This is not exactly a scoop, the latest update of Google's algorithm, codename Penguin, has been at work for a few weeks now. Its official objective: clean out the search results from all the crap (sorry I can't find any better word!) that was polluting them.
The websites targeted by this new update are all the low-quality websites which they are calling "web spam".
What is considered a low-quality website?
There are several factors. For starters, you may have seen at times some of those pages full of gibberish - they seem to be written in bad English, most often completely impossible to read. Well these are actually generated by a technique called "spinning" that replaces words of an article again and again, in order to get lots of copies of it, each copy looking - in the eyes of a search engine - unique. It looks unique because it is not composed of the same words and sentences as the other copies.
Then you also have all those websites using spammy back-links. A back-link is a link to your website, present on another website. They are required in order to climb the search results up to the first page - there's been a time where, the more back-links you had, preferably on quality websites, the best it was. So some webmasters were using black-hat techniques to spread their links massively, which involved - among other things: captcha solving (yes, robots can solve captchas guys! This isn't new), mass-creating forum and social networks profiles, mass-commenting on blogs, and such. All automatically, with a bot.
If I can talk so easily about those techniques, it is because a couple of months ago I came across one of those applications you can use to do this kind of things. I studied it for a couple of days, and - hopefully for me - since I am an honest guy proud of his work and his reputation, I decided not to use it.
Well... Google wants to get rid of all this by sending these websites back where they belong - to the back of the queue.
Did they really clean the web from that "web spam"?
Well, frankly, it is still too soon to tell exactly what effect this will have in the end. So far, they have removed some spam. Not all of it, but removing all of the web spam is probably an illusion. What's sure is that spammers will most certainly find a way to fight back, and then Google will make another update and... Well, like in many other cases (I'm thinking illegal music and video sharing here), this is a cat and mouse game. There will probably never be a definitive outcome. For the time being, there are some changes in the search results, and you must live with them.
What can I do to protect myself from the mighty Penguin?
Well, actually, I'm not sure you need to "protect yourself".
Did you use any of those techniques I was talking about earlier? If you haven't you have not much to worry about. Just remember that Google wants:
- Quality websites, with real and unique content. This requires work, of course... But this is what your visitors deserve, and Google wants to favour those websites that give the best information and service to their visitors.
- Quality back-links, manually built. You can post on forums, blogs, and social networks - actually no it's not "you can" but "you must". As long as you do it manually and there again, provide quality content, you'll help your website.
- Think about using social sharing buttons. See those sharing buttons on top of this article? G+, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn... Go ahead, hit them, you'll be creating back-links for me. And these are 100% natural! You should absolutely do the same on your website and let other people work for you!
- Keep your website moving! This is not new: the search engines like dynamic websites always updated with new content. This is actually why blogs are so popular!
- Don't over-optimize your pages. You should still do your keyword research, but don't fill your pages with keywords... They must look natural. They must be natural.
- Don't try to trick Google in any way. This would work against you, now more than ever.
So in short: be true, be honest, provide quality. And you should be good!
What if you have used some of the techniques mentioned above?
The solution in one word: cleaning.
Clean up your website from all the low-quality content and wait until Google crawls your website again, and you should recover. If you have used any black-hat back-linking strategies, in theory you'd need to clean all those bad links too... Which might prove more difficult, if not impossible. If you can, do it. If you can't, well... The only thing to do is probably to start anew with another domain name, and be more careful in the future!