A weekly Google Hangout dedicated to discussing content marketing, search marketing, SEO and more.
Topic: Penguin 3 and other updates – what are they and what do they mean to content marketers?
Ray Grieselhuber, Founder & CEO at GinzaMetrics
Erin O’Brien, COO at GinzaMetrics
FULL VIDEO TRANSCRIPT
Erin: Hi, everyone. Welcome to FOUND Friday, a show dedicated to findability for brands, agencies, and digital marketers. Today we’re going to be talking about Google’s latest algorithm change which is going to be Penguin 3. I’ve got Ray ay Grieselhuber, founder and CEO of GinzaMetrics joining me. I am your host, Erin Robbins O’Brien and I’m COO at GinzaMetrics.
Today I want to kick it off by talking a little bit about algorithm changes and how those things happen and why, because it feels like you can’t go more than a couple of weeks without hearing about another algorithm change. A lot of people are saying, “I don’t know how to keep up with all of them. I’m not really sure how it impacts me. I’m not sure what I need to do to cope with it.” So we want to address all those things.
Maybe we should start out with a quick recap of what’s been going on this year in general with search engine changes and then talk specifically about what exactly Penguin is and how it’s different from some of the other algorithm updates. There are so many animals to remember, right? There are pandas, penguins, hummingbirds, and pigeons. What’s the difference other than ornithological value?
Ray, do you want to give us a quick overview of what’s up with search engines this year?
Ray: Sure. There have actually been a lot of changes over the last six months and 2014 in general has been a really busy year. Google has been consistently rolling out incremental updates to their different algorithms. There are a lot of animals to remember. The big ones that people need to pay attention to when you talk about these named algorithm updates are of course Panda and Penguin.
Panda is pretty straightforward. The nice thing about them is they’re both thematic in terms of the types of things that they cover. Panda is primarily about quality of content. This latest update, which actually is just making the rounds today and yesterday, is really about further penalizing thin content (they use the word “thin”) which is basically spammy pages. These are the types of pages where you go to a certain page and you’ve got lots of AdSense ads or other ads and there’s very little content there.
This is something that for a while a lot of webmasters were getting better at not producing. One of the things that’s been more interesting over the last couple of years has been the new rise of viral media sites, buzz sites like BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed is actually one of the list worst offenders in this, but there are a lot of viral sites that are out there that are specifically optimized for sharing on Facebook and Twitter. A lot of these “top 10 reasons for doing something” or “20 things you want to do before you die” type of content…
Erin: We wrote an article about that.
Ray: Yeah. It’s a really well-timed article. But the fact remains that human psychology is just drawn to that sort of list-making for one reason or another. It is effective from a sharing perspective. But a lot of times, the content is just not there. Interestingly, it does still tend to perform well in search.
Panda 4.1 is the new algorithm that’s designed to target those types of sites as well as other sites that are clearly spamming and low-quality content. That is expected to affect roughly 5% of the overall search queries at least from the U.S., so let’s see how that plays out for people. That’s Panda.
The other major animal to pay attention to, of course, is Penguin, which is much more about links. Just remember Panda – content, Penguin – links. Links, I would argue that it is in many ways responsible for the increase and interest in content marketing in general over the last few years. I got to see this play out very concretely in Japan because links was the way that you did SEO up until about two or three years ago in Japan. Most the way it was the way we did SEO here in the U.S. four, five, or six years ago.
The major update that started rolling out is about over optimized anchor tags as well as low-quality links and everything else. There’s lingering problem out there, if you have links pointing to your site from “bad neighborhood” sites, they can have an adverse impact on your overall rankings. That means that competitive SEO is something that has made a resurgence. It’s something that Google has yet to really address properly, in my opinion. It’s a well-known tactic for more black cat type SEO people to create low-quality links to their competitor sites that can really have an adverse or negative impact on their competition.
The biggest change here in this latest release is kind of the final nail in the coffin of over optimized or even optimized at all anchor tags. What this means is both on links that are pointing to other domains and also internal links, you really don’t want to try to optimize the text that goes in those anchor tags because Google is going to interpret that as a negative signal and an attempt to basically manipulate the crawler and the overall search results.
That’s something that’s actually probably more of a cultural issue than anything else. People who cut their teeth on SEO over the last five to seven years learned that as a best practice. It’s going to take a lot of work I think to get people to not do that.
The other thing that’s interesting about Penguin as it further evolves going forward is what the impact is going to be on publishers that make use of native advertising. Native advertising is currently being touted as the savior of publishers, particularly probably premium publishers. We haven’t heard much about this from Google yet in terms of how the algorithms are going to respond to that. Most publishers are extensively being pretty good about at least marketing their content as advertising. But there’s nothing really preventing publishers from not doing that, just basically having paid content on their site where they don’t necessarily market as an advertisement.
That’s going to be where the waters really get murky in a lot of different angles. It will be interesting to see if Google deploys technology to try to detect and penalize some of this content going forward. That’s one of my predictions about what’s going to happen with future versions of Penguin and perhaps other animals over the next couple of years.
Erin: One of the interesting things that you’re saying about what’s going on with Penguin is this idea of not taking text and saying, “Okay, as best practice which was previously taught, I’m going to try to optimize these tags for the specific content based on keyword targeting.” But Hummingbird actually came out and said, “You can’t just create a page with a bunch of keyword stuffed in it. We’re going to look contextually at the entire query, the entire phrase.” You can’t just make this thing content pages. Let’s say we build content marketing for content marketers. If you’re into content marketing, “You should check out our content marketing solution content marketing.” Like, “Content marketing, go content marketing. Hurrah!”
I think that a lot of what you’re saying about things that are fueling this kind of marketing revolution and where people are getting tripped up to is people have legacy content, things that do have these best practices on there. For large brands and agencies and people who have hundreds, if not thousands and thousands of pages to manage, there is so much that needs to be updated, changed, and addressed. I want to talk about if you’re responsible for doing this, or if you’re concerned that you could be doing better, where are good places to start?
One of the things that we focus on because we hear it from customers a lot is one tracking changes is a huge point. So we released annotations earlier this year which actually allows you to see algorithm changes and when they were released. You can map those in the platform. You can say, “Hey, here is when that happened and I can actually see if it impacted things because no other changes were made other than this algorithm change.” It also allows you to make your own annotations within the system, as well.
We also have recommendations. Those are supported by importance, difficulty, and risk. I think one of the things that a lot of people would want to know is how important is it to address each one of these algorithm changes. Penguin 3 comes out – does this slide to the top of the importance list or are there still other things that people should be focusing on?
Ray: It’s a really good question. I would say the answer depends somewhat on your site. It’s also a matter of how much have you been affected by some of these algorithm changes in the past. Either certain types of sites, especially those that are very much oriented towards specific types of conversions or e-commerce where a drop in rankings for certain keywords can have a direct impact on your bottom line or even top line revenue because of the traffic that would not occur as a result of losing all those rankings. If you’re not both, then it’s probably very high priority. If you’re working on a site that is more branding in nature or maybe not necessarily going to have a direct tie to revenue, then you might have a little bit more leeway in the sense that nobody’s going to diagnose the result of these changes. But definitely you want to be paying attention to it, monitoring it.
We have two tools within GinzaMetrics that can help with this. One is, we have crawlers that look at all the anchor text on all the pages that will be next for your site and it looks at both internal pages and external links that you’re pointing off the site. That can be a really quick way to go through and find out what you’re doing or what other people are doing that you may not be aware of. That can really help you identify issues where if you see a lot of it then I would say, yeah, probably it’s a priority and you probably want to go through there and start making some changes there.
The other tool is the daily rank monitoring where a lot of times before Google releases these large algorithm updates, they’re doing a lot of testing on the SERPs. You can identify a lot of these issues a few weeks before the algorithm changes happen. So if you start noticing patterns between rank fluctuations, even if they go back up and you might think that that has something to do with somebody’s upcoming algorithm updates, that can help you get ahead of the game a little bit.
Erin: I want to mention one. The daily rank tracking things is so important. We talk about it all the time, not just because we do it. We do it because it’s important. It’s not important because we do it.
There are so many things, especially with how quickly people are releasing content, the number of people that are now content contributors, and the way that the competitive market looks that not understanding what happens when a competitor releases more new content, or what happens when something has a really big social impact goes viral, etc. Not really understanding what that does to your traffic and how it specifically impacts who you want to target and your target audiences respond to it means you don’t have granular level insight into somebody released this particular piece of content on this day and it actually impacted our ability to rank for things that we want to rank for or for people to find us when they’re looking. People are out there searching all the time. We talk a lot about the impact now of mobile and local search and how important that is in building the ability to see device-specific search results. I can’t stress enough why that’s so important.
I want to move to helping people figure out how to address these problems. Going back and fixing a lot of content can have a huge impact. I know that when we actually went through and redid a lot of our content last year based on some algorithm changes, we saw a huge pop in organic traffic. That alone, we did not have to go out and create a ton of new content. We actually just went through and fixed old content. We’re still creating new content.
I think that one of the big things is because there’s so much that people feel like they should remember one or two things tend to happen. People either get really bogged down in “I have to create this content based on 5000 rules,” which is really difficult to do and it’s hard to create good content when you’re only paying attention to rules. Or they write whatever content they want and they shove it out there, and it’s somebody else’s job to come back and clean it up later to make it fixed, to get it optimized.
I personally am a fan of paring things down to maybe five or ten general guidelines. If you’re going to do this, try to stick to these couple of guidelines. In general, do you think that there are any guidelines that if somebody is a content creator, they should just really not forget – just do these two or three things, or if you’re going to try to remember something, try to remember this?
Ray: Absolutely. Some of it is stuff that should be obvious to any writer or content creator. But it never hurts to have a reminder. The first and most important thing is, who are you writing it for? What’s your audience? What are they looking for? Think about the type of behavior that they may exhibit in order to find your content. Are they following certain people on social networks? Are they searching for specific keyword, different topics? Understanding that is the most important thing.
From there you can do a lot of inference into what sorts of keywords you should choose? Someone may be looking for information about a specific topic but the way that people revert to the mean in terms of overall behavior means that they’re going to choose certain keywords over others. So you can do a lot of research up front, understanding exactly the search volume involved.
So understanding the audience, understanding what keywords you’re going to target when you create that content, and then optimizing your content in the natural way. The key there is “natural” – a natural way to target that content, to target that topic. When you create the content, do so in the way that it’s structured well. Ideally, content that is a little bit longer. Long form content tends to perform really well it has a unique angle on things. I would say those are the most important things. From there, I would say probably pay attention to a few other things like URL structure and overall quality of markup and some of the technical issues that have an impact on things to a lesser degree but still matter from the overall user experience, which is really what I think Google is going for and making some of these recommendations, as well.
Erin: One of the things you and I have talked about recently – there are two things. One is creating good content. I cannot stress enough the idea that you cannot specifically try to build content stuffed with keywords or take one keyword and say, “I’m going to generate tons of content around this one thing, around this word. I’m just going to insert it as often as I can in here.” Google has caught on to that, they don’t like it. People actually don’t like it. They’re not going to share content like that because it sucks to read. It’s just the worst.
That aside – you and I have talked about this recently – but the actual structure of your site is so important into creating good content, maintaining good content, and being able to roll with a lot of these changes. Panda specifically talks about page layout, ads, too little content above the fold, all these things. If you have a legacy site that’s built with this kind of structure that doesn’t allow you to easily place high-quality content above the fold and do these things, you’re starting with a disadvantage. So maybe the first step for you is to consider maybe a site redesign or a reorg of how your structure is.
Things like that alone I think a lot of people don’t think of in terms of how findable their site is and how much traffic they’re potentially missing because they’re getting gain for this. They’re like, “My content’s great.” It’s like, “Yeah, but it’s full of 20 ads.”
Ray: Yeah, great.
Erin: You actually used to work for an agency that worked on SEO type stuff and you and I talked a lot about what the future of SEO is and how people understand it because there are content creators, there are marketing strategists, and there are people who have this SEO background. I think one of the things that was an interesting topic brought up this week by Karen who’s our marketing person here was, what if you think that you’re doing what people would call white hat SEO but you’re actually not? What if it’s actually gray hat or black hat? How do you know that you’re doing it wrong if you think you’re doing it right?
Ray: It’s actually a really interesting question. Let’s say a lot of it has to do with your intention in creating content. I would say that probably the bigger problem is people not understanding how search engines work in the first place more than someone accidentally tripping over a black cat technique. I think if you understand the basics of how the search engines work and there’s a lot of great material out there that they can help you do that and a few hours over an afternoon. That’s going to help you understand what you’re looking for, what sorts of best practices are out there. And if you pretty much just have a sense of that and are thinking about the user and trying to provide useful, beneficial content to them, I would say that chances of you accidentally tripping over a technique that will be considered black cat is probably pretty low.
Probably the bigger problem or the biggest risk is really just in doing things that are maybe less optimal. When you’re creating content you’re not creating the right structure, you’re not really focusing on optimizing the content for the type of topics that you’re writing about. There are lots of other things that can stand in your way. Obvious black cat techniques – and there are a lot of them out there – are things that you have to know what you’re doing in order to actually run into them.
Erin: Do you think though that it’s possible that someone could have stumbled across an article that was from a few years ago and was implementing a technique that maybe have been fine a few years ago but maybe now something that gets them penalized. This is one of the things that is concerning because what is good for SEO two years ago even or maybe beginning of last year – crazy changes will get you penalized now but that content is still out there, right? Content marketing is suffering as a result of its own content trying to benefit content marketers because we’ve been trying to tell people all along what they can do. So now you just accidentally look at the wrong article and you’re doing the wrong thing.
Ray: Yeah. I would say that probably the most clear example then would be what we’re talking about at the beginning of the call which is the Penguin update, which is basically the concept of over optimized or even optimized at all anchor text because that was a best practice until relatively recently. The goal was to always try to figure out natural creative ways to put the keywords that you’re interested in ranking for into the anchor text. And so I would say that there’s probably a ton of content out there that is optimized in that way.
So it will be interesting to see how Google responds to that. Right now they’re saying it’s going to affect only a small percentage of queries, but if they’re really serious about this or if there are a lot of edu [? 21:00] cases that they didn’t take into consideration, then it could actually end up impacting quite a few people.
I would say there’s a larger trend on that is really the move towards more semantic-type natural language processing. By them saying that they don’t want you to have optimized anchor tags, what they’re saying now is they don’t need it in order to discern the context of what a specific topic is about or what those pages containing that content are linking to. And so that’s a huge step forward in terms of overall algorithm technology and will hopefully make things easier for content creators moving forward where they don’t necessarily have to pay as much attention to the individual technical items on each one of their pages in order to make that content findable.
Erin: I feel like something that the entire marketing universe would really benefit from would be an ongoing list of “this used to be a thing, now it’s not,” “this was good, now do this,” “if you used to do this thing, we’ll replace it with this other thing.” For people whose SEO is only a portion of their job or it’s part of a department that they run and so it’s only one facet of something that they’re managing, trying to pay attention to each and every change especially when there are five, six, seven algorithm changes a year, they’re actually largely impactful that have a full release because we know that they’re actually making changes all the time. But when there are actually these types of things happening five, six times a year, it’s really hard for people to sit down and consume it. Because you’re saying a lot of these people don’t really understand how search engines work, and that’s something that we see all the time.
I think that it’s never going to be that you’re just going to get people to be like, “You know what? You should know how search engines work. We’re going to force feed it to you. This is how it’s going to be.” Especially because if we told you how search engines worked two or three years ago, it’s not that the search engines have fundamentally changed what they do but how they do it is drastically different. Because it’s an ongoing educational process, I feel like the resources out there can’t just be journalist writing stories about the impact of Penguin.
I feel like it depends on who you end up getting your information from too, because a lot of it is swayed towards scare tactics being like, “Oh my God, 7% of English sites are going to get affected.” And some people say, “Well, 7%? Probably not me.” So they don’t really understand what that means when you say 7% or some people say, “Hey, Penguin 3. Not that big of a deal, so just ignore it because it’s only 7% of sites.”
I feel like maybe some sort of like factual prototype system needs to be out there giving people the real deal so that you actually don’t have to understand the nitty-gritty of search engine technology, the same way that I’m not ever going to be an expert necessarily in e-mail marketing or Google AdWords. There are people that are specialists in it but when you’re responsible for a million things, you just can’t.
Ray: Yeah, totally. It’s actually a really good idea. It reminds me, for developers or programmers there is a tool called Diff which allows you to compare different versions of – I guess it’ll be like a revision tracking in Word where you can compare different things. So it would be interesting to have that sort of list of techniques – not even techniques but best practices that show how things have changed over time.
Erin: Because we do have a lot of interested people both as clients and as just marketers who have an international situation going on, we always talk about – if you change all of your site stuff to match what’s going on with Google here in the U.S., it actually may not perform as well internationally, which is why people have different localized instances of things. What are you seeing going on in some of the international search communities? Because I know you just came back from Japan – is there anything that you’re seeing that’s saying, “You know what, we have an English version of the site and we’re just going to make all these changes based on what’s going on with Google. What now?”
Ray: I would say that hands down, the biggest mistake that any company does when they try to go into a new international market is they think they can just localize or translate their content into that language, use the same imagery that they have – if you’re talking about a U.S. company, say you have some U.S. company going into Japan. They use the same imagery that they have in the U.S. site but it just happens to be in Japanese, for example. The problem with that is the content may or may not perform in search engines, but it’s not going to perform well for the user at all, the potential customer for that site. It makes sense, if you think about it. There’s no cultural relevancy. If you have a bunch of Anglo-Saxon looking people talking about something on a site that’s targeted towards the Japanese market or something else.
In some cases, it may be favorable. In other cases, it may just have zero relevancy. So that’s one of the biggest things I continue to see with companies doing market entry and it’s a huge problem. There are solutions out there that do a really good job.
There’s one company called Smartling, I believe, in New York. It’s almost like a CDN for localizing content. What they let you do is they let you create hosted versions of their content in other languages and easily localize it without having to go through IT and everything. From a business perspective, it makes a lot of sense. But one of the things you have to be careful in order to actually make a solution like that work – and this is not a problem of that solution, it’s just more of the way you implement it – is create content, use imagery, use videos that are actually specifically relevant to that culture and that country or you’re just going to miss out on an opportunity to really engage with people.
I’d say if you cover those bases then from there, it’s a matter of learning what the major differences are. I’d say that the biggest difference to date so far has been the algorithms, specifically Google’s algorithm updates happen in the U.S. first and they, in some cases, happen two or three years in the U.S. before they happen in other countries. Some of the more industrialized or advanced “countries” that get the algorithms next are places like Japan where there’s a lot of similarity in terms of overall market, size, and adoption and everything else, maybe consumer behavior is similar. And then other countries that are maybe in more rapidly developing markets, like parts of Southeast Asia, there are stuff that “works” from an algorithm perspective that stopped working in the U.S. in 2007 or 2008. So the roll out of these algorithms is really interesting and it has a lot to do I think with the language.
Erin: One of the things that you and I talk about a lot is the role of agencies and a lot of what agencies bring to the table is process, structure, and ability to be the experts in stuff and act as your advocate. And it’s funny because you recently shared an article – same one my husband had sent to me actually – it was around how eventually robots will be doing all these jobs and it’s how things will look moving forward. The debate that I got into at that time was that I actually think that there’s going to be a rise in service industries. Because while you can automate a lot of technological or standardized processing things, there’s a layer of services and strategy and things like that where I need to connect certain dots to do certain things and then I can tell technology to do it. Also just a lot of general project management and working with other disparate systems that may all be not interlinked is a really big deal.
One of the things that we saw as a society was over the last 5, 10 to 15 years people lost a lot of that ability to have project management skills and to have linear thinking, spatial reasoning, understanding, dependencies between things like, “If this, then that,” or “If you don’t do this, then that can’t happen.” And because we see a lot of that, I think that that as skill set that will make a resurgence and I think that agencies will be very uniquely poised to take a lot of that on. I think that hires within companies will actually be poised to take a lot of that on.
The last time we saw something like that was back in the 80s and early 90s after the rise of the industrial revolution and things and things shifted back again was middle management – people to manage other people. I think what you’ll get now is people to manage different technologies. People who are technologically savvy and process savvy will be instrumental in keeping everything going.
It’s my prediction. We’ll have to wait a long time to see if it comes true. So if Google Hangout even still work 10 years from now – I swear to God, every single time, it is a completely different interface. So I have to log on like 20 minutes early every single time. Come on, Google, please don’t punish our site for me saying that.
I want to remind everybody that we’ll be back again next Friday with another episode. If you have suggestions on topics, we always love to hear them or for guest speakers.
We are also getting ready to do a webinar with Rand from Moz and that’ll be really exciting. You and Rand are going to be doing that next week, it’s Wednesday. It’s Wednesday in the morning Pacific Time, so 10:00 a.m.
Ray: Yeah, 10:00 a.m. or 10:30.
Erin: Okay. Maybe 10:30 Pacific Time. So you guys are going to be doing that. Do you want to tell people a little bit about what you guys are going to be discussing?
Ray: Yeah. I’m actually really excited about this. Rand and I have stayed in touch over the years and he’s obviously been at this for a long time. When we first launched GinzaMetrics a couple of years ago, he was always really supportive about what we’re doing, so from there a lot of interesting conversations have just kind cropped up from time to time whenever we have a chance to catch up.
I was up in Seattle over the summer so we had lunch and we were just talking about different things, his experience with what they’re doing at Moz over the last year and a half, two years, what they roll out of Moz analytics and the rebranding. We talked about some of the larger trends that we’re paying attention to like content marketing, what does it mean for this overall concept of inbound and sales, and how is that market evolving. There are tools out there that have gone public like Marketo, HubSpots going public soon, too. So it’s interesting to see how venture capital and other capital markets, public markets are responding to SaaS technology in this space and what it means for companies that are probably going to be the next generation of this. Moz is right there, obviously. We think we’re right there, too.
So try to figure out where we think that’s in, what people are going to be investing in going forward, what the major market opportunities are, what it’s like to build this sort of product and technology. Being on the inside from a technology perspective but also having to have a lot of vertical expertise around SEO and content marketing and social and everything else. It just leads to a lot of really interesting conversations.
Erin: I want to talk a little bit about how marketers can choose the right tool or technology, as well. If you’re a marketer and you’re not even building a product, this is a great conversation for people to listen to to understand what goes into making the products that you use, how these decisions are made, where the industry is headed, and how to build the best table of technologies.
Ray: Absolutely. It’s a big problem for people to really understand that. I think that a lot of the conversation that we have is really geared towards helping people make that decision better.
Erin: We talk a lot about it internally. When people pick a tool that’s not right for them – unfortunately, people a lot of times get stuck in these long-term contracts or they have to train people on how to use something, and so not only are they stuck in this contract but they have taught a lot of people for weeks and weeks how to use a product so then they hate this product but they’re part committed to it. You’re stuck.
I think that the conversation you’re going to have with Rand about how people make decisions about what to build, what kind of future of that looks like, and then specifically giving people a little bit of information about how to make sure that they’re making the right choices. It makes it a really good conversation for anybody in the industry, anybody that buys SaaS products – just pretty much everybody now – to listen in on.
Alright, I’m going to wrap it up. Thank you so much, Ray. I know that you’re still jet lagged from Japan, so I totally appreciate you spending the time to join. I will see you next week.
Don’t forget to join the Moz webinar, which you can find out more information on our blog at GinzaMetrics.com, on Twitter @GinzaMetrics, and on our Facebook page. You can also always e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Alright, until next time. Bye.