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SEOpocalypse: Fluid’s Guide To Surviving Penguin
Image credit: Cristiana Serpa, on sxc.hu
Sphenisciphobia is the proper term for a fear of penguins. Whilst most of us coo at our feathery Antarctic-dwelling friends and their funny little waddles, there’s a small minority of people for whom they represent pure avian terror. Over of the past couple of months, however, more and more people have developed Sphenisciphobia – predominantly people who work in SEO.
Even if you have a passing interest in SEO, you’re bound to be aware of Google’s Penguin algorithm update. In fact, even if you have no interest at all in SEO, you’ll have heard of it from various major news outlets. Penguin has been depicted as less of a cuddly bird and more of a horseback-mounted reaper, delivering fiery judgement on thousands of sites and damning them to the depths of SERPs.
SEOs are being reassured on a regular basis that it’s only a matter of time before we perish, and even though we may have heard stories of a cure from a distant land, any attempts at survival are futile. The big question is how do you survive the SEOpocalypse? We’ve drawn up a little survival guide to help you through these dark times.
Avoid Blackhat Techniques Like The Plague
In any doomsday scenario, the weak perish first and usually quickly. We hear murmurs from them (in this case, whiney forum posts on how ‘corrupt’ Google is), but usually they’re forgotten later on. In the case of Penguin, these people are those who’ve already been slapped down by the black wings of search justice. Usually they will have employed ‘black hat’ tactics like paid links, keyword stuffing (in title tags or copy) or simply indulged in too much duplicate content.
Avoid becoming part of this group by rooting out any of these aspects you may employed in a campaign. You’ll know if you’ve been naughty and turned to the dark arts; now is the time to repent. Try and get any paid links taken down, make sure your keywords are employed sparingly and in a naturalistic manner and replace anything you may have plagiarised (we’re not judging…much) with original content. This should hopefully see you through the worst.
Make sure you clean up technically as well; wonderful content with well integrated keywords is useless if Google crawlers can’t index your pages. Go through all the basics and make sure your site is in shape; that means checking canonical URLs, redirecting 404s to relevant pages and making sure your sitemap and navigation is up to scratch.
Look for Silent Rank Killers
Most of the prevalent raging against Penguin has come from SEOs working on ‘good’ sites that have been deranked for seemingly no reason. ‘I’ve lived a good life, I’ve only done good!’ they plead. ‘How could this happen to me?!’
A lot of the time however, there’s a silent rank killer they haven’t picked up on yet. Check your exact match anchor text percentages – if it’s particularly high, try and work on developing more brand links and partial match anchor text. It’s debated somewhat that too much exact match anchor text will kill your rank, but Google certainly looks down on unnatural link profiles. Make sure yours looks naturalistic and not like months of obvious keyword targeting.
You may also have lots of inbound spammy links you haven’t picked up on. Unfortunately, whilst the existence of negative SEO is contested, it is entirely possible to have thousands of unsolicited and undesirable links from ‘bad’ neighbourhoods pointed at your site without you even knowing about it. We’ve witnessed this ourselves, and it makes for a real rank destroyer.
Even worse, if you are the victim of this sort of link attack, there is precious little you can do about it beyond a couple of hopeful emails to the link creators. Most of the time, however, they’re uncontactable. This ultimately means starting over again. It’s a pain, but all the ‘white hat’ SEO in the world can’t reverse the effects of a mass of spammy backlinks.
Content should be your main focus for link building – linkbait like an infographic or video can go viral via social media and lead to plenty of high-profile and high-quality sites linking back to you (as well as directing a lot of traffic towards your site!). These kinds of links are infinitely more valuable than those gathered through other methods.
The issue of poor on-page optimisation also rears its ugly head again when it comes to these sorts of cases – again, check for all the basics and make sure you aren’t keyword stuffing in title tags or using multiple URLs for one page.
No-One Is Entirely Safe. Re-Evaluate Your Campaigns!
So where does that leave those of us with no real SEO issues and clean noses? Well…we still need to re-evaluate the work we’re doing. With Penguin taking down the worst offenders, the parameters of what we can ‘get away with’ have changed. With those employing dodgy tactics out of the way, we are directly in the firing line, and one bad move could see us taken down as well. Check your links – are they are natural as possible?
Similarly, keyword saturation percentages will need to be revised. Your old stats were probably based on keyword competitors on the front page. If they’ve been hit by Penguin, then the chances are you could be as well. Revise any statistics you may have – they may be fine, but it’s worth checking now rather than having to revise it after a brutal deranking.
Of course, no-one knows exactly what’s going on with a search algorithm and for good reason – Google doesn’t want them to be manipulated. With this in mind, the best way of surviving Penguin is also the simplest – stick to good SEO practises and make sure everything about your site is sound technically and easy to navigate for a crawler. Penguin, despite what the tongue-in-cheek tone of this post might suggest, isn’t some kind of SEO-killing monster; it’s simply Google’s way of punishing those who aren’t playing by their rules.