Google have now given a name to their latest update. Following on from the Panda updates we now have the Penguin update.
Quite why these names have been chosen no-one is totally sure, but it could be that both animals are black and white, and that Google are trying to tackle “black hat” seo while rewarding “white hat” seo.
Anyway, this latest update seems to have created a mixed bag of results, some of which appear to have been successful, and others perhaps less so.
On the Google blog that discusses this latest update here Google are calling it “Another step to reward high quality sites,” with the statement that they are aiming to push sites with high quality, unique content higher in the results, while punishing lower quality sites that have poor quality content, or that have used “black hat” methods of obtaining links, or to put it another way, have participated in “webspam” techniques.
On that page Google give screenshots with 2 examples of what they are aiming to tackle.
The first is an example of keyword stuffing, taken from a web page that has a long string of text containing dozens of keywords.
This would of course be totally useless to a visitor and is a blatant attempt to manipulate the Google rankings.
The second example screenshot is of a webspam article that has been created and left purely to obtain links (which are also cloaked).
The links in that example are for payday loans sites, yet the article is supposedly about health, although it has little meaning because it has been spun-to-death by some form of automated software that has replaced various words with synonyms.
Link spammers do this so that the content containing the links is different every time that Google finds it, but alas it becomes meaningless to human visitors because of the spinning.
This clearly then is a situation where the article really has no purpose, since it is meaningless, and exists only for the purpose of obtaining the links.
Initial results seem to show that Google has been successful to some large degree in tackling this issue.
For example, if you go to Google and type in the words:
“Pearl Jewellery – the Mineral with no Cleavage that Fantasizes Womenfolk”
You will see dozens of examples of a spun article that has zero meaning or use, and that has been created solely to obtain links for a website selling pearl jewellery, and you can totally understand why Google would want to penalise links like this, and the sites that create them.
The recipient jewellery site in question has dropped in the rankings significantly, so it appears that Google has hit the nail right on the head with this part of the algorithm.
However, when it comes to quality sites being rewarded I think it’s fair to say that Google seem to be a bit off the mark on this front.
There are numerous examples of empty blogs (i.e. they have absolutely no content) appearing in 1st place ahead of great quality sites, and of great quality sites vanishing from the rankings altogether.
Of course it is impossible to say whether those great quality sites have been engaged in webspam link building programs, but even if they have, should they drop in the results if the content is genuinely useful for the visitors?
In the past many webmasters have found it necessary to build links to their sites to get them ranking well in Google, it has been impossible to rank without links, and so the problem would seem to be that both good sites AND bad sites may share some of the same link footprints.
Of course it is important for Google to maintain high quality results, but the approach that they have taken here, while appearing to be successful at detecting and penalising a certain type of link, appears to be unsuccessful at detecting high quality content – hence the empty blogs, scraped sites, and old out of date and unloved sites that haven’t been updated for years rising to the top.
So far Google have remained tight lipped even on their own blogspot linked to above, despite Hundreds of angry and confused website owners asking for answers.
I hope that this is an indication that the algorithm change is not yet complete, and that it is perhaps being rolled out in stages, with the link penalty part being first, and then once the results of this are known the quality content and/or other parts.
It would make sense to take an approach like this for a major update (and this is perhaps one of the most significant updates ever at Google), and so we have our fingers crossed that the best is yet to come.
If the entire update has already been rolled out and we are seeing these spurious results, then it suggests that the algorithm change hasn’t achieved exactly what Google wanted, and we are certain that they will be tweaking and amending it over the coming weeks to correct it.
In any case, if your website has been affected by this update we believe that it is still too early to panick. Google are no fools and they realise that the quality of their results is everything – without that they have no business – so rest assured that these wrinkles will be ironed out.
If however you have been engaged in link spam practices like the one highlighted by Google or the one above, then you should probably start by finding and deleting all of those dodgy links and then filing a re-inclusion request.
If you have removed all of the offending links AND sorted out any problems on your own website then you might be lucky and get your website back in the results again, but unfortunately there is no guarantee that Google will lift the penalty – but it’s just about the only course of action you have left to take.