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Source: Robert Scoble / Flickr

Source: Robert Scoble / Flickr

Were you punished by Google’s Penguin algorithm? If you have, there is a good chance you’ve been waiting a year or longer to recover after taking all the necessary steps to have your site reconsidered.

Thankfully, as part of the latest update to Penguin, you won’t have to wait much longer to see if you’ve bounced back. Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed, via Twitter, that Penguin recoveries have already begun rolling out and will be finished within the coming days.

This means that sites that were penalized should start to show improvements within the next week. What it doesn’t mean, however, is that you can expect to return to your same former glory in the search engines.

Removing the penalty still leaves you without the bad links likely driving much of your high ranking, so you can’t expect them to help boost you back up to high spots in the search results. On the other hand, if you’ve taken the time while you’ve been penalized to build new, better links and further optimize your site, you may come out ahead once all the recoveries are finished rolling out.

Google’s Penguin algorithm has been a core part of the search engines efforts to fight spam and low-quality content for years, but it has always been its own thing. The algorithm ran separate from Google’s core algorithm and was refreshed periodically. But that is all changing.

Starting today, Penguin is running in real-time as part of Google’s primary algorithm in all languages.

What Does This Mean?

In the past, the Penguin algorithm has been relatively static. When it was updated or refreshed, it would dish out penalties and remove penalties from those who had gone successfully gone through the reconsideration process. The only problem was these updates were sporadic, at best. In fact, the last update was over 700 days ago.

By turning Penguin into a real-time part of its algorithm, Google is speeding up the entire system so penalties can be given when a site is flagged and those who have resolved their problems can lose their penalty more quickly.

According to Google, Penguin can now make changes in roughly the same period of time it takes the search engine to crawl and re-index a page.

What Else Is Changing?

While the speed of Penguin is the biggest change as it becomes part of the core algorithm, there are some other small tweaks to how it works.

Penguin is now more targeted, only penalizing specific pages with that break link guidelines. Google Penguin used to punish the entire site for containing pages containing spammy link building practices, but now it will only devalue the individual pages.

Google is also making some changes to how it talks about Penguin in the public. Or, as the company stated, “We’re not going to comment on future refreshes.”

Image source: Lin Padgham

Image source: Lin Padgham

If you thought Google might be slowing down on updating their most well-known search algorithms, the past month may have been a bit of a shocker for you. First, Google rolled out the latest update to their Panda algorithm in late September, and less than a month later they have released the first update to their Penguin algorithm in over a year.

If Penguin and Panda aren’t familiar terms to you, they are the names of two major algorithms which determine what Google’s search results will look like for a given search. They help evaluate websites and reward those who are following guidelines while punishing those who bend or break the rules.

While the Panda algorithm mostly relates to the content directly on webpages, Penguin aims to take down those who try to cheat Google by creating unnatural backlinks to try to gain higher rankings. Both often these algorithms penalize webmasters and the businesses who run these pages when there was no malicious intent.

Unfortunately, with the complex system that makes up Google’s search algorithms and their ever-changing guidelines and many business owners have been shocked to discover their site is no longer appearing in the search results after an algorithm update.

While site owners can frequently bounce back after these penalties, they can also destroy any momentum you had and lose you potential customers. That’s why it is always important to have someone who is consistently up-to-date on all of Google’s latest policy changes to make sure your site is staying within the rules.

As a business owner with an eye on your company’s online marketing success, you have likely heard about Google’s search engine algorithms. You may even have a general idea of how they function and effect your business’s online presence and marketing strategies.

But, unless you spend your free time reading all the SEO blogs, you probably have some questions about some aspects of how these algorithms work. If your business does international business, one of those questions is very likely if Google’s algorithms work the same around the world.

While the algorithms largely tackle the same issues, the short answer is that they do not all work the same on an international scale.

As Barry Schwartz recently highlighted, you can find specific examples of when algorithms vary across borders by looking at the Google Panda algorithm. The algorithm was initially launched for English language Google engines in February 2011, but the rest of the globe didn’t see the algorithm roll out for quite some time. Notably, it took 17 months for Google to release Panda in Korea and Japan to target Asian languages.

However, the Google Penguin algorithm didn’t have nearly the same delay. Penguin rolled out globally and impacted sites in any language.

What’s the reason for the difference? It all boils down to purpose. The Panda algorithm focused on language and content, and those algorithms have to be customized and focused based on the wide variety of languages found around the world. Meanwhile, algorithms like Penguin target off-page technical factors like links, which raises less of an issue customization.

BudgetAs it comes time to prepare for business strategies going into the next year, many are wondering exactly how much they should be planning for in their SEO budget. Well, there is good news and there is bad news. The good news is SEO continues to yield great returns on your investment. The bad news is SEO is getting more and more expensive to do well. Jayson DeMers put together five reasons you should be asking for more for your SEO in 2014.

1)You Can’t Cheat With Cheap Backlinks

Not too long ago, you could just buy packages of a huge number of cheap backlinks and skate into high rankings on Google. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. However, Google has made it very clear they won’t let you play that game anymore. They’ve started penalizing those who try to use cheap shortcuts to a lot of backlinks, and they’ve gotten great at spotting when you do try to game the system.

Article spinning, excessive social bookmarks, paid links, duplicate content, and keyword stuffing have all been ruled illegal in Google’s book. You’ve got no choice but to go legit now.

2) Recovering from Google Penguin Can Be Costly (And You Need an Audit Anyway)

While many have already managed to recover from a drop in the rankings thanks to Penguin 2.0, there are plenty who haven’t been able to make a full recovery yet, and even more who are likely to be penalized in the coming year. But, recovering from Penguin takes a lot of time and effort, and time means money.

Usually, site owners need to undergo complete SEO link profile audits to identify all of the problems costing their site and begin recovery. Even if you haven’t been hit with an unnatural link warning within Google Webmaster Tools, it is still wise to perform an audit to spot any potential trouble links before Google does.

3) Good Content Marketing Isn’t Cheap

Google has begun to favor quality content pretty heavily, but this also means the bar has been raised. You used to be able to write just a few short blurbs every work and get reasonable traffic and authority in Google, but now every brand has a blog. You have to put in more work to stick out.

DeMers goes as far to suggest the standard minimum word amounts to rank well are going to go up, even as high as 2,000 words per article. He uses Google’s new in-depth article section as an indicator of this move, though Google’s own words paint a slightly different picture. “Users often turn to Google to answer a quick question, but research suggests up to 10% of users daily information needs involve learning about a broad topic.”

I don’t think article word count will necessarily go up as more blogging continues, but exploring your topic more thoroughly is usually a good idea. Google will still allow succinct content into the rankings for those who are looking for quick and ready answers, but that content can’t be weak. Even the shorter content you put out needs to offer a real and identifiable value to visitors.

4) You Need a Content Marketing Strategy

Content marketing doesn’t simply consist of publishing content. There is much more that has to be done to get that content out in front of your audience’s eyes. That’s why many have called content marketing the new SEO, even though many SEO professionals are expected to handle content creation as well.

There is some truth to the idea however. Publishing useful and interesting content builds your brand and generates brand signals that do get your content ranking in search engines. However, this just shows how important it is to have a plan put in place ahead of time for your content marketing. If you don’t plan ahead, you’ll likely fall into the low quality content pattern with less flashes of quality unique work.

If you are expected to handle SEO and content marketing at the same time, you’re going to need more resources to ensure everything is done right.

5) Outsourcing Social Media to Scale Up

Social media appears to be ingraining itself into search engine rankings at an alarmingly fast rate, and as such it requires a lot of attention. It is gaining steam both as an outreach and audience engagement strategy as well as driving traffic and boosting rankings.

The problem is, depending on the size of your SEO team, you likely don’t have the time and means to properly handle your social media on your own. Business owners don’t have the spare time to be investing heavily into social media, and an SEO professional’s time is already spoken for by a multitude of tasks. If you’re brand can afford it, outsourcing social media means your social efforts will be focused and well planned, while your other responsibilities won’t falter.

Image Courtesy of Martin Pettitt

Image Courtesy of Martin Pettitt

Despite telling us that Google would no longer confirm when new Panda updates occur, they announced today that they were rolling out a new update that is “more finely targeted” than the original release of Penguin 2.0.

Unlike many Penguin updates, most webmasters actually seem happy to see the new version, as they are already claiming recovery from the original algorithm.

Google has said that their plan is to release Panda algorithm updates monthly over a ten day period, but Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team, implied there way a delay for this refresh because they wanted to ensure the signals would be loosened up a little from the last release.

The official statement from Google simply says, “In the last few days we’ve been pushing out a new Panda update that incorporates new signals so it can be more finely targeted.”

Search Engine Journal says the update has resulted in

  • Increase in impressions but same amount of CTR’s (viewable when logged into Google’s Webmaster Tools)
  • Informational sites such as Wikipedia and About.com have seen big impacts in their rankings
  • Authority sites are more prominent in SERPs.
  • Sites using Google+ are getting better rankings

Their suggestions for the future? It’s reaching the point where not using Google+ can hurt your site, and it is time to enable Google Authorship.

Image Courtesy of Martin Pettitt

Image Courtesy of Martin Pettitt

It has been well over a month since Penguin 2.0 was unleashed upon the world and the search industry is still reeling from the results of the algorithm update aimed at link profiles, low quality backlinks, and over-optimized anchor texts.

The average estimate says that Penguin 2.0 affected over 2-percent of all English queries. That doesn’t sound like much, but when SEO Roundtable took a poll in late May over half their readers say they had been hit by the changes.

First, it should be said that some portion of those may have been affected by a separate algorithm update released shortly before the new version of Penguin, but that update was aimed at typically spammy sectors like payday loans and pornography.

The majority of those saying they were affected by Penguin however were most likely correct about their recent drop in rankings or loss of traffic. It is either that, or far too many involved were misreading their data or somehow unaware that their payday loan site might be targeted by Google. Let’s assume that’s not the case, because that option sounds highly unlikely.

But, time has passed since Penguin came out. I’ve seen at least 10 articles detailing how to recover from Penguin, and numerous others focused on all the areas Penguin targeted. We should all be getting back to normal, right?

According to the recent poll from SEO Roundtable on the topic, that is not the case. Over 60 percent of those responding have said they haven’t recovered from the algorithm update, with only 7.5-percent saying they have fully recovered.

What does this mean? Well the respondents are clearly SEO informed people who keep up to date with the latest blogs, since they responded to one of the more reputable sites available on the issue. One major issue is that full recovery from Penguin isn’t possible for many of those affected until the next refresh. It is hard to know when that refresh could happen, though it may not be until the next update is announced.

The other issue is simply that those articles telling SEOs how to recover from Penguin range from completely valid to “how to try to cheat the new system” which can be confusing for inexperienced or uninformed SEOs. The best suggestion for solving this problem is playing close attention to what sites you are reading and always take the more conservative advice.

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Penguin 2.0 only affected 2.3% of search queries, but you would think it did much more from the response online. Ignoring all of the worrying before the release, there have been tons of comments about the first-hand effects it seems many are dealing with in the post-Penguin 2.0 web. Those spurned by the new Penguin algorithm have even accused Google of only releasing the update to increase their profitability.

Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team, used his recent Webmaster Chat video to attack that idea head on. The main question he was asked is what aspect of Google updates Cutts thinks the SEO industry doesn’t understand. While Matt expresses concern about the amount of people who don’t get the difference between algorithm updates and data refreshes, Cutts’ main focus is the concept that Google is hurting web owners to improve their profits.

Most notably, the algorithm updates simply aren’t profitable. Google experienced decreases in their revenue from almost all their recent updates, but Cutts says that money isn’t the focus. Google is aiming at improving the quality of the internet experience, especially search. While site owners using questionable methods are upset, most searchers will hopefully feel that the updates have improved their experience, which will keep them coming back and using Google.

As far as the misunderstandings between algorithm updates and data refreshes, Cutts has expanded on the problem more elsewhere. The biggest difference is that the algorithm update changes how the system is working while data refreshes do not and only change the information the system is using or seeing.

Cutts was also asked which aspect of SEO that we are spending too much time on, which leads Cutts to one of the main practices that Penguin focuses on: link building. Too many SEOs are still putting too much faith in that single practice though it is being destabilized by other areas that more directly affect the quality of users’ experiences such as creating compelling content. Instead, Matt urges SEOs to pay more attention to design and speed, emphasizing the need to create the best web experience possible.

Cutts’ video is below, but the message is that Google is going to keep growing and evolving, whether you like it or not. If you listen to what they say and tell you about handling your SEO, you may have to give up some of your old habits but you’ll spend much less time worrying about the next algorithm update.

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

With all of the different ways Google can penalize you these days, it is easy to get confused about what you need to do to fix your mistakes. Between Penguin, Panda, Unnatural Link Penalties, and Manual Penalties, there are more ways to get in trouble than ever.

Google’s increasing strictness is far from a bad thing, but it is also getting increasingly complex which makes for confusion when trying to bounce back from a mistake.

Marie Haynes knows just how confusing it can be. She has been working in SEO and writing for SEOMoz for years, but even she got confused when trying to help someone with what she thought was a Penguin-related penalty. She then saw another respected writer make the same mistake in a recent article but confusing unnatural links penalties with Panda.

It seems we need to go to the root of these issues and break down what each of these different penalties are and how they are different from each other.

The Penguin Algorithm came about last April as a algorithm change aimed at fighting webspam, which explains the initial title “The Webspam Algorithm” and it mainly targeted sites participating in link schemes and other questionable linking practices, though it also looked for indications of keyword stuffing.

The Penguin Algorithm isn’t to be confused with an Unnatural Link Penalty. The main difference is that Unnatural Links Penalties are manually taken against you rather than by an automated algorithm. They mainly place these algorithms when they believe a site is attempting to manipulate search engine results through the creation of links. The real question is what causes Google to investigate your site.

It is widely believed that filing a spam report will flag a site for manual review, but others have guessed that Google monitors more cutthroat niches such as “payday loans” or casino sites and consistently manually checks for unnatural links. Thanks to Google’s secrecy, we may never know exactly what makes Google personally examine a site.

So what is the main difference between Penguin and Unnatural Links Penalties? It really all comes down to the different way algorithms act compared to penalties taken by a living breathing person. Algorithms view all sites the same and is effective almost immediately. All sites hit by an algorithmic penalty will see the damage within the day of the algorithm update. Manual penalties on the other hand are being placed against sites at all times, and can be appealed more easily than an algorithmic penalty.

You can always recover from any of these penalties with effort, as Marie Haynes shows in her article, but you have to clean up your page and your methods. SEOs can’t get away with participating in link schemes or engaging other black hat techniques anymore, and there is no way to cheat the search engines anymore.

Source: Hannes Grobe

Source: Hannes Grobe

Compared to Panda’s regular changes, Google’s Penguin algorithm has been relatively static. Since its first introduction in April of last year, Penguin has only been refreshed twice, but there is an update coming soon and it appears this “next generation” of Penguin will have a major impact.

The first big Penguin update took the SEO world by surprise. It was originally referred to as the Web Spam Algorithm Update, and impacted over 3 percent of English searches. This change has the possibility of affecting just as many pages.

When the original update came out by surprise, many SEO experts and website owners claimed they were penalized unfairly, though the more done by the community the more it appears many of those were using questionable tactics. There were likely a very small number of site owners unjustly hurt, but the majority were simply erring on the wrong side of the line.

The possibility of having your website penalized has many in the community concerned about the new Penguin update, and while we don’t know too much about what the update holds for us, plenty of SEO writers are making predictions and suggestions to try to keep innocent site owners safe.

Search Engine Watch analyzed the types of data Google has been gathering and what the company has learned from the past year of spam filtering and through tools like the Link Disavow Tool.

Google’s new update is likely to be a more efficient, intelligent, and thorough algorithm to fight spam. As always, the best way to be sure you will be safe when Penguin rolls around is to be following Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and best practices for SEO. If you think you may be in the gray area, you can use Search Engine Watch’s analysis to see how to judge your site before Google judges it for you.