The Google Penguin Assassin and What’s Up With SEO These Days?

by John Hoff on May 6, 2012

As many of you know, in addition to being a blogger I’m also a niche marketer.

This means I go online and do research in a given niche and if I find that the competition (competition in ranking a website to the first page of Google) is low and the search traffic is at a reasonable number…

I might build a website in hopes of getting it ranked in the top 5 positions. Of course more goes into it than that, but that’s the idea.

From there I might monetize the site through AdSense, ebook offer, affiliate offer, or whatever fits.

A big… and I mean BIG part of that equation is SEO.

But even if you’re not a niche marketer, you might still be looking at ways to monetize your blog. After all, you spend countless hours away from your family and your best T.V. buddy trying to make “something” happen on your website. It would be nice if once in a while you got a little compensation, right?

SEO’s Worst Nightmare – The Penguin

Who knew there were such things as Penguin assassins? Maybe there’s some underground Penguin mafia the engineers over at Google called up to put out a hit on Internet marketers trying to “Game” the Google algorithm.

Okay, so let’s get serious for a moment…

Some major changes have been happening in the Google SEO world lately and I’d like to share some things I have learned and some tentative advice. I say tentative because, well, a lot of this is still new and until a lot of testing has been done, it’s hard to say “this is exactly what you need to do.” But I can tell you “This is what you should not do.”

What is Google Penguin?
It’s an algorithm Google has put in place which is designed to decrease rankings for sites that Google believes are violating their existing quality guidelines. Read more about it here.

When was Google Penguin released?
April 24th, 2012 (I’ll show proof in a moment)

What SEO factors is it targeting?
Like I mentioned above, Google says this change is affecting sites which aren’t living up to its quality guidelines.

They specifically mention:

…this algorithm represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content. While we can’t divulge specific signals because we don’t want to give people a way to game our search results and worsen the experience for users, our advice for webmasters is to focus on creating high quality sites that create a good user experience and employ white hat SEO methods instead of engaging in aggressive webspam tactics.

So what is “white hat SEO” in Google’s eyes?

Search engine optimization includes things as simple as keyword research to ensure that the right words are on the page, not just industry jargon that normal people will never type.

“White hat” search engine optimizers often improve the usability of a site, help create great content, or make sites faster, which is good for both users and search engines. Good search engine optimization can also mean good marketing: thinking about creative ways to make a site more compelling, which can help with search engines as well as social media. The net result of making a great site is often greater awareness of that site on the web, which can translate into more people linking to or visiting a site.

Sorry, one more quote I think it’s important for you to read. It’s located at the end of their article I linked to above:

We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling web sites.

Okay sorry about all the quoting, but it’s important to hear what they are saying and understand what’s really going on.

Cliff Notes of the Quotes Above

I’m betting you skimmed through those blockquote above. Go ahead and admit it, I know you did. It’s okay, I do it too.

Basically, here’s what Google is trying to tell us with their Panda and Penguin updates (which really is what they’ve been saying all along). They’re telling us that they want us to focus primarily on OUR website and leave all the “off site optimization” other people… and them.

They want you to focus on making your site valuable incredible for Google users out there. It is Google’s belief that if your site is super awesome, people will naturally link to you and this in turn will tell them your site needs to get ranked.

They are telling us that pretty much any backlinking that you artificially create (links from guest posting, Ezinearticles, blog networks, forum signatures and profiles, etc.) are considered either black hat or riding the line of being black hat SEO. They don’t want you creating links to your own website, they want other people doing it.

This of course is somewhat revealing…

It’s telling us that backlinks still matter. What’s not clear is exactly how it’s being tracked. In fact, the wrong backlink can severely hurt you, so be real careful these days how you’re getting your backlinks.

Here’s a really good article you might want to check out. These guys own lots of mini websites and after the Penguin update they went through and did a lot of analysis of their sites rankings and compiled some ideas on how backlinks to your sites should be. Really good read.

Are Good Articles Getting Penalized?

Yes, but I suppose it’s not that simple.

Although the Penguin update blog article is telling us that this algorithm change is built to promote valuable content to the first page of Google and push back content which is considered spammy or of no use to the Google user, it seems that it’s far from perfect.

Let’s look at an example of one of my blog articles and what “valuable” content replaced its good search ranking.

The video shows how my content rich article got pushed way back from its #3 ranking in Google and replaced with a blog in the #10 spot which has only one post on it… “Hello World”.

Wonderful.

I think what got my article penalized was a gig I did with someone on Fiverr. She posted a link to my article from a site and article which had nothing to do with Easy Video Player. Also, I had done some more backlinking. Not bad backlinking (no blog networks or anything), but in Google’s eyes if you created the backlink to your article, it’s pretty much considered black hat.

Does John Have Any Analytics To Show Us?

Yeah… check this out.

So I have 2 very similar AdSense websites. In fact here’s how similar they are:

  • Both sites have 4 valuable content pages
  • Both site’s content was written by the same article writer
  • Both sites were built by my web designer, Antia, and look exactly the same
  • OnSite SEO is the same

So how are they different?

The AdSense sites promote the same brand of shoe (like Nike, Vans, Adidas, Puma, Reebok, etc.) but different product lines of the brand. So they are quite similar in most regards.

The other way they are different is in how I’ve done their offsite SEO.

Site A

Site A bounced between the first and second page of Google for the keyword I targeted and I did a lot of offsite SEO work on it which included things like:

  • Ezinearticles backlinks
  • Numerous Unique Article Wizard campaigns (blog network)
  • Build My Rank articles (site recently de-indexed by Google)
  • Fiverr gigs which included (social bookmarking, Facebook Shares, and more social media related gigs)
  • Linked to it from 2 of my own personal blog networks
  • A few blog articles I’ve left comments on I left the website link to this site

The traffic wasn’t huge, but take a look at the nose dive my site did on April 24th when the Penguin hit squad was released…

Site B

Like I said, Site B is nearly identical to Site A except the target product is slightly different. The only real difference is the fact that for Site B I built no backlinks to it.

Nothing… not one.

Check out the analytics to that site:

Very interesting, isn’t it?

Same date, April 24th. Talking about a major update to their algorithm. The site I spent between $50 and $75 on to get backlinks to is beat out by the same kind of site which I spent $0 and time backlinking to.

What Does All This Mean?

It means backlinks are important. It also means Google is getting a lot smarter at figuring out who is generating their own backlinks and is penalizing them for doing so.

But it’s not perfect. Did you watch my video above?

Okay and the last It means

It means Google does not want you to “game” they algorithm by generating links to your site which you create in order to better your ranking in Google. They would rather you just do White Hat SEO only, which in their eyes means only working on OnSite SEO and finding ways to create a buzz about your site or article… but by not linking to it apparently.

The Problem I Have With This

Well I have a few problems, one being that a mischievous so-called Internet marketer could run a spam program and generate thousands, if not millions, of spam links to your site (their competitor) in an effort to get you deranked.

The second real problem I have with this is that Google seems to think in terms of that whole Field of Dreams mentality of “If you build it, they will come.”

Listen, what business do you know builds their business and the only form of marketing they do is go hang out and socialize and hope people find their business?

No… that’s not how smart business owners promote their business. They go out, hustle, and get their product known and heard about. They go door to door and leave fliers. They put ads in the Yellow Pages. They make TV commercials and buy radio spots.

They don’t “build it and wait for people to come”.

Now I’m not totally hating on Google. In fact their entry into the search engine marketplace could be considered the model we could follow. They won because they built something better than Yahoo.

But as far as I know, they had money and investors. Most stay at home mom and dads who hope to one day quite their jobs and make their living online don’t have that sort of backing. In this case, it’s more about creating that quality product and then getting out there and creating a buzz about it, which many times means building links to your site… so people can find it!

No it’s not a perfect system, both from our end and Google’s. I see Google’s point of view and I do agree for the most part what they are doing. They are trying to get rid of all the crap. The problem is, just because I created some backlinks to an article of mine does not mean I’m spamming their system.

For the most part, most of my backlinks are providing value to the site I’m generating the backlink from.

How Can You Check Your Current Rankings?

Well first of course is to go check out your analytics and see if you’ve experienced a drop.

If you know which keywords you were targeting and are wondering where you rank in Google, here are two tools you can use:

  • Traffic Travis
  • Rank Checker

So How Should You Proceed With SEO?

The Penguin mafia have just finished their massacre of both good and bad websites and truth be told, the dust must settle some before we can make some concrete decisions on how to proceed.

Realize, though, that nothing has changed in regards to what Google wants. Remember that little blog seo ebook I offered to you for free?

Other than some tools which the book mentions and have expired, the logic behind every word of it remains true.

Google wants to be the number one search engine.

How do they get to be that?

By returning the best content and match for the user who is using their search engine.

It’s not a perfect system, as is the case we see in my video, but it’s what you need to try and remember.

So what do you do?

Focus on the user’s experience on your website.

Make sure your content is valuable and your OnPage SEO is spot on.

Matt wrote a great article on how you can help make your site and articles more valuable and useful to visitors.

I have a feeling Google is going to be looking even more closely at things like your website’s:

  • Bounce rate
  • Visitor loyalty
  • Time on site

… and things like that to help determine if people are deeming your site valuable. That and of course, relevant backlinks.

Here’s some useful links for reducing your bounce rate and what visitor loyalty is.

I think if you’re going to pursue backlinking, maybe hold off on automated software for the time being. Guest posting is probably your safest bet and I’ll be working more with sites like MyBlogGuest in the near future.

When you backlink to your site, make sure less than 50% of your backlinks are your target keywords.

Take a look at this article you are reading now. Look at how I’ve linked to people and articles. That is representative of a natural linking pattern. Links I have on this article include words like “Matt” and “here”. It’s just natural to do it that way and I think the majority of your backlinks need to look like this in Google’s eyes.

What you want to focus more on instead of the anchor text is getting those links put on relevant articles and even better, relevant articles written on relevant sites.

So what should you not do?

Don’t over optimize your site’s SEO.

In other words, don’t do things like:

  • Generate hundreds of backlinks to a new site right away
  • Create lots of backlinks from irrelevant websites
  • Keyword stuff your article
  • Use automated software unless you’re an experienced marketer who is very familiar with spinning articles and using blog networks
  • Make all of your backlinks reference your target keyword

I’d love to discuss the topic with you. Have you learned anything from all this Panda and Penguin stuff? Any thoughts on how to proceed in SEO? Do you think SEO is dead?

If you’re not subscribed to my blog, don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter and let’s stay in touch.

Note that the link at the top of this article which links to “ways to monetize your blog” is an affiliate link of mine to a Problogger.net book.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Martin May 7, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Hey John,
Great post. I know I have seen pretty much the same with my sites as well. The ones that were hit the least were the ones with the greatest proportion of simple URL links as opposed to contextual links.

I have begun testing an idea, mainly as far as I see Google wants links that come from real visitors and people sharing a site that they like. I know in my experience when sharing something just to get others to see the page I liked I seldom take the time to write an HTML code with an embedded contextual link. I like most people just copy the entire URL and paste it wherever I am sending the message either in an email or on facebook or on a personal blog post. The only time a person will go to the trouble of writing a contextual link is when they think they will profit some way by doing so.

I suspect an overabundance of contextual links will show Google a pattern they can follow no matter what the link text the very fact it is contextual is a bit suspicious (or at least I suspect so) to Google. I am curious as to your thoughts on this theory of mine.

all the best to you
Martin

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John Hoff May 7, 2012 at 11:02 pm

Hi Martin. Yes I agree with your logic, but add in there also a bunch of “click here”, names of people (like you or your pen name), and other random words. Take a look at this article. I have lots of examples of how I linked to other sites, and I didn’t think to mention it until after the article was nearly written.

Definitely a good mix up is good. Not really anything new, but would seem more powerful to use than before.

Before we all knew links like those were good, but they were no fun to get because we wanted the all powerful “anchor text” links.

Reply

Martin May 8, 2012 at 6:41 am

Hi John,
Yeah I am pretty sure I got caught up in too many keyword links. At least I did not get any illegal link messages from Google. I am now trying to vary links to around 1/4 keyword 1/4 URL 1/4 click here type and 1/4 other associated random words. That 1/4 is not a hard and fast rule but just a basic guideline. I am also taking UAW links less directly to my sites and more to web 2.0 sites pointed to my sites and see how that works.

Keep up the good work and thanks for your efforts they are very helpful.
Martin

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John Hoff May 8, 2012 at 7:23 am

I think that’s a good approach, Martin. Don’t forget to try and get some social links thrown in there as well. Also, make sure your content is easy for people to Tweet, Google+, Like, and so on.

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Katie Vyktoriah May 8, 2012 at 4:48 am

How do thinks like CommentLuv play into this? For bloggers like me who don’t really know a lot about SEO but DO comment a lot, is using this plugin a good idea or a bad one? From what I understand, leaving a general comment doesn’t get you a valid backlink (even when you put your website address in), but ComLuv gets you a valid backlink when you comment. But if it’s considered creating your own link, then it seems kind of pointless.

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John Hoff May 8, 2012 at 7:30 am

Hi Katie,

I tend to think that whatever is “normal”, Google knows about it. I assume the comments you leave are not spammy nor do you leave comments on sites Google might consider spammy.

So you should be completely safe there.

Google doesn’t want to penalize people for being social. In fact Matt Cutts (an engineer for the Google webspam team) uses WordPress for his blog. I’m sure he understands the kinds of things bloggers do and what kinds of links they get.

As long as you’re leaving valid links on valid websites you should be good to go.

And believe it or not, those links do count for something.

Reply

Keith Davis May 8, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Hi John
Fabulous in-depth article as ever.

Enjoyed the video, but hard to believe that a “Hello world” post would feature on the front page of the SERPS!
Has the world gone mad?

I always focus on SEO basics, title tags and the like and I’ve done pretty well in the SERPS for most of my key phrases.

I’ve gone from pagerank 2 to 3 with this latest Google update, but that is more by luck than judgement.

Good to hear from you John – hope all are well at your end.

Reply

John Hoff May 8, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Hi Keith.

Hmmm… I’m not a big believer in “luck”. Coincidences maybe, but I like to think we make our own luck.

Hey nice to hear from you, too. Things are going well, I suppose. I’ve been plagued, however, with computer problems on my end. In fact, I’ve lost a ton of work because of a hard drive crash. Got to send it in to a pro recovery team. Fun.

How’s the WordPress Theme’s site doing for you?

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Keith Davis May 9, 2012 at 9:54 am

Hi John
“I’ve lost a ton of work because of a hard drive crash.” – nightmare!
Computers are fantastic, but when they go wrong….

Site doing well on affiliate sales for Genesis themes and Copyblogger plugins.
Need to move up a couple of notches, which I’m hoping will happen as I publish more material.

Most of my traffic comes from search, but I’m pretty sure I could be doing a lot more with social networkng – I only bother with twitter at the moment.

Genesis have released a good number of “Mobile responsive” themes, which are selling well.

Also getting work for local business websites – pretty easy to put together a great looking site with the Genesis themes.

Sorry to go on John, but it is nice to be actually making money through a site.

Hope all goes well with your “…pro recovery team.”

Keith

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