Google’s long anticipated over-optimization penalty is now live. Except Google called it an algorithmic update that’s targeting web spam – a.k.a., keyword stuffing and link schemes, in the process causing some big search ranking upheavals.
Webspam Algorithm Update
Google’s Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts, head of the web spam team, yesterday announced that Google had pushed out the new algorithm. Cutts said this “improvement” better identifies websites using “aggressive web spam tactics” (that have been against Google’s quality guidelines for years) for the purposes of gaming their way to top spots in Google’s rankings.
Cutts specifically noted that websites likely to lose rankings are those that practice keyword stuffing and sites that have “unusual linking patterns,” such as links from spun content with anchor text that is completely unrelated to the actual on-page content.
The web spam algorithm update will affect about 3.1 percent of English Google queries, but noted it would have a bigger impact in heavily-spammed languages, such as Polish.
Additionally, Cutts emphasized the importance of “white hat” SEO in his post, as well as the importance of creating great websites filled with high-quality, compelling content that provide a good user experience. Google’s guidance on high-quality content consists of these 23 questions you should ask yourself when evaluating website content.
SEO by the Sea has a good rundown of Google’s patents related to combating web spam.
Early Assessment of Damages
There are lots of theories floating around at the moment about what types of sites took the biggest hits, but it seems a bit premature to make conclusions with so many conflicting reports. It seems a few “innocents” may have be caught up in this (though, honestly, it’s easy to blame Google for not ranking your site), and some pages that shouldn’t be ranking are now, according to various reports in forums since last night.
Some are arguing that Google’s results are worse now. If that sounds familiar, many people were saying the same thing after Panda launched last year. Pretty sure those who saw their search rankings increase aren’t complaining.
Granted, there are some cringe-worthy search results, such as [make money online], that some are pointing to as proof that Google's latest rollout is a miserable failure. The top organic result is a completely empty blog (that same blog currently ranks third on Bing for the same search) (UPDATE: I'm no longer seeing this result on Google.)
Regardless, Google favors branded websites, and early reports seem to indicate that those with a good link profile have survived this storm. This update shouldn’t be too shocking considering Google has been deindexing blog networks and flagging “unnatural” links. And because of these link evaluation changes, negative SEO, where a competitor buys bad links and aims them at competitors website to harm them, has become a big concern for many people.
Searchmetrics has released a preliminary analysis of search visibility winners and losers from the update, and they've concluded that aggregators and template-based websites are among the biggest losers. As always, however, it's best not too put too much stock in these lists.
A Lot of SEOs are Freaking Out Because of Over-Optimization
The “over-optimization penalty” became the equivalent of an SEO ghost story over the last several weeks since Cutts made his comment at SXSW and SEOs began echoing the Gospel of Matt, who warned that thou shalt not do “over optimization” or “overly” do SEO.
When Google’s Panda update launched, people were upset, as it inflicted a lot of financial damage by wiping out rankings and traffic. But it seems some people still haven’t learned one of the biggest lessons that came from Panda: you can’t rely on Google as your sole source of traffic and income. That’s a doomed business model. There are plenty of other marketing tactics, including PPC, social media, email, and video.
Reminder: you aren't guaranteed a number one spot in Google or any search engine. You have to work at it.
Chasing an algorithm isn’t a winning marketing strategy. Stop chasing taillights. Drunks chase taillights.
The below image from a Warrior Forum thread, sums up the never-ending loop that SEOs can get caught in with this strategy:
Update: Google has named this update Penguin.