Real-Time Google Penguin Algorithm Update Announced

by Jon Heinl September 28th, 2016

Google has finally confirmed the rollout of the latest Penguin update, “Penguin 4.0.” After much online chatter about the impending update in recent months, Google announced last week that the improved Penguin algorithm is on its way and will meet two popular webmaster requests: since the signal is now a core part of Google’s algorithm, it will refresh in real time, so webmasters who’ve improved their sites could see rankings changes as soon as pages are recrawled and reindexed. Secondly, Penguin is now granular, meaning it could impact specific pages or sections rather than entire websites.

Penguin Targets Webspam

Google has made it clear that websites should be designed with users in mind first and then search engines. Many of its algorithmic changes have been to penalize websites that rely on “shortcuts or loopholes” that can boost rankings but diminish user experience. The purpose of Penguin is to push websites that violate Google’s quality guidelines down in the search engine results pages, effectively decreasing their web presence. Some of the tactics, or webspam, Penguin targets include keyword stuffing, duplicate content, overuse of exact-match anchor text, and link schemes.

Removing Webspam

What should you do if you suspect your site has seen a rankings drop due to Penguin? Clean it up! In the case of manipulative backlinks, you’ll need to ask site owners to remove them and/or submit a disavow file to Google telling them to ignore those bad links. Just make sure not to accidently include high quality links in that file.

The nice thing about Google making Penguin a core part of its algorithm is that you won’t have to wait long to see the results of your efforts to get rid of webspam. Website owners used to have to wait months or even years (almost two years since the last Penguin refresh) for Google algorithm updates. Faster results may not be accompanied by better rankings though. Without the webspam artificially boosting your site—or if you accidently disavowed good links—your site position may not improve as much as you hoped. The good news is that practicing white hat SEO from now on could likely be rewarded with better rankings.

Google Now Using RankBrain for All Queries

by Auroriele Hans July 7th, 2016

“Machine learning is a core, transformative way by which we’re rethinking how we’re doing everything.” –Google CEO Sundar Pichai 1

Google’s machine learning artificial intelligence system, RankBrain, has gone from processing fifteen percent of searches last year to one hundred percent of searches currently. Active since April 2015, RankBrain is now considered the third most important ranking signal after links and content. 2 Don’t worry digital marketers: you don’t have to become machine-learning ninjas now that Google is using the technology to process every single search query—though its engineers may well be expected to.

Jeff Dean, Senior Fellow in the research group in charge of the company’s machine intelligence deep learning team, Google Brain, noted that while ‘Rankbrain is involved in every query,’ it doesn’t affect all rankings—but ‘a lot’ of them.

What Is Machine Learning?

We’ve increasingly heard the phrase in the world of SEO, but what is machine learning? A form of artificial intelligence, machine learning occurs when engineers use algorithms and data to “‘teach software to accomplish” tasks on its own rather than relying on them to continuously program it. Compared to older methods of programming dependent on thousands of lines of static code, machine learning is a much more dynamic model requiring frequent modification.

Google has been experimenting with machine learning for years, incorporating the technology into products like Gmail’s Smart Reply before discovering in 2014 it could help its search engine return more relevant results based on user engagement. RankBrain went live the following year.

How Could RankBrain Influence SERPs?

RankBrain could help Google’s search engine uncover user intent for unique queries. As of 2013, fifteen percent of the three billion searches the company processed every day were completely novel: no one had searched for them before—at least not on this particular search engine.

Google’s search refinement tools prior to RankBrain included stemming and synonym lists and databases describing related phenomena for search engines, all of which, at least initially, required human labor. RankBrain is designed to identify patterns in complex and seemingly unrelated queries, infer similarities, and continuously build on this knowledge to help it interpret future rare or unprecedented searches. 3

Once the intent of a search is uncovered, RankBrain may associate it with a more popular query Google already has user data for and return results for that query instead; for example, when you search for “best tacos in Long Beach,” RankBrain might show results for “best Mexican food in Long Beach.”

RankBrain could help Google provide relevant, high quality results for the large chunk of queries its search engine has never seen before.

How Does RankBrain Impact You?

Since the engineers at Google are still experimenting with RankBrain, SEOs and content marketers are unlikely to see definitive guidelines anytime soon.

While Google’s Senior Vice President of Search, John Giannandrea, believes machine learning will transform everything from vehicles to medicine to, well, humanity, RankBrain is ultimately designed, for now, to reward excellent content. The recommendation for digital marketers echoes that of years past: focus on creating outstanding content.

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What Happened to Google Authorship?

by SEO Savvy October 29th, 2014

As you may know, Google announced at the end of August that Google Authorship would be no longer. For many content creators and online marketers, this may not come as a surprise: Of the 50 most influential social media marketers, only 30% actually used Google Authorship, according to Forbes. So it’s safe to assume that very few were affected now that Google has pulled the plug on their Authorship experiment. However, it may be worth taking a look at what happened, and where things went wrong.

What was Google Authorship?

Authorship was, in fact, somewhat of an experiment by Google—like most things in the Internet era. Google began its Authorship project officially in 2011, though its roots stretch back to 2007 with the Agent Rank program. Essentially, Google wanted to be able to link different pieces of content under the digital signature of one author. That way, new pieces of content could be ranked based on an author’s legitimacy, and an author’s ranking would be factored into search engine results.

The idea was a good one, but there wasn’t really a way to link content to authors until 2011, when Google unveiled its Google+ markup formula. Perhaps the end of Google Authorship isn’t due to lack of intention but poor application. One reason that so few content marketers actually used Google Authorship may be that it was complicated and cumbersome to link content back to a Google+ author page. Search Engine Land wrote an entire post outlining the three different methods of becoming a verified author on Google+ and the process was often arduous. If so many web creators grew tired while trying to utilize Google Authorship, then threw in the towel at the amount of effort it required, it was probably a sign that something wasn’t working.

The Beginning of the End

Google Authorship, in the end, failed for two reasons, as explained by the company’s John Mueller: 1) low user rates by webmasters and authors, and 2) low value for searchers. Google authors were allotted a profile photo next to their article in search results, which many of you may have noticed in the last couple of years. This was meant to increase visibility and click-through rates based on author ranking, but the author photo actually posed some problems.

You see, Google now receives about half of all its traffic from mobile devices. Google Authorship, depended upon the use of mobile-unfriendly author headshots, wasn’t feasible when so much of Google’s traffic comes from smart phones. Author photos just didn’t translate well to handheld devices. In fact, when Google first announced that it was going to start removing images from Authorship results back in June, the desire to unify the experience across mobile and desktop devices was one of the stated reasons behind the move. Furthermore, Google recently stated that author photos didn’t increase click-through rates as hoped.

The Future of Authorship

The most important point to bear in mind about Google Authorship’s demise is that the problem was in the execution, not the idea itself. The notion that certain people are more qualified to produce content on certain topics than others is self-evident. Google took an ambitious shot at making this idea a part of their search model, and it just didn’t work out. This shouldn’t suggest that Google or anyone else has given up on authorship as an idea. Someone just needs to come up with a more elegant way of implementing that idea. What that new way will look like is anybody’s guess.

Google Authorship was just another in a long list of projects that the company has done away with unceremoniously. It wasn’t the first, and it certainly won’t be the last. For now, as ever, creating quality content is still the best way to get noticed online.


Why Backlinks Still Matter

by SEO Savvy September 11th, 2014

In the wake of Google’s most recent algorithm updates earlier this year – which punished sites for aggressive link building strategies – the SEO community wondered if Google would kill off backlinks altogether, even the legitimate ones. However, despite the algorithm tweaks, Matt Cutts announced, “backlinks still really help in terms of making sure that we return the best, most relevant, most topical set of search results.”

So, do backlinks matter? The short answer: yes. Quality backlink building –creating the “good” backlinks that Cutts’ referred to in his announcement – can give your site a natural boost. Here’s what your business needs to know:

The Importance of Links

Despite the rumors of its demise, link building is still one of the best ways to improve search visibility and increase brand exposure. Amit Singhal, Google’s unofficial head of search, said, “Links are clearly an important signal about the importance of your content. They’re still very valuable.” The key, of course, is to have more “good” links on your site and fewer “bad” links.

Good v. Bad Links: What’s the Difference?

Links send positive signals to Google, which can help improve trust or quality signals for a domain. Link building also helps to create new relationships between businesses and websites. But not all links are created equal.

For example, years ago, SEO companies encouraged businesses to create keyword rich anchor text links. If you wanted to rank highly for “used car deals” then you would vary your links to feature these keywords as anchor text. These links are the perfect example of what not to do these days, as Google could penalize you for overusing keyword anchor text.

The same goes for the unrelated placement of links. It’s also important to think about what sites are linking to your website. For example, if you’ve got a lot of low quality links from directories that are not related to your industry or too many press release article links with exact match anchor text, Google may send you a manual action notification in Webmaster Tools.

Good Links: “Networking” with Peer Websites

Good links come from a related website that operates in the same niche as yours. Ideally, this site is an industry authority; it should already rank high in your industry, and be well known and trusted. When creating these links, do not use keyword rich anchor text. Instead, use your domain name or your company name as the anchor text and ensure the link is completely natural and makes sense within the context of the blog post or article.

For example, let’s say that your business is posting a short blog post on an industry website. The blog includes commentary on a major industry report, and your business happens to offer a service that is discussed in conjunction with this report analysis. It would be perfectly acceptable to link your business’s name directly to this specific service page. Based on both Cutts’ and Singhal’s commentary, this would be a “good” link that is completely natural and not spam – exactly the type of link you need to drive more traffic to your website and boost your trust with search engines.


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