Panda, Penguin and Competing with Big Brands

The SEO Challenges Businesses Face in 2013

SEO is a fast moving environment. The past two years in particular have brought wholesale changes to the industry. Those who performed well in search historically are finding that the very strategies and approaches that made their campaign a success are now coming back to haunt them.

It’s a difficult search landscape to operate in, so we’ve taken some of the key updates and algorithms and we explain here what they mean for you and your business.

Google hasn’t changed the rules

The Webmaster Guidelines have been there for years advising webmasters of the rules of the game. Any updates to these have been very minor. However, until fairly recently, it was still perfectly possible to partake in link schemes and quick win link building tactics and for these to succeed.

Google’s most recent algorithm updates aren’t intended to change the rules. They’re just intended to enforce the existing guidelines.

Google Panda

In February 2011, Google rolled out an update that was later named ‘Panda’ in the USA. This then followed in other English speaking nations, including the UK, in April 2011.

The search giant’s announcement about Panda advised readers:

“Many of the changes we make are so subtle that very few people notice them. But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking—a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries—and we wanted to let people know what’s going on. This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”

And that’s precisely what Panda achieved. Noticeable rankings drops afflicted many websites and big brands were not exempt. Google has continually since then updated, refreshed and fine-tuned this algorithm.

What does this mean for your website?

It means that there’s even more importance placed on the quality of your content, uniqueness of your content and the originality of it. The web copy and images (in fact, all forms of content) on your site should be:

• Unique to you
• Genuinely useful to users

Invest in getting the content on your site right.

Google Penguin

In April 2012, Google launched an update that was subsequently dubbed ‘Google Penguin.’

This was the biggest update since Panda of the previous year. Penguin was designed to prevent websites engaging in manipulative link building tactics from ranking well. And it was effective! Although far from perfect, this update saw websites that had been heavily engaged in ‘quick win’ tactics penalised.

In particular, this has a notable negative effect on tactics such as:

• Exact match anchor text paid sidebar links
• Blog comments
• Article marketing

What does this mean for your site?

If you’ve historically engaged in such tactics and you have lost search visibility (and therefore traffic and revenue) you will have to clean up historic activity. And depending upon the extent of that historical activity, that can be quite a challenge. There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all clean up. The actions you take to recover Penguin drops will depend very much on your website.

If you’ve already cleaned up historic activity, all of your previous activity was ‘clean’ or you’ve never engaged in any SEO before, then your main concern is what you do now.

Quick win link building tactics are not sustainable. Even if you manage to make them work initially, Google’s catching up with. You need to engaged in a link building campaign based on:

• Great content
• Online PR
• Doing, saying and creating things that make people want to link

Google seems to favour brands

There’s a lot of conspiracy theories floating around that Google deliberately adjusts the rankings of big brands. Google, of course, will tell you this is not the case.

Our stance is that we do not believe for a second that anybody at Google is manually picking out big brands and boosting their visibility. However, big brands do rank well. But there’s a logical reason for it.

Brands benefit from brand signals! And these brand signals are a part of the algorithm:

• Links
• Citations
• Brand searches
• Social factors

All of the above (to varying degrees) affect rankings. Big brands are better know and they would therefore naturally acquire such signals and therefore rank better.

What’s the plan?

Your business needs a solid SEO plan that is focused on delivering value. It’s not about manipulation. Your SEO needs to be a part of a wider online PR campaign. You need to be using contacting, doing real world stuff that will make people talk about you and effectively baiting these ‘brand’ signals in organic ways.