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The Google Zoo Paranoia: Tell Your Inner Penguin to Shut Up

| Posted in category Google Internet Marketing

Man vs PenguinApart from some really cool achievements Google has recently managed to ruin reputation of the cutest monochromatic animals and cause an acute attack of paranoia among SEOs. An army of slapped-by-panda-pecked-by-penguin prophets shout about the approaching SEOpocalypses and preach on optimization asceticism. The naïve and trusting webmasters start removing backlinks, content, and keywords from their websites to cause nothing but even a faster decrease in rankings.

There are at least two teams in the field that benefit from the situation: the cunning dudes who mind their business and keep on working (see the case study below) and "the big SEO guys" (read: the evangelists of the fluffy white SEO). The latter are hypnotizing you with "we are building trust and authority using advanced techniques" mantra, which is yet another marketing catch. Sure thing the reputable consultancies might help you rank higher but their services don't always meet your budget.

As far as most of you know, during the past few years Google implemented several quality related updates but none of them was really fatal for traditional SEO. Though the aftermath of Penguin is not totally clear yet, we're absolutely sure, it's not going to be grave.

Below is a list of important Google updates that triggered heated debates among webmasters regarding the future of SEO.

The Penguin Update (April, 2012)

Risk factors, or what is affected:

  • Low variety of link anchor texts
  • Backlinks from websites of the same type (e.g. mostly forums or mostly blog comments)
  • Backlinks from irrelevant websites
  • All sorts of link manipulating schemes
  • Keyword stuffing

Search + Your World (January, 2012)

A short bout of Google + sharing obsession remedied by privacy concerns and lack of other social networks in SERPs.

Panda Update (February, 2011)

Risk factors, or what is affected:

  • Non-original content
  • A high rate of duplicate content with little to none original content on page and/or website level
  • Exceeding amounts of advertising on the pages
  • Over-optimized content (heavy overdose of target keywords)
  • Low user engagement (bounce rate, time on site, pages viewed per visit)
  • Low CTR in Google search results pages

Real-time Search (December, 2009)

A new algorithmic change that enables Google to display real-time search results from social networks and news site right in its SERPs.

Vince Update (February, 2009)

Big brands are ranking better for the related keywords. Webmasters fear to lose their rankings.

Jagger Update (September-October, 2005)

Risk factors, or what is affected:

  • Backlinks reevaluated (reciprocal links lose value, links from topically unrelated site lose value, abuse of keywords in link anchor texts, link-building velocity matters, backlinks from websites hosted on the same IP, etc)
  • Quantity and freshness of content
  • Duplicate content (within pages of the same website or different websites)
  • Over-optimization and excessive use of HTML markup, and
  • Other less important issues

Generally, Panda and Penguin combined look like a new iteration of Jagger.

It's hard to understand why all these algo updates surprise the webmasters. After all, they are mostly in line with Google quality guidelines, which have been around for a long time. Have a look at the points in the box! - Any news? Next time before you cry over your deranked websites after another update make sure you know the rules of the game.

Google Quality Guidelines

  • Avoid hidden text or hidden links.
  • Don't use cloaking or sneaky redirects.
  • Don't load pages with irrelevant keywords.
  • Don't create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content.
  • Don't create pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware.
  • Avoid "doorway" pages created just for search engines, or other "cookie cutter" approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content.
  • If your site participates in an affiliate program, make sure that your site adds value. Provide unique and relevant content that gives users a reason to visit your site first.

For more information visit Webmaster Help pages

Google has adopted the so-called Kaizen philosophy and follows it consequently. Successful webmasters follow the same pattern. They develop and implement their SEO strategy, and regularly revise it to adjust to the changing environment. It's also important to keep an eye on your competitors and their activities. If some of them are hit by a new algorithm update, you may use your historic data to detect their mistakes and avoid doing the same. Keep your data and revisions history well organized. No matter what quality updates Google rolls over, don’t panic and keep on working. If you were hit – try to recover, if totally damaged – start from scratch.

If you still believe that Pandas and Penguins threaten SEOs, read the case study below.

Disclaimer: We are not affiliated to the owners of the websites mentioned below. We do not approve of any techniques described. Use this information at your own risk.
Payday loans is one of the lucrative niches with tough competition. In this niche, webmasters are monetizing their traffic via several large affiliate networks.

Have a look at the SERPs for the "legit payday loans" keyword and pay attention at the set of cookie-cutter websites:


If you further analyze the outbound links and backlinks on these websites, you will surely uncover a vast network of websites that are generating traffic for T3Leads affiliate network. They obviously belong to one person or a SEO team (We are not going to publish the URLs here, if you have SEO SpyGlass and Website Auditor installed it won’t take you long to check it yourself.)

Let's make a quick analysis of these websites.

1. Domain names are absolutely unrelated to website content. The owner is buying old domains that already have backlinks/Page Rank and "trust" with Google. E.g. used to be owned by a "safety driving" activist. This technique helps jumpstart the project.


2. The lead capture image (which is actually a big banner that mimics website functionality) covers almost 3/4 of the screen. It hides kind of useless info below the fold and obviously might trigger the red flag (exceeding usage of advertising) but the link URL is masked (it points to an internal page of the website, the users are than redirected to an external URL) and Google is unlikely to treat it as an outbound link (see the screenshot below).

Affiliate Site

3. The information is generally not unique. Each website has a set of rewritten articles. They have no real value – the very same information is meshed up and put down in other words. But, technically, the content looks pretty unique and natural to search engines and "adds value".

4. Each post includes links with commercial anchors that point to other similar websites in the network (link-manipulating scheme, isn't it?)

5. Have a look at the top10 anchor texts (collected by SEO SpyGlass)

# Anchor Text % (Quantity)
1 legit payday loans 19,9% (170)
2 legitimate payday loans 9,5% (81)
3 trusted payday loans 2,9% (25)
4 legal cash advance 2,6% (22)
5 legal cash advance 2,6% (22)
6 integrity cash advance 2,5% (21)
7 hassle free payday loans 2,3% (20)
8 legitimate cash advance companies 2,3% (20)
9 reputable payday loans 2,3% (20)
10 legit cash advance loans 2,1% (18)
11 guaranteed cash advance lenders 1,9% (16)
12 safe payday loans 1,9% (16)
13 secure payday loans 1,9% (16)
14 fast and reliable payday loans 1,6% (14)
15 guaranteed cash advance loans 1,6% (14)
16 legal payday loans 1,6% (14)
17 no hassle payday loans 1,6% (14)
18 legitimate cash advance lenders 1,5% (13)
19 reliable payday loans 1,5% (13)
20 payday loans 1,4% (12)
21 payday loan 1,2% (10)
22 0,4% (3)
23 payday loans 0,1% (1)
24 0,1% (1)

99% are commercial keywords, the keywords "payday" and "loans" are very heavily used.

6. Backlinks quality: irrelevant resources (except from other domains from this network) with lots of forum, directory and blog links. Lots of links are obviously paid links.

Generally speaking, these websites are violating Google guidelines and should have been hit both by Panda and Penguin, but technically they are nitty-gritty and rank pretty well. The SEO guy behind the strategy managed to find a perfect mix that works well and fools Google's zoo.

It's a good example for all the webmasters. Don't panic and focus on what is really important: develop your own bulletproof SEO strategy and stick to it. In your judgments rely on your experience only, if a "big SEO guy" tells you that directories, bookmarks, blog comments, or whatever type of links or SEO strategy don’t work – don't take their words for granted, run your own experiment or conduct a research. Always keep in mind these cornerstone activities: research, analysis, monitoring, and revision – they’ll pave your way to success. The worst thing about these G updates is that SEOs lose their nerve. Panda, Penguin or Giraffe - just stay cool and do your job. This approach has worked for us, and it should work for anyone else.

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