Content marketing can help small businesses establish trust.

In April, Google rolled out its latest major search algorithm update. Shortly after, we came to know the change as Penguin. Like its predecessor, Google Panda, Penguin led many using SEO as a traffic driver to worry about the future and the viability of their campaigns and health of their websites.

For small business owners, effective search marketing can lead to new prospects and conversions, but the rollout of Penguin was a reminder that best practices for search are ever-changing. In the past, ContentLEAD has discussed the best ways for SMBs to create high-quality website content that ranks well with Panda on the prowl. However, Google uncovered some tactics employed by websites that look to deceive the search engine and its algorithm and Penguin reminds marketers more than ever that quality content marketing is a must.

What you need to know about Penguin

Among the practices targeted by Google with its rollout of Penguin where unnatural and excessive keyword use and link schemes that flooded the web with low-quality, paid links. These tactics have been identified by Google as webspam.

“We’ve always targeted webspam in our rankings, and this algorithm represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high-quality content,” Matt Cutts, distinguished engineer at Google, said discussing Penguin.

In general, both Panda and Penguin have been aimed at one general principle. Google wants to bring its users the best content on the web. It wants companies to practice SEO in an ethical manner that ensure searches yield results that will help consumers find the products or information they are looking for. However, any small business that looks to exploit holes in Google’s algorithms with low-quality content will likely find their traffic and overall search standing drop in the long run as the search giant continues to update its algorithms.

Penguin seems to ultimately focus on two areas:
  • Webspam in the form of excessive on-site keyword use
  • Link schemes, often paid, where the same keywords are across the web to point to a site

SMBs worried about the quality of their SEO presence can, however, safeguard their site against Penguin by focusing on content that overcomes these webspam pitfalls. Much like Google Panda, the path to Penguin-proofing your small business’ website is paved with good content.

Natural keyword use signals content that meets Penguin standards

Content writers creating news articles or blog posts as part of a SEO campaign often worry about using their keywords enough. As a result, they can sometimes fall into the trap of writing sentences laden with keywords that seem like an ideal fit. The product, often, is a long-winding sentence that doesn’t make sense to readers.

In the past, this may have been missed by search crawlers. However, as Google rolled out Penguin, these sentences that made little sense to readers became one of the main reasons a site lost traffic.

Pullquote

Creating website content, even with a focus on driving search visibility, should be about adding depth and new dimensions to help your business convey a sense of authority to prospects. When you or your content writers create articles that you’ve invested in to drive traffic to your site, the content that succeeds will incorporate your keywords naturally. Diverse content that focuses on different elements of a business, which also includes a few keywords only as they are relevant to the topic of a web page, will drive visibility in search.

Any time your site includes content with excessive keyword use, Google may classify it as webspam. Your focus isn’t providing prospects with something to read and a chance to learn. When the target of a content marketing campaign becomes a search crawler, rather than a reader, Penguin (like Panda) is going to focus on pushing your site down search rankings.

For a small business owner that sees this happening, reassessing a keyword strategy to ensure that the focus is on strong content and informing the user. It will be helpful to develop a broader list of keywords so you can have core terms and satellite terms that all make clear – to search crawlers AND readers – what your site is about without redundant use of the same terms in content. These tactics may be a little more difficult than stuffing an article with your most important keyword, but it is a strong step toward both establishing a good search presence and driving sales with content users see as credible.

Content should naturally win links, and internal or inbound links should point to good content

Part of an SEO keyword strategy is garnering inbound links from other sites or developing internal links around core terms. The anchor text, or words included in the link, are typically strong indicators to search crawlers of the linked page’s relevance and subject matter. However, much like excessive use of these key terms, some SMBs using SEO abused linking practices through use of article marketing schemes to get abundant links from sites with shallow content or too much internal linking – and linking is a major focus of the Penguin update.

Google is also focused on inbound links, which are a strong ranking signal. As search crawlers see more sites linking to an SMB’s page, it becomes clear that this site has high-quality content. Creating articles and blogs that generate shares on social networks and from other websites should be a goal of every content writer.

However, much like keywords, Google found that several sites were actively abusing this practice and buying links. These sites were often of a low-quality, but they achieved artificially high rankings with paid links.

PullquoteAdditionally, marketers were also giving their sites an artificial lift by creating poor content hosted on third-party sites that linked back to their page. These websites, known as “article marketing” sites or “content farms,” should be avoided at all cost. Links must be earned for SEO to be a successful part of a web marketing campaign. Links from article marketing sites will not help SMBs any longer. As Google continues to iterate with Penguin, the algorithm will grow increasingly adroit at detecting these practices.

Moreover, SMBs should take a close look at their internal linking structure to avoid always using the same keywords as anchor text, instead focusing on what makes the most sense for the link. Linking to related website content, keyword landing pages and external pages when relevant is the sign of a quality site. These practices help provide users with more information regarding an SMB’s content and a topic in general. In short, they are methods focused on improving user experience. They can also help small businesses improve search ranking.

Much like Panda, Penguin should force every small business owner to ask themselves one simple question “Am I doing this because it’s good for users?”

If you’re shoving keywords where they don’t belong or buying links to trick a search crawler, the answer is probably no. Before you know it, you’ll have a Penguin problem. Avoiding this, however, is simple: Create content that helps your users, and you should be all set.

Google’s rollout of Penguin in late April made headlines as the company actively targeted some content marketing campaigns that were more focused on search crawlers than users.