If you keep close tabs on your search rankings, you may have noticed that there was a major shakeup recently—Saturday January 9th, to be precise. Folks in the SEO world have been waiting for a Penguin update for a long time, but this wasn’t it. Was it another Phantom update? Though Google has officially confirmed that an update occurred, they’ve been short on other details. Whatever it was, the havoc it wreaked on many sites’ rankings was very real.
SEO blogs immediately lit up with speculation about what the changes entail. There isn’t much consensus, though Google has assuaged at least one concern. Despite early conjecture this could be a Panda-related update, Google has revealed that Panda is now part of the core algorithm. Though both the Panda news and the update confirmation came simultaneously, it’s likely that Panda has been part of the core algorithm for a while and thus wasn’t part of whatever happened last weekend. (Google’s Gary Illyes tweeted that the core update had “absolutely nothing to do with panda or other animals.”) While the big “animal” updates do tend to be confirmed, core algorithm updates (including making Panda part of the core) aren’t usually confirmed.
You’d think that the confirmation would give SEO pros a bit of relief, but it’s actually made some more concerned. This algorithm update brought bigger changes than some of the previous animal-related updates (like 2015’s Penguin 3.0). Google’s core algorithm uses upwards of 200 different factors to determine websites’ search engine results rankings. However, not all of these factors carry equal weight. Some can be changed and have little impact on search engine results pages (SERPs); others can really shake things up. The extent of the changes from last weekend’s updates is one reason that many experts initially thought it must be an “animal update.” Not knowing precisely what happened last weekend (it’ll take some time before rankings winners and losers become clear and trends can be spotted) means it’s harder to tell what caused rankings to change and how to make fixes to restore fallen rankings.
Waiting for Penguin
Many SEO experts initially thought that this major update was the long-anticipated Penguin 4.0, which Google has confirmed will happen soon. Penguin targets how links are evaluated, which is one of the factors in the core algorithm that can cause rapid and dramatic changes on SERPs. Links are foundational to how the algorithm works, which means that in the past manipulating links has been an effective way for spam sites to game Google.
Previously, Penguin updates have rolled out every year or so, though the wait for Penguin 4.0 has been longer (the last update was in 2014). Real penguins might be cute, but the Google Penguin updates have come down hard on websites that include spammy links. Google had hinted that Penguin 4.0 would come out early this year, and has confirmed that the rollout for the update will be fast. Amongst all the unknowns, those two bits of genuine info were major reasons why this recent update seemed like it might be Penguin 4.0.
The major change that’s expected with Penguin 4.0.—when it does finally arrive—is that it will update in real time. That means that SERP rankings will change much more rapidly, and websites with “spam” or other low-quality links will be punished quickly. On the other hand, it also means that issues can potentially be fixed more quickly. If you’re on the up-and-up, that means that your rankings could be restored the next time your website gets crawled. It’s been speculated though that a real-time Penguin could also make it easier for spammers to test out new ways to beat the algorithm.
Preparing for the Inevitable
In all this uncertainty, one thing is certain—Google’s search algorithm is not going to stop changing. That means your website should keep evolving, too. Ranking highly for important keywords is great, but search results that are here today can be gone tomorrow. Your best defense is to keep your site updated and relevant. Blogging, which adds useful content and boosts the number of indexed pages on your site, is a terrific (albeit labor-intensive) way to do this. You can’t just reuse someone else’s content or cram as many keywords into one post as you can; those are just the kinds of content tactics that Panda penalizes.
Speaking of “animal updates,” if you’re concerned about Penguin, a link audit is a good way to get out in front of any potential problems. Spam can be sneaky, and pleading ignorance won’t get you off the hook with Google. Your backlinks need to be legit, and your site’s internal links should enhance the UX on your site. Want a review of what’s going on in your link profile? Higher Power SEO can help. Call us today at 760-881-4736.