Penguin_Body.jpgby Jennifer Shaheen.

On May 22nd, the rules of the Internet changed. That’s when Google introduced Penguin 2.0, the latest version of the algorithm it uses to determine website rankings and filter spam content out of search results.

For some small businesses, this was good news.  “I was so happy,” says Sam Spano, the owner of Copper Fields Designs, a Yonkers, New York-based manufacturer of fine art for the garden. “All of a sudden, we had this spike in interest for our products. We started getting all kinds of calls–even though we hadn’t changed how we were using updating our website[DP1] . I asked our new web development team what happened, and they told us, ‘Penguin happened.’”

Other companies didn’t notice any impact at all. Ken Scarbrough of Ultimate Dive Travel, whose company relies heavily on his search position as a way to promote their dive tour business said, “We’ve checked all our analytics. It doesn’t matter which metric we look at: nothing seems to have changed. Our SEO is still working for us.”

The situation was more disconcerting for other business owners. “We were doing everything right,” says Patrick Weir, CEO of EZTrackIt, a package tracking software company. “It’s very frustrating to see your site fall off the first page in the wake of Penguin's update.”

What is Penguin 2.0?

There are at least 4.85 billion webpages online. Sorting through all those webpages to identify and rank those sites that best meet a search inquiry is a monumental task, especially when you consider that correct results are expected to appear almost instantaneously. The mechanism Google uses to accomplish this task is a very complex, very secret algorithm called Penguin.

Penguin is designed to provide the high quality search results you’re seeking while simultaneously filtering out fraudulent or spam sites that use what are known as black hat techniques to artificially inflate their search engine ranking results. Because spammers are always changing and refining their techniques in the hopes that they can better game the system, Google plays defense by continually changing and refining their algorithm—hence, the release of their latest version known as Penguin 2.0.

It’s an arms race of sorts. This time, some completely legitimate small business websites got caught in the cross-fire, though. Some sites suffered, dropping several positions, or even pages, in search engine rankings, while other sites benefitted from being re-examined by Google using the new parameters for quality set by Penguin 2.0.

Google says that only 2.3 percent of all English language websites will be affected by the changes. Still, approximately 56 percent of those 4.85 billion webpages are in English, which means a 2.3 percent impact rate is fairly significant—that’s 62.5 million webpages.

Penguin_PQ.jpgWhy didn’t Penguin affect all small business websites the same way?

Not all websites were affected by Penguin in the same way because there’s more than one way to build and maintain a website. There are several factors that Penguin considers when determining your site ranking. Links are especially important: sites that added a high volume of inbound links, especially over a relatively short period of time, were the sites that Penguin hit the hardest. For years, spammers have been artificially inflating their search engine rankings by creating tremendous numbers of low-quality inbound links, a strategy you can read about here. If the Penguin algorithm determines you’re using a similar technique on your website, you’ll be penalized.

Aaron Wall, the SEO expert and highly respected tech blogger behind, has been quick to point out that the results from Penguin 2.0 sometimes don’t appear to make a lot of sense. Websites that have no content at all yet have what is known as an authority domain name, he notes, now rank above sites that have pages of content but a less desirable domain name.

Post-Penguin: Slow and steady SEO

If you’re not sure if Penguin has affected your business website, the first step is to do a Google search for your company. Is your site turning up where you expect it? If you’ve gone down in the rankings, you’ll want to take action to recover your status. website content is more important than ever. You need to make sure you're putting up content that will get shared and read by your audience. Social media plays a critical role here. If you’ve avoided Facebook or Twitter until now, it’s time to reconsider these tools.

Examine all the links you currently have on your site. Consider ditching the links that aren’t quality; they have a tremendous negative impact on your site ranking under Penguin 2.0. Build links with credible sources at a steady pace and you’ll find your ranking return.

Were you blindsided by the Penguin update?

We all know how important it is to have our business websites appear on the first page of a Google search. Having your site suddenly vanish from that position can be a very disconcerting experience, and it makes the situation worse if you didn’t know the changes were coming.

Raising your awareness is key for any business owner who uses the web as a central part of their marketing endeavors.  WebProNews is a great, easy to understand resource for the business owner who manages and maintains their own website. For information specifically about any changes at Google, you’ll want to check out Matt Cutts’ blog, Gadgets, Google and SEO.  Matt is the head of the Google Webspam team, and he consistently shares news about any changes that will impact user experiences. This isn’t the first time that Google has changed the Penguin algorithm, and it won’t be the last. But it can be the last time you’re surprised by the Penguin.