4/26 Edit – Google has confirmed that this update is going to be called “Penguin.” Matt Cutts even tweeted this photo:
A couple stuffed animals in our office at work.@ Googleplex instagr.am/p/J5MNc-OP_m/— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) April 26, 2012
Brace for impact. As I write this, Google is rolling out the latest rendition of its Panda algorithm — Panda 3.5 (Editor’s note: Now being called “Penguin”). Here’s Google’s official announcement:
In the next few days, we’re launching an important algorithm change targeted at webspam. The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines. We’ve always targeted webspam in our rankings, and this algorithm represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content.
It seems to be up for debate right now as to whether this is an update of Google’s Panda algorithm (ie, Panda 3.5) or whether it’s a standalone update. Either way, In this post my goal is to provide an in-depth analysis on the following:
- What Google’s saying in its announcement
- How Panda 3.5 is affecting search results
- How to recover from Panda 3.5
- Other possible repercussions of Google’s latest algorithm change
- My analysis on Google’s real purpose for rolling out this algorithm change
What Google’s Saying
The opposite of “white hat” SEO is something called “black hat webspam” (we say “webspam” to distinguish it from email spam). In the pursuit of higher rankings or traffic, a few sites use techniques that don’t benefit users, where the intent is to look for shortcuts or loopholes that would rank pages higher than they deserve to be to be ranked. We see all sorts of webspam techniques every day, from keyword stuffing to link schemes that attempt to propel sites higher in rankings.
The goal of many of our ranking changes is to help searchers find sites that provide a great user experience and fulfill their information needs. We also want the “good guys” making great sites for users, not just algorithms, to see their effort rewarded.
The change will go live for all languages at the same time. For context, the initial Panda change affected about 12% of queries to a significant degree; this algorithm affects about 3.1% of queries in English to a degree that a regular user might notice.
How Panda 3.5 is Affecting Search Results
Search results for various queries appear to have changed, but they don’t appear to be better. In fact, they appear to be much worse. Let’s take a look at a few examples:
Search term: “new shoes”
- Rank 1: A Youtube video for the song “new shoes” by Paolo Nutini. – who? I don’t know who Paolo Nutini is, and props if you do. Furthermore, I’m looking for new shoes and Google gave me a video as the top search result? C’mon, man.
- Rank 2: An intro to marketing class. – WTF? What the hell does this have to do with new shoes?
- Rank 1: makemoneyforbeginners.blogspot.com – Seriously? This site is blank. As in, zero (0) posts. It’s ranking #1 for a search term with 110,000 global exact searches/month, and it’s blank.
- Rank 2-5: Nothing useful, littered with Adsense ads.
- Rank 6: zzzprofits.com – What? This is a forum directory with barely any posts. Nothing related to making money online or even remotely useful here.
- Rank 7: gurucreation.com – This is a list builder site. The owner is just trying to get folks to give up their email address so he can build his email list.
- Rank 2: A book on Amazon. – A book about raw dog food? Is Google just getting into bed with Amazon here or does Google really think I’m looking for a book?
- Rank 5: mudbay.us – I can’t find anything about raw dog food on this site. It’s not even mentioned on the homepage. I’m clueless as to why Google is ranking it #5 for this term.
How to Recover from Google Panda 3.5
As I discussed in a previous blog post, Google is targeting inbound link profiles with all their recent Panda updates (3.3, 3.4 and 3.5). If you’ve been victimized by this latest algorithm change, it’s due to one of the following factors:
- Too many inbound links with exact-match anchor text.
- Too many inbound links from “webspam” content.
- Not enough “trust” links, such as links from Facebook, Twitter, and social bookmarking sites. These are also known as social signals.
- Delete most or all of your inbound links with exact match anchor text.
- Dilute your existing link profile with a new link building campaign aimed at building plenty of LSI keywords, naked URLs, brand anchors and junk/universal anchors. (For more information on what each of these are, please read my previous post, in which I go into detail about each one.
Other Possible Repercussions of Panda 3.5
Google has made it clear that it doesn’t like “webspam” and it doesn’t like the sites that host it (the publishers) or the ones that use it to their benefit (the advertisers). Does this mean that it’s now possible to “tank” your competitors by throwing lots of crappy, spun content up at various blog networks that link to your competitor’s website? Is Google making Negative SEO a reality?
I’ve already seen various reports that Negative SEO is working. I really hope Google hasn’t made it possible to tank competitors with nasty links. If so, I expect SEO companies to morph into SEO mercenaries, torpedoing their clients’ competitors down, one by one.
What’s the Real Purpose Behind Panda 3.3, 3.4 and 3.5?
Google’s real purpose behind Panda 3.4 through 3.5 is simple: to make money. Small businesses and webmasters that have long held solid, page 1 rankings for their money keywords are suddenly and abruptly seeing their rankings decline, which is leading to decreased sales and hard-hit bottom lines. Many of these are businesses that enjoyed high-quality, high-converting organic search traffic that they were able to procure by paying a small fee to an SEO company to keep them ranked highly.
Google realized an opportunity: If they could make it more difficult for small businesses to rank well, while at the same time smacking down hundreds of thousands of businesses in the rankings, they could incite a panic-induced stampede to Google’s Adwords pay-per-click auction in an attempt to compensate for lost organic search traffic. This is exactly the effect that Google has had on the industry. Small SEO companies are closing up shop. Small businesses are panicking and fleeing to Google Adwords. At the same time, the influx of new bidders in Adwords is increasing the average cost per click for keywords across every niche, putting more money in Google’s pockets and stripping away profit margins from bidders (small companies).
This is a smart business move by Google, but it’s a far cry from making the search world a better place, as they claim to be doing. Search results are worse, or just plain different; not better. Small businesses that long enjoyed prosperity are begging to give Google money to get their brand back at the top of search results (albeit, in the “Sponsored” section). Google is flexing its control over the search industry in a way that’s going to suck more money out of small, private businesses and put more money in its own coffers.
I hope this guide has been helpful for you, whether you’re just trying to learn more about Google Panda 3.5 or whether you’ve been negatively affected by it. Feel free to reach out or leave a comment!