Last week, Google announced another update to their search algorithm that will penalize what they call “webspam," and reward high-quality sites that haven't went overboard with search engine optimization. The update is called Penguin, which some SEO practitioners are calling the “over-optimization penalty” has been expected for more than a month, since one of Google's top dogs Matt Cutts made comments about leveling the search results playing field at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in March.
Cutts, who was taking questions as part of a panel titled, “Dear Google & Bing: Help Me Rank Better,” responded to concerns that some markets had been saturated with optimized content that provided poor quality search results and made it difficult for small or mid-sized businesses to compete with larger company with army of optimizers - often a difficulty faced among ecommerce store owners.
Here is part of his response:
“The idea is basically to try and level the playing ground a little bit so all of those people who have sort of been doing — for lack of a better word — over optimization or overly doing their SEO compared to the people who are just making great content and trying to make a fantastic site — we want to sort of make that playing field a little more level. And so that’s the sort of thing where we try to make the Googlebot smarter."
"We try to make our relevance more adaptive so that people don’t do SEO, we handle that and then we also start to look at the people who sort of abuse it, whether they put too many keywords on the page or whether they exchange way too many links or whatever they’re doing to sort of go beyond what a person would expect in a particular area and so that is something where we continue to pay attention and continue to work on it and it is an active area where we’ve got several engineers on my team working on that right now.”
If this new algorithm change, which Cutts officially announced on Google's Webmaster Central Blog last week, does, in fact, do what Cutts promised at SXSW, it could prove to be great news for small and mid-sized ecommerce merchants. As with all things related to the Google search algorithm, the particulars of this change are secret, but its safe to say Google will be focusing on penalizing sites that violate their quality guidelines.The following SEO practices are considered 'black-hat' optimization and will likely take the brunt of the new algorithms wrath:
- Hidden text and hidden links.
- Cloaking or sneaky redirects.
- Sending automated queries to Google.
- Loading pages with irrelevant keywords.
- Multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with duplicate content.
It's safe to assume most Shopify stores aren't practicing black-hat optimization, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't take note of this new algorithm change which is said to affect 3.1% of English language queries to a degree that a regular user might notice.
Cutts insists that Google is increasingly rewarding high-quality sites, so this change gives you a good excuse to go over your website and ensure you're properly optimized. A couple months ago I wrote an article entitled 10 Crucial SEO Tips for Ecommerce Entrepreneurs, which gives ten easy to implement strategies specifically written for online store owners. You should also check out Google's Webmaster Guidelines, a fairly comprehensive guide on how to help Google find, crawl, and index your site.
When all is said and done, Google makes hundreds of algorithm changes every year, so you shouldn't expect anything drastic to come from this specific update; however, it's nice to hear that Google's top dogs are actively making changes to benefit small businesses who produce good quality content and don't have the funds to hire expensive SEO optimizers!