Hot off the press, Google recently announced changes to its Search Ranking Algorithm, code named “Penguin”. While they haven’t specifically mentioned what the changes entail, however Google made it pretty clear that it’s about targeting those violating its quality guidelines. Here’s an exact quote from the announcement:
In the next few days, we’re launching an important algorithm change targeted at webspam. The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines.
There was – and frankly, still is – a lot of speculation about how to survive Penguin. Google did release a list of questions that webmasters should ask themselves related to how Google assesses quality, but it wasn’t completely black and white. Luckily, Google does tell you exactly what not to do.
There are 8 “specific guidelines”
1. Avoid hidden text or hidden links.
2. Don’t use cloaking or sneaky redirects.
3. Don’t send automated queries to Google.
4. Don’t load pages with irrelevant keywords.
5. Don’t create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content.
6. Don’t create pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware.
7. Avoid “doorway” pages created just for search engines, or other “cookie cutter” approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content.
8. If your site participates in an affiliate program, make sure that your site adds value. Provide unique and relevant content that gives users a reason to visit your site first.
Some of them are more black and white than others. For example, avoiding hidden text or hidden links seems like a pretty obvious thing. Just don’t do it. The duplicate content one is a little different. What does Google consider “substantially duplicate content”? How much is too much?
Beyond the specific guidelines, Google also lists 4 “basic principles”
1. Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines. Don’t deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, which is commonly referred to as “cloaking.”
2. Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
3. Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or “bad neighborhoods” on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.
4. Don’t use unauthorised computer programs to submit pages, check rankings, etc. Such programs consume computing resources and violate our Terms of Service.
Google provides plenty more guidelines and elaboration on the quality guidelines in its help center. Of course, none of this is new. It’s just that now Google has a better way to enforce them (or at least, it hopes it does).