Rewarding High Quality Sites: Google’s Penguin / Webspam Update Has Significant SEO Implications

Initially referred to as the Webspam update, Google has officially dubbed it "Penguin." Isn't he cute?

The recent update to Google’s algorithm — referred to initially as the Webspam update, before Google officially dubbed it Penguin— has caused a good amount of debate within the SEO community.  Although the number of sites affected by it was relatively small, the Penguin update continues to be the topic of much discussion because of the information Google released along with it and its implications for the future of search engine optimization.

Some were concerned that this update spelled the end for SEO; however, their fears appear to be unfounded.  In his blog post introducing the Penguin update, Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam Team, notes:

Google has said before that search engine optimization, or SEO, can be positive and constructive—and we’re not the only ones. Effective search engine optimization can make a site more crawlable and make individual pages more accessible and easier to find. 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.

The Penguin update is another step by Google to reward well built sites that have been optimized using “white hat techniques” while punishing “webspam.”  The way these terms are defined in the Cutts’ post offer and Google’s desire to reward sites that offer a good user experience offer useful insights to conducting SEO in the post-Penguin landscape.

Cutts defines white hat search engine optimizers as those who “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.”

Black hat webspam, on the other hand, makes use of techniques that offer no benefit to users exploit and loopholes or shortcuts to rank pages higher than they ought to be.  Examples of webspam techniques include keyword stuffing and link schemes.

In short, Google wants white hat optimizers to be able to focus on designing and maintaining quality sites without having to worry that sites optimized with black hat techniques might rank higher despite offering a poorer user experience.  “We also want the ‘good guys’ making great sites for users, not just algorithms, to see their effort rewarded,” says Cutts.

For those who pay attention to the stance Google has been taking on SEO and webspam recently, the Penguin update should have come as no surprise.  For SEO firms that adhere to tested white hat techniques, it was in many ways a validation of those methods.  Keyword stuffing and link building schemes have been obvious things to avoid for some time now although have still tried to use them to game rankings.  Doubtless, there will be those who continue to do so, but the Penguin update should make such efforts much less effective, while rewarding white hat strategies like improving site usability, creating great content, or optimizing page load times.

It’s also worth noting that Google rolled out a Panda 3.5 refresh on 4/19/12 during the Webspam / Penguin update.  For more on the Panda 3.5 refresh and the biggest winners and losers in the rankings, check out Danny Sullivan’s  recent post on the topic.

If you have any questions about the Penguin or Panda 3.5 updates or would like to consult with us regarding its implications for your SEO initiatives, please feel free to contact us.  At Collaboration 133, we utilize proven and effective white hat SEO techniques to help our clients maximize their rankings without violating Google’s webspam policies.

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