We’ve laughed at the commando antics of the penguins in Madagascar, and were touched by their story in The March of the Penguins. But many e-commerce sites have not been laughing about the latest penguin to hit the news: Google’s April 24th algorithm updates code-named “penguin.” The buzz has been building over the changes that Google’s Matt Cutts defined as “our latest algorithm improvements to help you find more high-quality sites.”

Cutts spelled out 50 changes under the Penguin codename in Google’s official blog on May 4th. These included changes to spelling prompts, instant preview, language relevance for navigation and returns for snippets and titles, and most of these are neither controversial or negatively impacting most websites. But among the list are several “improvements” that are specifically designed to detect spammy websites and to move high-quality sites with fresh content up the list in search results. These improvements are having an impact on about 3% of the websites, according to Cutts. Here are the changes that EVG thinks could directly affect your website.

Improvements to how search terms are scored in ranking
Search terms, or keywords, are the foundation of search engine optimization. Penguin now changes how those search terms are scored based on how and where the terms appear on your webpages. A second improvement considers the content placed “above the fold” in an effort to discern if the best content has the best real estate on a website. Smart websites use keywords in a natural way, avoiding stuffing them into the content without regard to context.

Smoother ranking changes for fresh results; improvement in a freshness signal; no freshness boost for low-quality content
These three changes are directly aimed at rewarding websites that work to maintain fresh content that is authoritative and high quality. The improved algorithm considers the freshness factor in a more nuanced manner, according to Cutts, and weighs whether or not the latest addition has something of value to offer. Sites that simply add content that Google defines as low quality will not receive the freshness boost, and, in fact, may be penalized with lower ranking as a result.

Better query interpretation; increase base index size by 15%
The base search index is now 15% larger and every query that is typed into the search box is matched against this index. That’s why they’re also improving the way the search engine interprets what you intended to search for based on the query and the last few searches. With a larger base index coupled with a better understanding of what it is that is being searched for, Google is attempting to anticipate what you really want. When you couple these updates with the recent release of Knowledge Graph, you’ll see just how serious the company is about getting relevant search results when queried.

The bottom line, according to Google, is that they intend to reward websites that offer high-quality information.  While some may argue with Google’s definition of an authoritative, quality site, users appreciate the changes when their results pages have what they need within the first one or two pages.

Kathleen Gossman
EVG Project Manager

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