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Get Prepared: Panda Refresh Live and Penguin on the Way

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Panda & Penguin on the Loose AgainBuckle up, folks: Google is changing – again. We just had a Panda update a few days ago, and webmasters are going wild with predictions about the impending Penguin refresh as well. The algorithm alterations are for on-page SEO (Panda) and off-page issues (Penguin).

At the recent SES Conference in San Francisco, Matt Cutts shed some light on what we can expect in the months going forward – and it ain’t pretty, folks. Bottom line: if your website depends solely on traffic from its organic position in the SERPs, then it’s high time you think about regrouping.

Panda Version 3.9.1 – What Changed

Google officially announced that it rolled out Panda Version 3.9.1. on Monday, August 20. Here’s Big G’s tweet a couple of days after the refresh that confirmed the update was live:

Google Tweet Announcing Panda 3.9.1

According to the expanded info, the update was a “minor” one. It only hit 1% of queries, and Google attested that this and future updates will be much less severe going forward than the Panda updates we’ve seen in the past. Remember that Panda targets on-page issues such as over-optimization of content on your website and keyword stuffing. If you’ve already corrected these issues and you haven’t seen your sites shift in the SERPs very much recently, then you may be in the clear as far as Panda is concerned.

Whether or not you’re aware, this Panda update comes close on the heels of 3.9, which hit back at the end of July. According to Brafton.com:

Brafton on the Panda Update

Chances are, your websites only felt minor shock waves. This is because Panda’s been around for a year now, and things are beginning to level out. The dust is settling, and subsequent updates will be much tamer from here on out. In fact, Matt Cutts himself assured this during a presentation he gave at the SES Conference a few weeks ago. What he did warn about, however, was the upcoming Penguin updates. Those changes will be much more significant over the next year.

Expectations for the Newest Penguin Revision

The last Penguin update was on May 25. This has webmasters in a tizzy since the refreshes were expected to occur on a monthly basis. No word from G’s camp has made people worry about what’s to come, and Cutts’ warning at the conference didn’t make things much better.

The primary objective of Penguin is to nuke sites with unkempt backlink profiles. Think sites with backlink profiles riddled with links from spammy sites, blog networks, and sites that are unrelated to the niche of the website in question. Webmasters have been frantically trying to clean up their backlinks with a quickness, but without the tools to disavow links, for many, this is nothing but an exercise in futility.

So, what can we expect from the newest Penguin update? Google’s not telling. However, Cutts did say the update would be “jarring” and he offered up a few hints in a quote issued to Search Engine Roundtable:

“If you remember, in the early days of Panda, it took several months for us to iterate on the algorithm, and the Panda impact tended to be somewhat larger (e.g. the April 2011 update incorporated new signals like sites that users block). Later on, the Panda updates had less impact over time as we stabilized the signals/algorithm and Panda moved closer to near-monthly updates.

Likewise, we’re still in the early stages of Penguin where the engineers are incorporating new signals and iterating to improve the algorithm. Because of that, expect that the next few Penguin updates will take longer, incorporate additional signals, and as a result will have more noticeable impact. It’s not the case that people should just expect data refreshes for Penguin quite yet.”

Wow. Based on that quote alone, I’m expecting some major changes in the next Penguin sweep. I’d be keeping a close eye on your backlinks at this stage of the game and do as much damage control as possible until the update arrives.

Other Noteworthy Google Changes

According to Cutts during the SES Conference, if you’ve purchased links on other websites in order to give your sites a boost in the SERPs, then proceed with caution. Google’s planning on cracking down on this practice even more than it has been in the months ahead. The algorithm is refining and G is coming up with new ways to detect paid links and strip PageRank from the sites that host them.

Google’s also rolling out a brand new feature called a “Knowledge Graph” and it’s a way to give people more information within the search framework. Now, instead of simply displaying organic and paid website listings, Google also provides content in the sidebar as possible solutions for the query. For webmasters who depend on organic search traffic, this is a further blow to their bottom line.

Your Battle Plan Going Forward

So, let’s sum up where you should direct your efforts going forward. We talked about Panda – this update has pretty much leveled out. Simply keep an eye on your on-page issues and keep keywords well placed and to a minimum. Make sure to regularly post content with value – original stuff, in-depth analysis, pieces with conclusions and opinions that visitors can’t find anywhere else in your niche.

As for Penguin, all we can do is wait. In the meantime, check your backlinks routinely and try to remove spammy links wherever possible. Negative SEO is on the rise, and sometimes it’s impossible to remove bad links, so of course your hands are tied in some situations. The best thing to do is hunker down and wait for Google’s “disavow links” tool to make its debut – G has alluded repeatedly to its upcoming rollout multiple times.

The bottom line is thus – and I’ve pointed to this frequently here on Dot Com Report – diversifying your traffic sources is imperative to keeping your websites alive and kicking on the Internet. Depending on Google is a death wish. The trick is to use it as one part of a complete online marketing strategy that incorporates social, a mailing list, and relationships with other sites in your niche. This will help insulate you from the massive search engine changes to come.   

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