Attack of the Penguin

With the roll-out of Panda 3.5, the launch of the webspam algorithm update known as Penguin, and a problem with the parked domain classifier, it’s been a difficult few weeks for many in the SEO community. Of course, this all follows on the heals of the deindexation of lots of paid blog networks and the subsequent loss of rankings incurred by many sites who had been using these services to boost their rankings.

The Penguin, Batman's arch enemy

The Penguin, Batman’s arch enemy – courtesy of wikipedia.org

While lots has been written about each of these aspects, I wanted to point to the human side of things: the webmasters who have been hit by the situation. Barry Schwartz has a poignant post over on SERoundtable, where he quotes the story of one webmaster in the forums that Barry oh so meticulously monitors (the guy is awesome and I have no idea when he sleeps!). The webmaster writes about Penguin’s aftermath:

I am now scrambling to figure out how I am going to: pay my daughters tuition pay my car payment pay my health insurance pay my car insurance pay rent and all the utilities that go along with renting a house not to mention putting food on the table.

I followed your good webmasters guidelines and done nothing spammy at all about my businesses and websites and I get shut down and put out like that.

SHAME ON YOU GOOGLE! SHAME ON YOU MATT CUTTS!

As if it weren’t hard enough to find a regular type job, even with my education and background, now this.

All this and in a time of bad economy, how could you do this to YOUR America? Instead of trying to help build the economy your making it worse.

While this truly is a sad story, and you have to feel for the guy, I think we often lose track of what Google, and search engines in general, are trying to accomplish. Yes, Google is a business, and cares about making money through AdWords. But Google as a search engine is meant to help people find the best results for the query in the shortest amount of time possible. What’s amazing is how often they do this and get it right and show the best results for such obscure queries. These algorithm updates are put in place to improve the results. While there may be mistakes and tweaking of the results, the intention is to improve things. Does this help the webmaster who can’t pay his debts? No, of course not! But what it does show is that webmasters in general need to do a few things:

  1. Build the best websites they possibly can, and produce great content and resources for their users that will put their site to be in a position where if you looked and said of all the sites on the web, does this site deserve to be shown on the first page, and be able to honestly answer with an affirmative yes.
  2. Market that website within Google’s guidelines. If you’re an SEO, or an Internet marketer, and have not read these guidelines multiple times, leave this post RIGHT NOW and go and read them very carefully. Even if afterwards you decide to go and buy links in order to manipulate page rank, know what you’re getting yourself into. Google has guidelines, and will hold you to them when push comes to shove. So be sure you’re aware of them and trying to follow the guidelines carefully.
  3. Vary your reliance on marketing channels. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Instead, build a search marketing plan that relies on multiple channels and inbound sources to drive traffic and conversions to your site.
  4. Build content for your users, not the engines. Of course make sure that your site is search engine friendly, that it can be crawled, that things are properly targeted when it comes to keywords, that your site is sending the proper relevance and authority signals, but do this all while keeping your users at the forefront of your focus. Make changes on the site because they are good for users and the search engines, and don’t sacrifice your users to the search engine gods – the engines aren’t the ones buying your products or signing up for your programs, the people are!

I really do think Google will try to work out the kinks with Penguin and that multiple iterations of the update will take place. And I do feel for the webmasters who have to figure out where to go from here. I only hope they build  their sites and link plans in the future with the user in mind, because this is certainly the direction that Google is going in!

About Mark Ginsberg

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Mark has been working in Internet Marketing since 2007. He has managed campaigns in highly competitive sectors for large brands, but also loves to help small businesses increase their online visibility and better understand their customers and their needs.

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