Welcome to the launch of our new Scribe newsletter! We’ve created it to answer your most pressing questions about the latest in SEO. Straightforward, ethical SEO advice — in language that real humans speak. Enjoy!
You probably know about Google’s “Panda” update last year, which created a major shift in which sites ranked well on Google’s search results pages and which didn’t.
Now there’s a new update called “Penguin” (what is it with the cute animal names?) that has the internet buzzing again.
So is this something you should be worried about, or need to re-optimize your content for?
Today we’re going to talk about why you should not fear the Penguin — and why it’s probably actually a good thing for your site.
Penguin isn’t as new as you might think
For the most part, Penguin is simply automating work that the Google search quality team was already doing manually.
Were you doing something tricky to cloak your keywords, or participating in dodgy link exchanges? Before, Google had a quiet army of employees out scouring the web to look for spammy practices like this.
Many SEO researchers actually thought this work was automated already, because the Google team was so diligent. (They only looked like a robot army …)
Now Google’s algorithms have at least partly caught up with their manual work. Which means they’re just getting a little better at catching what was already “against the rules.”
What is “overoptimization”?
One of the specific targets of Penguin is what’s called “overoptimization.”
That means search optimization that’s a little too perfect. When 99% of the links to you are using your preferred keyword term as anchor text, for example.
The penalty also applies to what’s called keyword stuffing. You’ve probably noticed that Scribe will let you know if you’ve used your keyword phrase too many times in your content. That’s because “stuffing” your keyword too many times into your content is actually probably more harmful than slightly underusing your term.
(Of course, one of the functions of Scribe is to get you to that Goldilocks “Just Right” level.)
It’s still possible for you to “stuff” keywords that are related to your term. So if your keyword is contract attorney, you might squash in dozens of references in to contract law, contract lawyer, negotiate contracts, etc.
There’s a very simple test to see if you’ve overdone this:
Read your content out loud and see if it will make sense to a human reader.
If it’s useful and “sounds right” to a person, it’s unlikely to trigger any red flags with the search engines, today or tomorrow.
Why you should love the Penguin
Updates like Panda and Penguin exist to weed out the bad actors who are using scripts and other practices to make poor-quality content rank better than it should.
That means they’re getting rid of the content that ranks purely because it was optimized by a clever SEO — content that isn’t actually useful to human readers.
And what does that make room for?
It makes room for your content. Written to be useful and shareable for real people in the real world, not robots or scripts.
Attracting natural links from real web sites.
Serving a real purpose for readers by educating them, informing them, and keeping their attention with good writing.
Search engine updates will tend to clear out the clutter and allow your content to find the audience it deserves. Your best defense against Google or Bing/Yahoo updates is to write excellent content, then promote it ethically and without too many automated shortcuts.
If you write well, you will rank well. And no Google update has ever altered that.