Being at the top of a Google search results page is a highly sought piece of real estate for many businesses. After all, being listed near the top of the results page on Google can be the difference between gaining new customers and losing them to another company. A recent series of changes released by Google is affecting the way the search engine giant orders their rankings and small businesses have been hit particularly hard by this update.
This most recent set of more than 50 changes, named Penguin, released April 24 changed the Google search algorithm to target over-optimized websites that were stuffed with keywords in an attempt to improve their search rankings. The full list of changes can be found on Google's blog.
What are the penguin updates?
"Penguin has been primarily focused on discouraging what the industry calls link spam," Navneet Virk, director of optimization at Roundarch Isobar, said. "In Google's algorithm, the links were placed with a very high value. In essence, the idea was if a lot of people were linking to a particular site or webpage, then it was considered to be a high-quality page and that impacted the ranking of that page in Google and other search engines."
Websites, however, began to adapt to this and started to gain an advantage in a number of ways, most of which were frowned upon by Google. That led to the Penguin update.
"The Penguin update targets all the practices that search engine optimizers (SEO) have been doing for the past 10 years, such as getting paid links or spinning content articles and distributing them just to improve their ranking," Todd Bailey, search engine expert and vice president of marketing at WebiMax. "If you had done a lot of these things, as of the release, you have seen dramatic shuffling of search indexes and drops in ranking."
How does it affect businesses?
These changes have affected all businesses by changing conventional wisdom and practices of how to boost Google search rankings. However, certain businesses may be feeling the effects more than others simply based on how quickly they can respond to the changes.
"The Google algorithm is now going to try to see if the link structure is natural," Virk said. "If the linking structure is unnatural with everyone linking using the same word, Google is saying that is spam."
According to Virk, that will impact all businesses. In particular, big businesses and businesses with a lot of links coming to them will be most affected because they have more links that may be filtered as spam by Google, which will hurt their Google ranking. However, big businesses have deeper pockets and can afford to hire the help needed to react quickly.
Small businesses, however, are often unable to respond to the changes quickly because they lack the ability and funds to immediately change SEO efforts.
"The ones that are really feeling the change are the small businesses who may have hired an SEO vendor and didn’t know what they were doing to improve ranking, but now they are being penalized," Bailey said. "(These changes are)disrupting any consistency of guidelines and punishing small businesses that lack the resources to respond."
Lacking the ability to stay on top of changes, small businesses have felt the effects of the Penguin update in an area that they can ill afford to.
"Search engines are mission critical for small businesses that are targeting traffic digitally," Bailey said. "Google has 66 percent of the market share for the online search industry, so they are the clear leader in online searches. As print goes away and search, mobile and tablets are here to stay, without question it is mission critical for these small businesses to be online.
What can businesses do to respond?
There are a number of ways that small businesses can climb the search listings ladder, according to Bailey. First and foremost, businesses must be sure to re-strategize their SEO strategy around quality content.
"Businesses need to get rid of the philosophy that they need to get as many links and as much content out as there as they can," Bailey said. "They need to look at a public relations strategy and try to produce quality content by pitching news outlets, doing press releases and guest blogging. The other options are social media campaigns and other multichannel options such as referrals and using CPM advertising."
Virk recommends businesses stay on top of new changes in SEO by following industry publications. Virk also said that small businesses can stay ahead of the game by focusing on link building, even though it is a time-consuming process for many businesses.