Optimizing Google Search Rankings Post Panda and Penguin 2.0

In the quest to provide the most relevant search results and best experience for its users, Google updates its search algorithm often – up to 500 times per year (1). Most of these updates are minor and go relatively unnoticed. However, every few months a major update is announced. For example, in February 2011, Google rolled out an update to its search algorithm named the “Panda,” which upended search engine rankings for many businesses, from mom-and-pop shops to major brands; affecting 12% of all search results. The algorithm adjustment essentially penalized low-quality sites with static, “thin” content and rewarded sites with fresh, engaging and high-quality content.

This was followed by another major algorithm update in April 2012, when Google launched the infamous “Penguin” update to better catch sites deemed to be spamming its search results, in particular those buying links or obtaining them through link networks designed primarily for the purpose of boosting Google rankings. Most of us have run across these inconspicuous link networks at one time or another; most often through a random unsolicited email offering to either trade reciprocal links with your site; or perhaps sell you hundreds or thousands of links for a nominal fee. The Google “Penguin” update addressed this by penalizing websites participating in various link schemes to improve their websites rankings in Google. Prior to the “Penguin” update, low quality links were more or less ignored. So, if the process of acquiring 10 high quality links to your site also contributed 50 low quality links, many marketers and site owners still viewed the effort as a success. The “Penguin” update of 2012 changed all of this and sent a ripple through the Web and SEO community.

The fourth release of Google’s spam-fighting “Penguin” update went live on May 22, 2013. But, the Penguin 4 update had a twist. Rather than just a “data refresh” to the algorithm, as google referred to its second and third updates, the fourth update to the “Penguin” algorithm was very significant. This lead Google’s internal team to name the update Penguin 2.0, which Google says is a new generation of technology that should better stop spam.

So, why should you care?

Search engines are extremely popular, with over 90% of Internet users regularly using a search engine to find information and guide their online experience (2). It is also important to understand the rapid rise in popularity of new  platforms, such as social networking sites like Facebook, have not come at the expense of search engine usage. In fact, search engine usage is greater today, than when Pew Internet started measuring usage in 2002. In addition, traffic from organic search results has been shown in numerous studies to convert at higher rates than most other digital channels, including up to 25% higher than paid search campaigns (note: this depends on a lot of factors, including how well your PPC campaign is managed).

The bottom line is maintaining excellent organic search rankings for targeted keywords related to your business and industry is an absolute necessity to succeed in 2013. We’ve listed some tactics below to help you become more proactive in improving your organic search rankings and positioning your website for success post Google’s Panda and Penguin 2.0 updates.

  • Perform a Link Audit – It’s crucial to know where external links to your website are coming from, which of those links are beneficial and which could be negatively affecting your site’s search rankings. The last thing you want is for your site to produce a “false positive” spam result in Google’s eyes, due to poor quality links.
  • Start Using Google Webmaster Tools – The easiest way to ensure your link portfolio remains clear of any low quality links is to use Google Webmaster Tools. Through this tool, you can quickly view all of the links pointing to your site; sorting high quality links from less valuable and potentially negative links. For a very basic analysis, simply use Google’s page rank value to assess the quality of the site/page linking to you. Anything below a PR 3 may be questionable and deserves a look. You can also use a paid tool such as Link Detox to provide a more in depth analysis for you.


Google Webmaster Tools also detects and notifies you of “unnatural links,” which appear to be spam to their algorithm. Good idea to address this right away.

  • Don’t Over-optimize – The days of “stuffing” tons of keywords into your webpages or requiring other sites that link to you to use the same unnatural keyword phrase, like “best hotels in lake tahoe nv” are long gone. The benefits are so minimal now, and the risks potentially so large, that it just doesn’t make sense any longer. The team at Google is smart… very smart; you have no shot at out “gaming” them. Your only chance in today’s digital world is to outperform your competition through SEO process excellence.
  • Maintain a Blog – Building and maintaining an engaging blog on your website is a powerful and efficient way to provide compelling content to your website visitors.  It also provides an opportunity to express your brand’s expertise, unique voice and value proposition in a more casual format.
  • Create High Quality Content – Working proactively to create high quality site content which is valuable to your audience is one of the best ways to attract both site visitors and links from credible sources. Your site should have unique content that can only be found there; which is, after all, one of the reasons why your visitors are there in the first place.

Constant updates to search algorithms and ranking methodologies can make the process of search engine optimization a daunting and time consuming task for many businesses. It’s nevertheless a proven, highly-effective strategy, and well worth the investment. Most companies do not have the internal resources to effectively manage this process and can significantly benefit from working directly with a reputable full service digital agency to manage both their search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search marketing (SEM) campaigns in a strategic and holistic fashion to achieve optimal results.