Over the past several weeks, much has been written and discussed about the game-changing Google Penguin update. Since Google holds the lion’s share of search traffic (at nearly 70% in the US and over 90% in the UK) the effect of this major change to their search result algorithm has been substantial.
While Google stands by the idea that Penguin has made its search results better for users, it is clear that this dramatic shift in natural ranking rules has hurt many legitimate businesses and likewise hurt the people searching for them.
What is Google Penguin?
The Penguin update is being used to completely revamp what kind of sites show up in search results. It focuses on giving priority to websites with recently updated content, links from social media and related sites, and those websites that are an authority on their subject. Some have referred to this as a “Spring cleaning” by Google.
And it’s true, the update will help everyone in the long run by making sure none of the sites lacking relevant content and overloaded with search engine optimization tactics will ever be ranked high. Sure it looks messy at first, but then again when you’re cleaning house everything looks a little disorganized before it gets straightened up.
Through social media, guest blog posts, and other mentions, many sites can get their ranking back to respectability over time. If you build authority on pages you want to rank, you should see your rankings increase.
The Unexpected Victim – Small Business
But, the fact is many legitimate websites who used tactics that were previously accepted as “white-hat” SEO (or at least in the grey area) have been dealt devastating blows to their search rankings because of over optimization issues.
Even worse, some websites have been the victim of negative link building, where a competitor will send low quality unrelated links to a site in huge numbers. When we researched Google Webmaster Tools for one site we manage, we found over 35,000 links from one low quality site that we had never pursued, much less seen before.
These issues include the overuse of specific keywords, a large amount of incoming links from unrelated sites, excessive internal linking, along with others. One effect of this is that many new sites using little, if any, of the aforementioned SEO tactics were pushed to the top of search results.
This might not seem like a big deal, but for these young, underdeveloped sites getting the amount of traffic that sites showing up on the first page of Google receive would certainly stretch them beyond their limits. Whether these limitations are based on the quality of their content, capability of the technology that runs the websites (e.g. server processing thresholds), supply of goods sold on the sites, or a combination of these, Google undoubtedly is causing a problem for a substantial number of users. They are now being sent to websites that can’t fully meet their needs.
The effects on established websites that rely on Google search traffic for their revenue have been much more disturbing. Thousands of Internet marketing companies have been affected by the update and many of these were forced to make layoffs in order to remain viable.
While some have claimed that there is a “zero-sum” outcome when it comes to revenue through search results (meaning that the traffic that was diverted from these sites went to one of the websites that replaced the negatively affected sites), there are several arguments against this in addition to the ones stated in the previous paragraph.
Why Google? Why?
One argument is that the only relevant sites that are showing up for certain terms are in the Google Ads section, which requires the websites to pay Google each time they receive clicks on the ad. This is like a tax Google is placing on proper websites to show up on the first page which means less profits for the businesses paying for these ads.
Another probable outcome of this update is that the search traffic is now being diverted to megalithic websites like Amazon (the Wal-Mart of the Internet and regular partner of Google) and thus wreaking havoc on small businesses like affiliate marketers who have spent years building up their sites to look benevolent in the eyes of Google.
An additional argument is that the search traffic may be unable to find what they were looking for and put off their buying decision for a later time, or not make a purchase online at all. This is obviously a lose-lose situation for Google and the businesses who rely on the search engine to deliver customers.
Overall, the Penguin update has been a nuisance to the majority of SEO-focused, web-based businesses. While it is understandable that Google is trying to improve search results in the long-run, the short-term effect of such a dramatic and irrevocable change in ranking rules is irresponsible at best.
Reece Freeman is a research analyst for FaxCompare.com, a guide to help small businesses and consumers choose and compare online fax services. He also works very closely with start-ups, providing helpful advice to entrepreneurs on ChooseWhat.com. A resident of Austin, Texas, Reece is also working on his Master of Science in Economics from Texas A&M University.