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The Truth About Penguins – You’re Safer Than You Think

By Peter Ehat on July 20th, 2012

If you’ve been reading anything about SEO in the last month, odds are good that Google’s “Penguin Update” has made an appearance.

There is always a lot of hype when Google makes an update.

If your site was affected by Penguin, it is very possible that your hype is genuine and justified. If you think your site might be effected by Penguin, perhaps you should think about hyping a little yourself.

In any event, it’s good to know what is going on in the world so we’re going to take the last 2 months of reading and research and try to paint a clear picture of what Penguin is and what it might mean for your business.

The Reality of Doing Business

When the business world is boiled down to the very basic elements you find suppliers (whether it be services, products, consulting etc.) and consumers. In a free market where people mostly have a choice about how they spend their money, the success of the supplier is based upon how well they can convince consumers to purchase their product.

There is nothing that SEO can do that will change this.

Let me rephrase that. If your business isn’t solid in the first place, SEO is not going to help you.

That might sound kind of harsh, and perhaps even self-effacing considering I help provide SEO services for a living. But, I think the following analogy might help.

If you give a potter a bad batch of clay, the resulting vases, mugs, and pitchers, will be inherently flawed. Even if the potter is a master of her craft.

The same is true of marketing. A good digital marketing company can help you to organize your thoughts, craft a beautiful and effective image of your company, make sure you are relevant online and ranking high in your industry, and they can often act as strategy consultants that will effect sales, distribution, timelines, and revenue.

A good marketing company is invaluable if…

When you bring a business to a creative individual who is tasked with crafting your message, your public face, or in my case, the content that will detail every aspect of your dream, service, product, vision for the future, etc., you have to bring your best batch of clay.

We need your passion, your drive, and your ideas. We need to know everything there is to know about what you are selling.

Why is it great?
Why do people want it?
Why should people have it?
Why do you care so much?

What Does This Have to Do with Penguins?

Google tries very hard to see past the superficial. They’re ultimate goal is to find the pottery that is made with the very best clay and provide that to the browsers who use their search engine. That’s their job.

The Penguin update is another attempt to weed out companies that try to hide the bad quality of their clay with glaze, paint, distractions etc. They use ‘tricks’ rather than solid marketing practices.

Now, nobody but Google knows exactly what Penguin was programmed to do. But, as SEO and marketing companies we can see the results, share them with each other, and extrapolate.

After 2+ months we can see that Penguin focuses on two main things; one of them a reward, and the other a penalty.

I’ll Take the Bad News First

Websites that were considered “over-optimized” were penalized. Over-optimization is defined as a site that is too perfect. For example, the majority of the site’s links had anchor text that matched their keywords exactly.

Despite the fact that carefully matching keywords to anchor text, H1 tags, and title tags has long been a legitimate SEO strategy, Google decided that this was “unnatural”.

Its not because they’re a bunch of jerks, rather they saw too many people taking advantage of this strategy to build illegitimate links that were essentially filled with worthless content.

Companies that relied heavily on this link structure for their rank saw heavy drops. Companies who relied on this structure but had also worked to build legitimate content and had an otherwise solid foundation, saw minimal drops.

The Silver Lining

If we look at the way Google ranks websites as a kind of score card, we can simplify things by saying that sites can earn and loose “points” according to their quality (quality according to Google does not always reflect reality).

With the Penguin update, points were taken away for over-optimization but given to sites that had well-written, relevant, and updated content. We’ve seen, across the board, that sites who consistently refresh their content have moved up considerably in the rankings.

It seems that in Google’s eyes, business that engage in the online community by posting blogs, linking to their evergreen content, and refreshing their static content on a consistent basis, are deserving of the best rank. To Google, these sites are the most relevant.

Penguins Come and Penguins Go

There is always collateral damage with these updates; legitimate businesses that have been swept up in the initial barrage.

These businesses, with a little work, will recover quickly because they are based on the principals we talked about at the beginning of this article. The principals that cannot be changed by SEO.

SEO and marketing companies spend a great deal of time learning the fastest, most efficient ways to help you sell your product or service. Many of us are very good at what we do. But, if we are given bad clay, our final product will be inherently flawed.

Bad clay relies on “gimmicks” that penguin was designed to eliminate.

There will be more updates. There will be more gimmicks to get around the updates. Business that follow solid practices, provide quality products or services, and are straightforward with their clientele will remain standing after the storm.

The same goes for SEO and marketing companies. Make sure the company that is in charge of your online presence follows the same valued best practices that your company follows. Together, your foundation will be safe from Penguins, Pandas, and any other small, cute, and apparently destructive creatures that might cross your path.

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