digital marketing
By Carrie-ann | Oct 07, 2013 | SEO

Rankings Dropped October 2013 Penguin 2.1

Have your rankings dropped? It’s familiar ground. Google sneezes and a section of the online community catches a cold. If your site’s rankings dropped during the first week of October you’re not alone. Google has just released the newest edition of its spam fighting filter, Penguin.  This is Penguin 2.1 an update of a major overhaul of Penguin going back to May this year.
The latest update took place on October 4. The news was announced by Matt Cutts on Twitter.  Cutts said the update was likely to impact about 1% of searches to a noticeable degree. It doesn’t sound like much, but will be a big deal I know to anyone who has seen their rankings drop.  If your rankings have slumped causing traffic to tail off, don’t panic. Read on.

A Brief History of Penguin

Penguin matters, but matters less to serious webmasters than it did. I’ll explain why later on. Penguin was first introduced in 2012, to help Google find and penalise those sites trying to manipulate rankings. Penguin essentially attempts to find sites ranking higher than they should by virtue of some form of spamming, particularly with regard to link building.
Link building is assumed to be Penguin’s focus but of course it looks at other black hat techniques. This is broadly good news for webmasters who play by the rules unless an update identifies a false positive.
When it was initially introduced about 3% of queries were impacted.  But of course Google is always aiming to make improvements to both its search engine and filters. The 2013 version of Penguin, launched in May this year, and usually referred to as Penguin 2, was designed primarily to extend its analysis beyond the home page.
Way back when we all know that Google originally conceived as a link as a “vote” for a site. It didn’t take webmasters long to reason the more links they had the better. Many therefore accelerated the process by taking part in link building activities. In Google’s eyes, some sites had more links (votes) than they should have by virtue of the quality of their site.
Running parallel to Penguin, the web itself has been evolving.  It’s evolving in ways that have taken Google by surprise.  Social media is now in the ascendency in ways Google didn’t predict. Spammers will try to manipulate social media links too. Penguin can identify sites that are attempting to manipulate rankings whether they are buying links, link swapping or using natural link text or engaging in fake social media activities. There’s also likely to be far more we don’t know.
Penguin then was conceived of as a filter to weed out this kind of behaviour.  A s I have indicated above there have been several updates since its introduction:

  • Penguin 1 in April, 2012
  • Penguin 1.1 in May, 2012
  • Penguin 3 in October, 2012
  • Penguin 2.0 in May 2013
  • Penguin 2.1 in Oct. 4 2013

The naming of Penguin updates has been confusing.  In May 2012 Penguin reverted back to number 2 because it was a step-change in terms of scope. Not just a tweak but a major overhaul.

Don’t Panic about Penguin

If your rankings have dropped, it can be tempting to take time out to find the source of the problem. Don’t…… Don’t adjust anything. Let the dust settle. Previous updates have shown that there is often some form of “roll back” that sees an update tweaked. However it is my personal opinion, that there is invariably fallout from Google updates. Sites caught in the cross fire that shouldn’t be penalised.  On the other hand Google may say that there is something about these sites we don’t know. The plain truth (and I am not alone in thinking this) is that there may be no rhyme or reason to why you’ve been penalised. Google is not infallible.

Keeping Your SEO Natural

Its true many link building tactics have fallen by the way side – everything from keyword linked press releases to paid blogging. You should take it as a given Google is constantly refining its filters and its search engine but the outside world knows only what Google wants us to know. Penguin, in whatever guise, can hardly be called a secret. My question is this: If you adhere to current best practice should you care?
Think about it for a moment. If you chop and change your web strategy according to Google’s whim it could end up driving you mad.  I tell my clients to keep their SEO activity as natural as possible. Trying to second guess Google will sap your energy leaving you less time to run your business.

Surviving Penguin Updates

In 2012 some very big sites got caught up in the initial Penguin rollout resulting in HUGE projects to find issues with links.  For smaller sites, where there’s been no obvious manipulation, I am not convinced each adjustment finds its mark.
As a small business owner, you should know exactly how your site has acquired links. If you believe you have nothing to worry about don’t. Jumping through hoops for Google isn’t productive – better to focus on the future. If you always run your online business within the bounds of current best practice you have nothing to fear from Google.
However I will say this. Too many businesses / webmasters are in danger of putting all their eggs in one basket. You must diversify your sources of traffic and focus on the big picture. Look at it this way. As business you wouldn’t survive with just one customer or supplier.  Developing additional sources of traffic makes sense for a number of reasons. Being less dependent on Google can only be a good thing.
Diversification doesn’t mean ignoring Google. And it certainly doesn’t mean you should take short cuts or throw caution to the wind in SEO terms.  If Google loves you it’s a bonus. But remember, it may not love your site tomorrow through no fault of your own.  When that happens, how will you protect your revenue? Going forward  you must develop your marketing activity as a whole. Google traffic should only be one element of a balanced strategy.