Programming Blog

Jeremy Morgan

Mostly Coherent Ramblings of a Silicon Forest Software Developer

How to Penguin Proof Your Website

By: Jeremy Morgan

Whether or not you’ve been hit by the “Penguin” or “Panda” updates lately surely you’re aware of it’s impact on the web. Google is shuffling the algorithms and people are rising and falling right and left. SEO is changing as it always has right before our eyes and the whole industry has once again been turned upside down. So what do we do now?

I have the answer, and so do you.

It’s hard to believe it’s almost been 10 years since the “Boston” update. This was the first really big shakeup to the Google algorithm and it was a dramatic update. Google has continued these updates, with increasing frequency.

What happens every time there is a big algorithm update?

  • Spammy sites are dropped off
  • Results look better
  • Fresh material comes up
  • Webmasters and SEOs are scared into submission

These are all benefits to Google, because they’re giving a better product to their customers. The updates are here to stay. So what should we do?

Instead of fighting Google we should be joining them. Let’s give them better content to pass on to their visitors as a winning strategy.

Google is in the business of providing good search results. Help them accomplish this.

We know exactly what to do because Google tells us in their webmaster guidelines and people like Matt Cutts give us the blueprint of what Google is looking for. So why are so many SEO’s playing “see what I can get away with” and trying to game the system?

Why not align your plans with theirs and create the best content possible? I fail to see how that could end up being a bad choice.

Hey Google: Trust me

Here is what I think will be the next big thing: Trust.

Legitimacy and trust are signals for SEO now, but they’re going to be bigger. We should be earning trust by actually being trustworthy. It’s a novel concept right?

I wrote last week about Authorship, and I touched on trust a little bit but now we’re talking about the whole package. Make yourself, your site and your company as trustworthy as possible. The benefits reach far beyond just SEO. So how can you earn trust?

1. Stay out of bad neighborhoods

Don’t use link farms, paid links spots, forum profiles or blog comment spam anymore. If you want to make some quick sales from throwaway domains using Xrumer or similar tools to spam your way to the top of results that’s ok but it’s a terrible long term strategy. Your primary domain should never be involved in any of this. You should always treat your main site as the face of your company, and a golden goose that should never be put at risk without good reason.

2. Don’t host your site on shoddy cheap hosting with 1000 other domains on the same IP

This one doesn’t require a lot of explanation. It’s never a good idea to have multiple domains with similar WHOIS data all on the same IP, especially if they’re yours and linking to each other. You may think this is clever but it’s a trick that has run it’s course and is has gone the way of cloaked and doorway pages.

3. Contribute positively to the community

Ask yourself a few questions about your niche: Are you helping people? Are you contributing to the community as a whole? If there were no way to monetize it would you still feel good that you’re doing something positive? If not you should take a good look at what you’re doing. Don’t focus on making money, focus on what you’re passionate about and helping others, the money will follow.

4. Don’t be a jerk.

Stay positive with your messaging and don’t attack or demean others. Even if you’re right about something you look like a jerk for arguing about it. Anger and vitriol repels people. In this hyper connected age your actions will be known worldwide in hours. How long until Google starts using that as an SEO signal?

5. Watch Your Mouth

Foul language is something you should very rarely do in a professional situation. It puts off those who are offended by swearing but it also lowers the level of respect you command. Frequent profanity in professional situations makes others lose trust and respect quickly.

6. Let people know what your interests are

If you’re running a business don’t pretend like it’s a charity and you see no benefit. There are people making a living from the web and social media every day so why do some feel the need to hide it? Let your motivations and bias be known and you take away the element of surprise when people find it. If you’re compensated to endorse something, make that clear. If you’re in a partnership keep it out in the open.

7. Tell people what you don’t know

This is something my dad drilled me into many years ago: you look a lot smarter admitting what you don’t know rather than trying to fake it. If you’re unfamiliar with a subject disclose that and don’t fake expertise. People will find out, and when they do it will ruin your reputation. Avoid trying to “fake it till you make it”.

8. Push yourself to be better

There is always room for growth and improvement. Seek knowledge, expand your base and try new things. The better you become at whatever it is you’re doing the more of an authority you’ll be. This is the information age! You have massive amounts of knowledge at your fingertips so there is no excuse for slacking here.

9. Don’t cheat

Black hat SEO tactics work, but should never be done on your main site or be connected with your company in any way. Not only do you risk penalties from search engines, but you look bad. Your competitors will examine your site and they will report you. White hat SEO is the only thing you should consider for your main company site and it’s a long term investment that’s never embarassing.

10. Interact with your community

Unless you’re already so famous you don’t need to talk to anyone you’re going to have to engage with your audience. Folks I look up to like Rand Fishkin, Steve Wozniak, Linux Torvalds, and Pete Cashmore all have one thing in common: you can have a conversation with them. If you message or email them, you’ll get an actual response.

Those who ignore their fans are forgotten sooner than those who engage with them. Not only do you show your audience respect, you’ll also get good suggestions and viewpoints. Reach out and talk to them!

The secret you’ve known all along.

The future of SEO and success on the web has little reliance on technical factors. It’s about the people. If you decide to stop counting keywords and spamming your link everywhere and start working on making your site great you can’t lose. Use that time to increase the quality of your content. Change your mindset to one that works with the major search engines and strive to build better content that you can be proud of. Build a reputation of quality and reap the benefits of our hyperconnected world.

The new formula is quite simple:

  • Contribute.
  • Be honest and trustworthy.
  • Work with Google not against them.
  • Build your reputation and keep it.
  • Reach out to your audience and interact with them.

Ask not what your fans can do for you, ask what you can do for your fans. Do what’s right and you’ll never have to sweat a simple algorithm change again.