued in an attempt to level the playing field. This is a logical update because the presence of keywords in a domain speaks more to which sites have cash to spend on expensive domains than it does to the actual value of the site to searchers.
The most recent of Google’s updates includes a more-finely targeted Panda algorithm. Starting July 14 and rolling out over the next couple of days, this update reportedly softened or dialed back the Panda effect a bit. Originally released in February 2011, Panda’s goal was to demote low-quality sites and those with thin content.
Keeping track of Google’s algorithm updates and deciphering which may have had an impact on your site can be very challenging. The Panguin Tool is one of the easiest ways to look for correlations between your Google Analytics and the Panda, Penguin, and other Google updates. Just log in with your Google Analytics account and Panguin Tool shows your organic search visits overlaid with a timeline of algorithm updates. Moz also offers a handy list of algorithmic events with links to relevant articles describing each.