Hummingbirds, and Penguins, and Pandas, Oh My!

Some basic background when talking about any Google update is helpful. Even those in the SEO industry can lose track of just what each one does. Hummingbird affected semantic search terms and changed the way Google interprets word order and even punctuation. Penguin focused on breaking up the search engine ranking power of link networks. Panda, on the other hand, focuses on website quality as it relates to content volume, keyword stuffing, and misused anchor text. When Panda was previously updated, it caused many small websites to lose ranking due to thin content. However, the most recent update was actually supposed to be a softening of Panda restrictions. The 75 percent or greater drop in organic traffic to eBay right after the roll-out suggests this is exactly what happened.

SPAM Algorithm

Much to the dismay of the SEO community, another update called the SPAM Algorithm rolled out a few days before Panda 4.0. This update targeted commonly spammed keywords including terms like Viagra, payday loans, and other high-volume queries. The proximity between the two updates has caused confusion among the community due to how details about updates are generally obtained. Most insight into updates comes from an inductive process, whereby webmasters analyze changes in their traffic data and collate it with others' via forums and message boards. The overlap of the two updates makes analysis much more difficult.

Defensive Strategy

Whether the Google updates of the past half decade have affected you or not, you may be asking yourself what you should do to protect yourself moving forward. Firstly, you should be focusing on publishing original, high-quality content. Anything that might be construed to be a manipulation of crawlability or indexability rather than usability should be avoided like the plague. Grayhat tactics are certain to become blackhat given enough time, and investing in whitehat tactics has seen many businesses through tough times following past algorithm changes. Advice on best practices includes:
  • Publish quality content
  • Blog judiciously
  • Stop link trading
  • Avoid Private Blog Networks (PBNs)

Offensive Strategy

One thing that far too many webmasters ignore is the fact that Google is not the only search engine out there. In fact, Bing and Yahoo combine to represent around 30 percent of all organic web traffic. This rate is just under half of the usage that Google gets, but it still represents millions of users. Additionally, the market segments that use alternative search engines like Bing and Ask are fairly well understood and are easier to target. In case you are not aware, Bing also maintains a host of Webmaster Tools that rival, and arguably surpass, the insight provided by Google. Given market share distribution, Google cannot be ignored, but expanding your web marketing strategy beyond their network might reduce how much the next update influences your organic traffic.

In Conclusion

When an industry leader like Google has such power to affect organic search results, it is generally a good idea to listen. Their advice to focus on the end user rather than the crawler in website design is ultimately good for everyone. The playing field is not level, and people continue to use blackhat and grayhat tactics successfully. However, even those that embrace the illicit side of design will admit that rewards are short-term and those tactics should not be used on a site you are worried about losing ranking for. If you are not already focusing on the User Experience (UX), it may be time to start.

Written By: Scott Whitehead