Google algorithm updates affect search

Brooke Snow

As with many companies, Google likes to name its algorithm updates. This is where our friends Panda and Penguin come in. While the names insinuate something cute and cuddly, these updates are anything but. The goal of any algorithm update is to help get the end user good information that matches their needs. The main goal of Panda is to penalize sites with low quality content such as thin and duplicate content. Penguin is more focused on a site’s overall credibility and is aimed at penalizing spam sites, such as ones with unnatural inbound links. Panda and Penguin have endless versions (as of 21 November, we are at Panda update No. 22), and Google updates the algorithm 500 times to 600 times a year. You can see a list of updates by year on SEOmoz.
There are a couple key things that will help you determine if your site was hit.
1. You may have received a warning from Google Webmaster Tools (if you don’t have this set up for your hotel site, you need to). If you received the warning below, then you may have been hit by Penguin.
2. Analyze your traffic and impressions in Google Analytics as well as Google Webmaster Tools. If you see a drop on any of the major update days, you may have been hit.

Dates to look at:
  • Original Panda: 19 April 2012
  • Original Penguin: 24 April 2012
  • Panda Refresh: 27 April 2012
How to Panda and Penguin proof your site?
If your site was fortunate to not be hit by the major Google algorithm updates, then your next move should be to make sure you take extra steps to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future. Below are some key things you can do to proof your site against Panda and Penguin.
Ways to protect your site against Penguin:
Remember some sites were hurt by Panda because the content on their site was too thin, which ultimately created a poor user experience that was identified through a lack of engagement and slow site load times. Here’s what you should do:
  • Ensure your site is designed for a good user experience and doesn’t inhibit engagement
  • Key metrics to look at to determine engagement:
    • Bounce rate (aim for around 30% to 40%)
    • Average time on site (aim for 3 minutes to 4 minutes on site)
    • Number of pages viewed per visit (aim for 4-plus pages)
    • Conversion rates (aim for 2% to 5%)
  • Make sure your site doesn’t load too slowly. You can get good insights into your sites current load speed as well as suggestions to increase it with Google’s page speed tool.
  • Going back to elementary school days, spelling and grammar are important. Head of Google’s Web spam team, Matt Cutts has stated that more reputable sites tend to spell better than lower quality sites.
  • Quality, quality, quality. Make sure your content is unique and worth reading.
Ways to protect your site against Penguin:
Sites were hurt by Penguin due to poor links; so were sites with too many footer links, links from unrelated sites and too many links with exact match anchor text. Here’s what you can do:
  • Remove any unrelated or links with very low quality.
  • Build links to your site that are higher quality and come from relevant sites (an example of a relevant site would be one themed around travel or hospitality).
  • Make sure you have varied anchor text for links coming to your site.
  • Use internal linking sparingly. Don’t add a link to another page on your site unless it would be helpful to the user.
  • Tool tip: Google Webmaster Tools now offers disavow links, which provides the ability to have Google count low-quality links when assessing your site. (Note: Be careful and make sure you know what you’re doing before utilizing this tool.)
What does all this mean for your website?
As Google continues to fine tune the algorithm to ensure the most relevant sites are returned for a user’s query, it will be essential to create website content that is focused on the user and not search engines.
Some key things to avoid:
  • Don’t automatically generate content. Make sure if you are creating new content, you make it as unique as possible. For example, rather than using the same basic content for new hotel packages and just changing a few words here and there, make sure you create descriptions that are as unique as the offering.
  • Avoid any tricks that are intended to improve rankings, such as keyword stuffing a page or using hidden text or links.
  • Don’t participate in any link schemes or use bulk link-building services. If you keep your site user focused and honest, you should have no problems with being penalized by any Pandas or Penguins in the future.
Brooke Snow joined the SEO world and Anvil Media, Inc. back in 2010. As a digital analyst at Anvil, Brooke is responsible for the creation and execution of various client online marketing strategies, specializing in Local SEO as well as in various industry verticals including hospitality and education. As an alum of the University of Oregon School of Journalism with a major in Advertising Brooke started her career at more traditional advertising agencies managing client work ranging from interactive web projects to print and collateral.

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Pl


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