Google’s Penguin and Panda Updates: SEO Game Changers

April 27, 2012

There have been huge changes in the SEO world. Google has rolled out two major algorithm changes over the last few weeks that have affected millions of websites. We have seen some clients with little or no changes and others with large swings in their rankings.

If your site has taken a hit on Google in the last few weeks then it is almost certainly suffering from one or both of Google’s new algorithm updates “The Penguin Update” and “The Panda Update.”

You might be asking yourself, “First Panda and now Penguin. Why does Google keep naming its algorithm changes after cute little animals that you see in kids’ movies?” But a word to the wise: don’t be fooled by the cute moniker. The Penguin Update is a vicious SEO beast not to be trifled with. Arguably more than the Panda Update from a year ago, Penguin and Panda is a huge SEO game changer that requires you to make changes to your SEO campaign.

If you have been hit by Penguin or Panda and your Google rankings have fallen, don’t panic. You optimized your site to gain top rankings, and you can do it again. But first you need to understand the algorithm changes and why Google has made them.
The following post is our overview of the changes, what they mean for the future of SEO and how you can reclaim your top rankings.

What is the Penguin Update?

The Penguin Update is an algorithm change that now penalizes websites for being “over optimized” or spammy. This means that Google is now better able to see if you are over-SEOing your site. By Google’s definition, an over optimized site is one in which your SEO tactics outperform the real-life of the site. If your rankings dropped, this means you probably have an unnatural use of keywords in your content or overly aggressive link building tactics.

Last month, at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Google Search Guru Matt Cutts warned that Google would be releasing a new algorithm update that would penalize over optimized sites. Anytime Matt Cutts announces algorithm changes we have to take notice. But none of us in the SEO community knew what was coming.

Why Google Made These Changes

We don’t have to guess. We can go straight to the source. Google has said that the ultimate goal of the search algorithm is to rank sites that provide the best user experience. This means that your site needs to be viewed as valuable to your customers. The Penguin Update is just the latest move by Google to ensure that it’s ranking sites that are truly valuable.

To regain your top rankings, your site needs authoritative and fresh content, user-friendly navigation and site structure, and strong offsite activity that prove to Google that people are sharing your brand on social networks.
Google’s crawlers are now able to read your site like an actual person would. That means you can’t just optimize for perceived SEO value. You need to create real value.

You must constantly ask yourself, “Am I building the site that my customers want?” If you are, Google is going to reward you in the rankings.

If My Rankings Fell, Was I Doing Something Wrong?

In retrospect, it’s easy for critics to say that you were doing something wrong and now Google has penalized you for it. But don’t be sorry for the work you’ve been doing.

Search Engine Optimization is about understanding Google’s algorithm and building a website so that it gets top rankings for your company’s most popular search terms. If you obtained top rankings on Google, your SEO campaign must be deemed a success.

We all rely on Google heavily to get our company found on the web. Thus, we must be prepared for any changes to Google’s algorithm. As we’ve been saying for years, your SEO campaign must be on-going and evolve with whatever changes Google makes. Just because you achieved top rankings doesn’t make this any less of a reality.

The key is to look at SEO as you would any marketplace. You always have a chance to dominate, but you must be prepared to pivot to stay on that.

The key is to focus on the positives. You’ve already obtained top rankings. If you did it before the new algorithm updates, you will be able to do it again. Here’s how.

SEO Recovery Tips and Advice

After doing a lot of research on literally hundreds of websites, we have built our Over Optimization Checklist. These are our top SEO tips to recover from Penguin and Panda Updates.

Title Tags—make sure you don’t have unnatural title tags. For instance, don’t use “Los Angeles Web Design, Los Angeles Design Services, Best LA Web Design.” These 3 keywords mean exactly the same thing! Thanks to Google’s latent semantic indexing, you don’t need to find 3 different ways to say the same thing. A good alternative title tag is “Best Los Angeles Web Design and Web Development Services.”

Unnatural Footers—don’t overload your footer with spammy links back to your homepage or the same 2 or 3 internal pages. While internal linking is incredibly important in guiding the crawlers through your site, spammy footer links isn’t going to fool Google. All it will do is flag your site and likely hurt your rankings.

Unnatural Interlinking—don’t do aggressive link building in bad neighborhoods, don’t generate links from the same two or three sources, and don’t generate links with the same anchor text. These are red flags to Google that will get you hit. Make sure you’re using varied anchor texting, with branded and non-branded keywords. Make sure you’re generating links from quality, diverse and relevant sites. Drive links from a variety of places such as press releases, social networks and industry directories. And don’t have all links pointing to your homepage; make sure you’re linking to internal pages for a natural linking profile.

Thin content—your content still needs keywords. But it needs to be well-written content that’s updated regularly. This means you need to blog regularly and use a variety of primary and secondary keywords written in an organic way. Don’t repeat the same keyword over and over again. Don’t have many pages focused on the same terms such as “Used Cars Seattle”, “Used Auto Seattle” and “Pre Owned Cars Seattle.” If you do, you have think content that provides little value to your customers.

If our checklist sounds familiar, your site likely took a hit due to the recent updates. To regain your rankings, make these changes as soon as you can. They are potentially big changes that could take weeks, but they’re necessary to regaining your rankings and traffic.

It’s Not a Disadvantage. It’s an Opportunity

SEO is undergoing a lot of change. But don’t think of it as a problem. Think of it as an opportunity to dominate your market on the web and drive more traffic and sales. This sounds like a cliché, but it’s absolutely true!

In fact, you really need to stop thinking of just SEO. We’re entering the era of Internet marketing. SEO is a byproduct of marketing your business with quality content, conversion rate optimization, social media, blogging, site structure, link bait and everything that impacts user experience and drives traffic.
Beyond marketing tactics, you need a customized strategy for your company.
Do you have a local/brick and mortar business? Then you need to optimize for local search, mobile search, Google Maps, iPhones and Androids. You need social media and daily deals. Mobile ads are probably going to drive qualified traffic likely to convert.

Do you have an ecommerce business? You need to optimize your products so they get ranked on Google Shopping, Bing Shopping, Amazon and the other Comparison Shopping Engines. Display advertising is probably a strong alternative to Pay Per Click, which can be expensive and, thus, limiting.

It’s not about rankings, anymore. It’s about driving traffic from all over the web; it’s about lead generation and sales conversions! You need more than an SEO strategy; you need an Internet marketing strategy.

At National Positions, we have been anticipating this for a long time. If you look at our product offerings you’ll notice that we have developed innovative programs that provide an end-to-end marketing solution. We’ve worked hard to give our clients the edge they need to gain exposure, drive traffic and leads, convert sales and retain customers for the long haul.

Our Search Engine Optimization methodology has evolved, too. We’ve moved from rankings to traffic and measurable return on investment as the ultimate benchmark of success.

As final takeaways, here are some links to our webinars that point the way forward.
Understanding Google’s Panda Update
How to Increase eCommerce Sales
How to Maximize Local Search
How to Use Social Media for Business
How to Convert Traffic Into Sales
Top Internet Marketing Trends of 2012

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