Google Web Spam Update…From Pandas to Penguins

Unless you’ve never heard the word “SEO”, I am sure you know Google rolled out its “over optimization penalty” update on Tuesday, April 24th.  The term for this update was catch-phrased by Matt Cutts, head of Spam at Google, but Matt now says this was less of a penalty and more of a web spam update to continue with Google’s mission to clean-up spam and irrelevant content results.   Search Engine Land and its readers are now calling this newest Google change the “Penguin Update”.

Google Penguin

The question is, “Did the Penguin succeed in cleaning up more spam results?”

The jury is out on that one and there are several reports across the web verifying these crazy results.  Danny Sullivan wrote this great post using examples from Search Engine Land readers. The post questions whether the results are better or worse, and Danny compares the results to Bing for some context.  As with every update there are winners and losers…for each site that drops, another rises. Rarely do the winners go to the blogs and forums jubilant about their new found fortunes; typically they are back at their offices counting their leads, AdSense revenue and graphing their traffic spikes.

The blogs and forums however are full of disgruntled webmasters who are claiming foul and insisting they did nothing wrong.  I would say in this case though, based on our own research, there has been deterioration in the results.  There are enough reports of scraper sites – sites with no content and hijacked sites – still doing well, which makes me believe the Penguin did not quite get it right.    Some of the worst examples, like the now infamous Make Money Online result, have been corrected and appear to have been corrected manually.   At this point, there has not been enough of an adjustment to conclude that the update is improving results.

One of the biggest issues I see is people saying, “Why is this happen to me? I DID EVERYTHING RIGHT!” I have to say that I have a similar situation with a site I own which has unique editorially-approved content, good quality information and a well-visited blog and forum.  It seems that “everything right looks very different after this update.  We are still in the early stages of analyzing what happened to this site but I got quite a shock when I logged into SyCara on Wednesday morning and saw this sample of results!

SyCara Rank Results

This site, in my opinion, has good SEO, and while it does have a weak link profile it ranked fine for many keywords with that link profile.

So what do you do if this happened to you?  

Google has confirmed that the update is complete and for those of us veterans who were around for the 2003 Florida Update we know that updates leave a lot of webmasters unhappy.  Everyone keeps hoping for a rollback, then Google confirms it’s done and it’s time to stop licking the wounds.

If you have dropped then it’s highly unlikely that you will come back without making some adjustments.  I say hang tight because there is still a lot to learn about doing “everything right compared to changes made before this update rolled out.  If you are going to make changes to your site, then it’s best to wait until some additional analysis has been done and, even better, a positive impact due to making these changes has been reported. The Florida update did change many SEO best practices and I believe Penguin will also see some adjustments to strategy.

Search Engine Land has published a recovery from Penguin post but there are no real practical specific tips on what to do.  I am currently testing some changes on the above site which I will provide an update on when we see what works.

Until then, we will watch our rankings and curse that blasted Penguin!