On April 24, Big Google unleashed a nuke in the form of an update they named Penguin. Although it has been a month since the update was unleashed, the effect is still felt as everyone tries to understand what exactly went on. The truth is, this update was the biggest I’ve ever seen from Google, and it basically remodeled entire SERPs (search results pages) overnight.
There isn’t any webmaster I know with more than one site, who wasn’t affected by the update. Although Matt Cutts claimed it would only affect 3% of the SERPs, the reality was FAR larger than that. If you thought Google’s Panda was off the charts, how about this latest one? According to the metrics by SEO Moz, the Penguin update impact looks to be DOUBLE that of any Panda update thus far. That’s massive.
It was evident Penguin was looking for:
1) Over optimized anchor text hyperlinks (in blog networks, comments, article sites, etc)
2) Keyword stuffing in both onpage and offpage content and links
The curious thing is that Penguin did NOT improve the quality of the search results. For the first time, I have to agree with numerous others that the search results now, are actually – worse than before! Penguin was a penalty update, meaning its only purpose was to demote websites based on links that it considers bad. Excessive use of anchor text for hyperlinks or “Over-optimization” would result in Penguin penalizing an entire website for virtually all its rankings, and this was how a lot of sites got dropped off the cliff, even for very old links they have. What was okay for years, suddenly became “ not okay”.
More disturbing than ever, is the fact that Google is now actively punishing sites solely on account of their links; this only gives the nod for “negative SEO” to flourish like never before. If Google is going to punish you for bad links, anyone can get you into trouble by sending bad links to you!
This is insanity, and only reflects either an admission on Google’s part that they are unable to cope with web spam and giving up altogether, or a deliberate, nefarious move on their part with a darker agenda including pushing more and more people towards their advertising program, Adwords.
After Penguin, the Google SERPs are indeed worse than ever. The more competitive the search term, the crazier the results you get. Take “Viagra” for example, of a spammy but highly competitive search term which I deliberately chose because being so spammy, it was sure to reflect any eccentricities of the algo very clearly. I just did a casual search on Google and this is what I get. Out of 10 results on the first page, only 3 are relevant; the red circled ones are irrelevant or infected/compromised sites.
There is just no way anyone can justify such a SERP result, and the lame excuse of “rubbish in, rubbish out” just doesn’t apply here if you still want to believe that Google is a credible search engine (Do a search on Bing for the same term and draw your own conclusions).
As you can see here, Penguin is giving a lot of weight to domains with huge authority that have a less “spammy” link profile (less over-optimized anchor text links). However, this leaves totally irrelevant (but spammed-with-paid-links) edu sites, as all the relevant pharmaceutical sites already have been knocked out due to all their ”over-optimized” links. The result – rubbish SERPs.
Google is deliberately ignoring the fact that many high quality sites may have “spammy” links to a certain degree, but this does NOT negate their value in any way. It’s absurd to punish a site for its links because the site can be very good as well; in fact, some penalized sites are the best in their niche or sector. It seems that Google would rather have less quality SERPs so long as it gets to punish a large number of website owners, and into this category would fall practically ALL internet marketers.
How to deal with Penguin? This is the big question many people are still left grappling with. For many, it’s probably already too late to repair a backlink profile with thousands of “bad” links. It’s not within the scope of my post to go into post-Penguin measures other than to say, diversification of anchor text (or even no anchor text) in links is the most sensible route moving forward, that is if you have a new site or a site without too much negative link baggage.
Finally, in light of all that has happened, I will actually admit that I have switched my MAIN search engine to Bing. I never thought that day would come, but it has. Suffice to say, Bing actually now gives better results than Google on many search terms and is more or less the equal of Google on the rest. The only downside to Bing is their slower indexing rate. Bing is slower to index and rank current news but is now a far more reliable search engine than Google who apparently has an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) to mess around with their SERPs for less than justifiable reasons.