Whether you are a local business owner, corporate CEO, online marketing agency, or freelance SEO, the thought of having your site penalized by Google is a frightening aspect. A penalty can rip your site from the top position down to page 10 or even completely off of Google’s search engine. To prevent your site from being hit with a penalty, you need to arm yourself with the knowledge to keep your site on the straight and narrow.
Google’s algorithm is a complicated system, and they do not often share what comprises of this system. There are times, however, that we will get some information regarding certain aspects of the algorithm directly from Google. Two such instances were the introductions of the Panda and Penguin updates, also called penalties by those who have had sites afflicted by these updates.
Both updates directly affect how Google displays its results during search queries. They do so in completely different ways, though.
Released in February, 2011, the Panda update was designed to help Google filter its search engine to remove sites that provide little to no value. These sites often displayed thin, low-quality, or duplicate content.
There is no set number of words that Google requires a web page to have to avoid being considered thin content. A thin content page is usually a page that has nothing of use to the reader. A few pieces of thin content on your site won’t necessarily cause your site to be flagged by the Panda update; however, if the majority of your site is pages with one or two sentences and little else, the site may trigger the Panda filter.
Duplicate content is exactly what it sounds like. It is content that is found on your site that is also found elsewhere, either on your site or another site. If the content is copied from another site, Google can quickly determine which site was the original author of the content. If you have many pages on your site that are duplicated from elsewhere, the Panda filter may trigger and cause your site to be penalized in the rankings.
As mentioned, duplicate content can also originate from within your site. For instance, suggest you sell t-shirts on your site. You have one shirt that comes in 8 colors and 4 sizes. If you were to make one page for each shirt variation, you would have 32 pages for this one shirt. If you were to sell 20 different shirts, your site would be overwhelmed with 640 pages for essentially 20 products. There are ways around this issue, though. You could look into canonical tags (tells Google which page is the original article and which are the duplicates) or even just display all the options on one page, possibly with a drop-down menu.
When it comes to low-quality content, Google is again looking at the value your content provides. If you blog every day, but just don’t have the time to write full, concise articles, your quality may not be up to par. If Google starts to see that the quality of your articles is slipping and your site is mostly comprised of low-quality articles, your site may be filtered by the Panda update.
The Penguin algorithm update was released in April of 2012. Rather than focusing on the content of your site, this update focused on the sites that were linking to your site.
When one site links to another, that’s the same as the first site giving your site a vote of confidence and telling Google (and everyone else) that the site it is linking to is a good site with good and relevant information. The more authority the linking site has, the more weight that vote of confidence has.
Before the Penguin update, the value of the link wasn’t as important. It was more about quantity over quality. As such, many SEOs would abuse the system by finding many low-quality and cheap (or free) links to point back at their sites. This would help them rank quickly.
Today, however, Google prefers quality over quantity. Links from high-authority sites will hold more weight than links from low-authority sites.
Google also looks at anchor text when determining whether a site should be filtered through the Penguin update. Anchor text is the text that his clickable that is linked to another site. Often in the past, SEOs would use specific keywords as their anchor text, even if it didn’t grammatically make sense. The idea was that the anchor text helped Google determine what terms the site should rank for.
Today, anchor text still plays a vital role in determining what terms a site ranks for, but the Penguin filter helps to catch unnatural anchor texts or the overuse of any given terms. This helps prevent SEOs from easily manipulating the algorithm.
If your site has fallen victim to either update and subsequently filtered out of the search results, don’t worry. With some work, you can get your site back in good standing and regain its ranking.