Google Penguin Update 4/2.0 Explained

Do you get frustrated when you are looking for useful information and the search results are filled with spammy, inadequate, ‘thin’ content that does not answer your question? We all do! It was to combat this scenario that Google released its first Penguin Update back in April 2012.

This update aimed to stop webpages that do not contain useful, engaging, relevant information from ranking highly in the search results just because they have the keyword many times, in the right places, or have lots of links, or have content that is a duplicate of content elsewhere on the web.

Google Penguin Update 4 aka the Google Penguin 2.0 Update is a continuation of that work.

You can read our guide Attack of the 50ft Penguin to find out more about the original Google Penguin Update.

Supporting graphic - picture of penguins
By Antarctica Bound via Flickr

So, what is it?

Google updates its algorithm all the time. Updates that have related to the Google Penguin updates have been dubbed “Penguin refreshes”. Since April 2012 there have been two minor refreshes to the way that Google applies the principles of the Penguin Update to its algorithm. The third update, Penguin 4/2.0, happened on 22nd May 2013 and is anticipated to have a 666% greater impact than its predecessor, impacting 2.3% of English search queries.

The Google Penguin Update 4 is the same thing as the Google Penguin 2.0 Update. The former is what this update is being called by industry experts and the latter is how the update is being referred to by Google staff. A bit confusing, but they are exactly the same thing.

This means Google has found new ways to prevent bad quality content manipulating, and therefore ranking highly in, its search results.

What is the point in it?

Google’s aim is to provide the best possible experience for the searcher. You should be able to find the information you are looking for from a good source in the first page of the search results. Google does not want lots of spammy websites to clog up the search results, stopping the searcher from finding a good source of information. The Google Penguin Update and all its improvements are there to stop spammy websites getting in your way.

What does this mean for you?

If your website meets Google’s guidelines and contains high quality unique content, offers a good user experience and has some level of “white hat” search engine optimisation then you may very well see your search engine rankings go up for some search terms. However, that is not a promise; sorry!

You could see your search engine rankings go down for any combination of the following reasons:

  1. Pages on your website that were ranking in the search results do not meet Google’s guidelines
  2. Pages that link to your website that were ranking in the search results do not meet Google’s guidelines
  3. A search term that you were ranking for was particularly afflicted by spam and as a result the rankings of all results for that term have changed as Google settles on what should be ranking where

What should you do about it?

If you think that numbers 1 – 2 above could apply to your website then you need to look at and improve the following on your website (particularly the pages which were previously ranking for keywords and are not any more):

The quality of the content on your website

Does it really add value to the user? Do some testing of different copy and compare the results. Or get an outsider’s perspective, ask for an honest opinion on the copy, but be prepared to take the feedback objectively!

The relevance of the content on your website

Does all the content on your website relate to the purpose of your business? Honestly? Was it a good idea at the time but actually no, your site doesn’t need to rank for an obscurely related subject matter just because the keyword has a high search volume? Use Google Analytics to see how users interacted with that page when you did rank for the keyword. Did it have a high bounce rate? Or a high exit rate? If so then consider whether you should keep the page or simply 301 re-direct the url to your homepage and move on, focusing on what your website is actually about.

The uniqueness of the content on your website

How many pages are there on your website? How many of them need to be there? EVERY page on your website should have unique content that is relevant to the user and the purpose of the website. If you can’t write unique content on the page then you don’t need the page. My personal bug-bear with this is websites that have:

  • About Us
  • Who we are
  • Our values

Pages on their site and then have a few lines on each, or have simply re-hashed the About Us content into three different angles. All that content can fit on one page!

There are some cases where duplicate content cannot be avoided on a website. For example, on the Magento eCommerce platform. If this is the case then you should be using the rel=”canonical” tag to tell Google that you know there is duplicate content on the site but this is the page that is the most valuable to the user and should be indexed in the search results.

The user experience and accessibility of your website

Just because you have 20:20 vision it doesn’t mean that all your potential website users do. It is also unlikely that even if you asked everyone in your whole office you would be able to test your website’s performance on every version of iOS and Android OS on the different screen sizes and resolutions. A user experience audit can help you to make your site as inclusive as possible. This will improve user interaction on your website, which will satisfy the Google Panda Update and will make all the content on your site more accessible to search engines.

The quality, relevance and authority of the links to your website

Suppoerting graphic - 1920's woman
By Yuliya Libkina via Flickr

If your linkbuilding strategy has been quantity over quality then your SEO is a bit retro and unlike in the fashion world retro is not cool when it comes to digital marketing! Whether this is a current strategy or an old one coming back to haunt you it is time to look at modern digital marketing to generate links to your website. There was a lot of hype around websites’ backlink profiles back in autumn 2012 when Google issued Webmaster Tools alerts to websites which apparently had “unnatural link profiles”. At the time Tara wrote a great post on diversifying your backlink profile. Rather than duplicating her content(!!) I recommend taking a look: Get a Natural Backlink Profile For Your Website.

If you think number 3 could apply to you then I recommend that you look at the content on the page that was ranking and see if there is anything you can do to strengthen it. Then do some natural promotion of the page, perhaps do a blogpost that links to it or a little social media promotion, to help signify to Google that the content is good and should be ranked highly.

Follow my content and social media contributions to the blog to find out more about the importance of website content strategy, or sign up to the ThoughtShift Guest List, our monthly email, to keep up-to-date on all our blogposts, guides and events.

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