Top Ten Survival Tips For Online Marketers After the Google Panda and Penguin Updates

The last couple of years have seen an explosion of major changes in the way search engines, particularly Google, calculate a webpage’s rank on user search queries. Google is the most used search engine on the Internet, and a huge number of websites relied on their Google rankings for web presence and visibility. These updates were game-changing for most of the Internet population, and drastically affected search-based online services such as SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and online marketing.

The changes also came unexpectedly, catching bloggers, online marketers and website owners/developers completely unaware; they woke up one day to see their websites’ rankings plummet a few notches down on search results with no clear explanation in sight. For those dependent on web traffic to generate income (websites with paid advertising, for example), this was almost an unmitigated disaster.

The Panda is Here

Google Panda was the algorithm update that was first made known to the public in February 2011. it decreased the rankings of websites that used black-hat SEO, plagiarised and/or duplicate content, cloaked keywords and other illicit methods of gaining web traffic. It also affected a huge population of Google searches upon its release. While Panda is focused primarily on ranking a website according to its functionality and timely relevance to user search queries, Penguin is all about downranking those that went against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Panda also boasts of other more sophisticated and more “human” ranking factors; some of these include a website’s usability based on design, loading speed, and reliability. These factors were first measured by human website testers, and were then later incorporated into algorithmic code that would automatically up-rank a website that shows similarities to these human-rated factors.

Google Panda affected 13% of Google’s overall search results. It heavily hit websites filled with too much advertising and old, outdated content, while pushing up frequently updated websites, social networks and other user-driven sites to top ranking spots.

Here Comes the Penguin

Google Penguin is another major update of note. Released recently in April 2012, It sported features that made it a radical departure from PageRank, Google’s long-standing algorithm for webpages’ rank analysis. Gone was the old-school method of ranking websites using backlinks and trackbacks, and in its wake came forth a more reliable way of gauging a website/page’s presence on the Internet. Rankings are now dependent on human social interactions instead of algorithmic computations based on keywords and links. The unit of measurement for these interactions are called social signals.

Social signals, as the name suggests, give more organic search results (i.e. no blackhat methods, like keyword stuffing, hidden links and other sneaky techniques) with its “social” component. A page’s popularity is determined by the number of people who liked, tweeted, or +1ed about it. Together, these two have cleared Google’s searches of websites with unnatural links, spammy and irrelevant content and poor user functionality.

How Can We Cope with the Panda and Penguin?: Top Ten Survival Tips

Though no definitive algorithm has been released to the public by Google, independent researchers have shown that page rank elements involve factors other than the sheer number of likes and retweets alone. A social signal generated by an established and popular person, for example, would be given more weight than a signal from an average user. And because Google has complete access to the Google+ database, +1s can also heavily affect search rankings.

People are now slowly learning ways to cope with these algorithm changes. Here are other things online marketers can do to withstand the radical changes brought about by Google’s Panda and Penguin updates.

1. Do What Google Says, Follow the Guidelines

If a website has been hit with ranking changes caused by an update, Google often sends out a message to its owners detailing the reasons for the downrank and the steps that one could take to bring the website back to its former glory. If people feel that their websites were unfairly downranked, they can send a feedback form to have Google reconsider their rankings.

2. Speed Your Site Up

A fast loading website can guarantee that most of its users will be coming back for another visit. Removing unnecessary objects, scripts, large images and flash animations can greatly improve a page’s loading time. The layout should be simple and intuitive enough that people can find what they want without too much effort. If a blog or website is WordPress-based, there are a number of plug-ins available that does speed optimization tasks with a click of a button.

3. Keep Advertisements to a Minimum

Back in the pre-Panda and pre-Penguin era, people had been taking advantage of PageRank’s deficiencies (i.e. putting too much emphasis on keywords and backlinks) to put up sites with dubious and often plagiarized content. They then filled these with Google AdSense ads and other income-generating devices. With black-hat SEO tactics, these spam sites often get to top positions in search rankings, resulting in people unwittingly viewing them, and then generating income for the online spammers in return. It is best to keeps ads to a minimum level, and keep the advertisements versus content ratio to a healthy level. This has also forced webmasters to start tracking their ads’ placements and effectiveness to remove ads that are not performing to keep things clean.

4. Build Your Reputation

Posts, content, comments and social signals that come from a well-known and respected person in a particular field will be given more weight in rankings than a tweet or comment from an anonymous and relatively unknown poster. Building reputation takes a lot of hard work, but it is perfectly attainable using the right (i.e. non-spammy) techniques. Just like the brock-and-mortar businesses, shaking hands and building relationships with reputable authors and sources are key to online success too. An always overlooked strategy: Have you setup your Google+ and mark-up your content with your G+ author profile?

5. Do Not Plagiarise

Duplicate content will always remain as a no-no. Each post should be original and unique. Content that are duplicates or plagiarised from other sources might be viewed by Google as potentialspam.

6. Get Rid of Low Quality Content

Low quality content can severely drag down a website’s rank. Website owners should take Google’s advice and re-evaluate their content to identify those that are not performing well. Corrective measures can be undertaken for improvement; even small measures like correcting grammar and spelling will go a long way. Content can be written in an engaging manner that people would want to actively engage with it (example: offering a thought-provoking question at the end of the post to encourage user comments). It’s also getting popular that blogs nowadays use Facebook’s Social Comment plugins to replace the traditional commenting features come with their blogging platform. There are statistics showing that Facebook comments correlates highly with search ranking.

7. Put Social Sharing Widgets on your Webpage(s)

Social networks, such as Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest, are a great way to generate organic traffic for any website. People always want to share interesting things they found on the Internet, and a Facebook like button strategically placed on a web page will make things more convenient for them. These widgets also generate the much-hyped social signals, which, in the light of the updates brought about by Google’s Panda and Penguin, are now considered as the king of all ranking factors. They almost replaced the old-school ranking devices such as backlinks, trackbacks and keywords.

8. Black Hat SEO Techniques are Dead

Hidden keywords, cloaking and unnatural links are not effective anymore. Using these illicit techniques will now result in a website’s downranking in Google searches. It is always best to obtain organic views from legitimate sources such as user shares on social networks. It’s surprising to note that many webmasters are still using these blackhat techniques. If you have read in forums that these technique works, do a check on the date of the discussion, you will find most of them are dated back in the 2005 to 2007. This has also been relabelled as “over-optimization” by Matt Cutts in this recent discussion.

9. Be Creative in Creating Content

Simply changing an article’s title can do wonders. People are more attracted to posts with attention-grabbing headlines over those that look rather boring. Be clear, creative, funny and engaging so people will keep on coming back. This is also a good way to build a reputable presence online. Always offer great values to your readers. At times, you may not want to spell everything out. Give your readers some room for thought, this can be the best way to keep them coming back!

10. Embrace Thought Leadership

Every successful websites that you can name are thought leaders. You should present yourself as a thought leader in your industry. Webmasters need to start thinking how much of content are curated and how much of them are original content. Many thought leaders are curating content from other sources but they add their professional opinion. This adds value and when users love you, Google loves you too.

At A Glance: The Importance of Social Signals In the Panda and Penguin Era

Since Google is now putting more premium on websites that obtain page views from “organic” traffic, developers and marketers are now ramping up their websites’ Google search performance by streamlining interfaces, writing high-rated quality content, and making every aspect of their site user-friendly. At the same time, social signals has now become a buzzword in online marketing, since these “signals” seem to be the number one factor in determining who gets the top positions in search rankings.

There are a lot of reasons why social signals are now becoming a hit with marketers after the Google Panda and Penguin updates. Social signals put emphasis on the “social” aspect. Most people have at least one account at any online social network like Facebook, Twitter, and even Pinterest. Every like and retweet has the potential to reach out to a wider market than what could be achieved through conventional marketing means.

People are also more apt to trust recommendations from people they know, like friends, family and celebrities. Social signals harness this trust by giving results that are based on what these familiar people have shared, liked, or tweeted about. A business can build a stronger brand identity among people who can vouch for that particular business’ reliability among their friends.

Utilizing social signals is also cheaper in the long run. Though a small amount of effort would be needed to generate a fair quantity of buzz among social networks, this can pay off extremely well in the future. Because social signals use the Internet as a medium, costs are drastically reduced when compared to traditional marketing methods.

Let’s face it, social networking is cool. It’s trendy, and hip, and has the potential to attract youngsters (those under 24 years old), who, in one way or another, are the most active Internet users at present. A good campaign fuelled by social signals has the ability to turn a ho-hum advertisement into a full-blown online viral marketing movement. People all over the world will still be talking about that particular tweet or Facebook page and sharing them with their friends and family online. It’s like a 24/7 kind of online exposure.

With these changes in search engine rankings, social signal considerations should now be incorporated in online marketing campaigns. It is not a passing marketing fad that can be ignored. It is a step forward in the right direction, and when combined with the powers of social media, can work remarkable wonders in the social networking scene.

Download Social Media Guide: How to build social signals (PDF)

by Daniel Tan

About Daniel Tan

Daniel Tan: A veteran Internet Marketer. Founder of SomoThemes, Social Metrics Pro, SEOPressor and XTabApps. Daniel's focus is to simplify marketing with technology, to help marketers reach more people in an organized and effective way.

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