Preparing for Penguin 2.0

We have been through 5 major Google algorithm updates in the last 6 years and dozens of minor updates. Google recently stated that “We make over 500 changes to our algorithms a year, so there will always be fluctuations in our rankings in addition to normal crawling and indexing.” Additionally, SEOMoz reports that there have been 76 notable algorithm updates since 2007. Most of the minor updates go largely unnoticed by everyday users of Google and may feel more like typical fluctuations due to the content changes in the index.

Major updates are more like 50 year storms, and during major updates, it’s not uncommon for sites that enjoyed dominant first page positions to drop out of the top 10 pages.

Currently, the industry is buzzing with talk of a major update that Matt Cutts has labeled Penguin 2.0. Given the buzz, we thought we would share our 10 cents on how to handle the next “big one,” whether it happens this week or in 10 weeks:

  1. Cultivate a healthy paranoia. Most in the SEO community know what this means, because in the aftermath of a major update, the chaos and confusion is thick. During this time it’s important to question everything you read. Make sure you ask yourself if the information is coming from a “talking head” who is talking about what happened or from a web master with skin in the game. Be skeptical of statements of fact and leery of predictions. Early statements may very well be true, but to know for certain, tests need to be run to validate and verify them.
  2. Don’t over-react. Let the dust settle before you draw conclusions. It is tempting to be shortsighted and draw knee-jerk conclusions during a major algorithm update, but try not to. Conclusions should be formed, but not in the opening days, or weeks following an update. If past updates are good indicators of what will play out (they may not be), it will take a few months for the SEO community to know what happened and how to proceed.
  3. Be Proactive. Since we know that in the past, the Penguin update generally affects a website based on its backlink profile, it is easy to audit websites routinely to make sure that your site is consistently meeting the quality standards set to keep it from being penalized.
  4. Have an alternative traffic plan in place. The fastest way to replace lost traffic short-term (if your site has lost organic placement) is via Google Adwords and other CPC platforms (Yahoo/Bing, Facebook, LinkedIn). Consider industry directories and industry specific email/phone and lead-generation platforms.
  5. Give it some time, but not an indefinite amount of time. Every time a major update occurs, the SEO community goes into “all hands on deck” mode for months. There is stress, panic, uncertainty, theories, frustration, and resignation. However, about 6 weeks out, the new system begins to be more clear. It’s important for clients to be in communication with vendors during this time, but not daily or even weekly. Every 10-15 business days is about right for the dots to start connecting.
  6. Be willing to adapt. Accepting that what was true yesterday may be false tomorrow is painful. Be data driven, not “hunch” driven. Just because you think Google might have done X, remember that it’s only a theory until you test it multiple times and verify it. This has always been the reality of how Google ranks websites. For whatever reason, though, people have a hard time accepting this fact. It takes humility to accept that Google holds the keys.

Ultimately, when the algorithm is updated, the best course of action is to take a deep breath and evaluate everything that changes. Compare what the sites that were penalized have in common and what the websites that held strong have in common. Take action appropriately and with time, the results will return.

Here is a helpful video from Matt Cutts on Penguin 2.0 and what changes to expect in the coming months.