11/06/2013 07:27 BST | Updated 10/08/2013 06:12 BST

Beware of the Penguin


Once upon a time in the not so distant past, it was enough to rank on Google page one using what are now known as "black-hat" Search Engine Optimisation tactics. In layman's terms this meant keyword stuffing, directory submission (businesses submitting their domain names to thousands of directories in order to rank higher), duplicated content, non-quality links etc. The idea was, logically, to get more traffic, customers and hopefully sales.

And it worked. For a while. There were many businesses that built their whole livelihood on this basis - and the lucky few that got in there early had access to the best keywords before they became competitive too. But as anyone with an iota of life experience is aware, the good times rarely last. Predictably, as soon as Google felt its credibility was under attack, the backlash began; with the release of two not-so-cuddly algorithms called Panda and Penguin. Their mission: To penalise low-quality keywords, attack overused exact matched domains and reward websites with original, authentic content.

Although customer experience was their priority, it wasn't the best of PR moves for the search engine giant - especially considering that according to some figures close to ten percent of the SEO industry lost their jobs overnight. Plus, many online businesses lost a lot of money from these sudden, unexpected changes. Then there was the terrifying case of Interflora earlier this year - subject to a drop in the rankings for building unnatural back links to a number of UK newspapers, which, in turn were also penalised!

Google was therefore judged to have unfairly and aggressively attacked businesses which were, after all, apparently only following the rules in the first place. So it's understandable that the launch of Penguin 2.0 announced in May caused shockwaves in the SEO community. Although the full results can't be assessed yet, on first glance it seems as if Penguin the 2nd is more of the same, except with an evolved algorithm; designed to catch out those trying to find loopholes using what Google deems as dodgy practises.

So what's the answer? Well, for one thing it's not the time to panic if your business is dropping in the rankings. The causes could be back links from a while ago that haven't been removed, comments and guest posts on questionable sites, article marketing sites and link 'farming' which is effectively spamming.

Also, if you're still doing en masse directory submission it could be a good idea to re-evaluate this strategy. Remember, even if your brand's big it doesn't mean it's immune as there could have been a substantial amount of bad links created in the past. It can be very difficult to audit all the links, but now is as good a time to start as any.

The problem is that there are a lot of grey areas. It's hard to know exactly which sites will get you penalised and how Google determines what makes a site "irrelevant." However, until it becomes clearer as to how this is measured, it's good idea to adopt an authentic content strategy with links to quality sites which will be beneficial to your customer base. Also, be sure to share relevant content using social media networks and be aware which ones are likely to be preferably ranked (surprisingly enough Google Plus is a pretty safe bet!)

If you always approach your strategy with the mentality: "What's in it for them?" you'll be on the right track and unlikely to be negatively impacted by any further Google changes. Remember Google's primary aim is to stay top of the tree when it comes to searches looking for relevant authentic content - so make sure your site and/or blog creates value for clients.

As long as you focus on the strength of your brand, in the long run your be able to survive any further assaults pretty well.