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Penguin? What's that? Don't worry if those are the first three words out of your mouth. Unless you -- like those of us at FindLaw -- spend all of your day worrying about search engine optimization and other online marketing buzzwords, don't feel bad that you don't know about Penguin.
In the wacky world of online marketing, it's important to know not only how to market, but how the marketing system itself works. Penguin is, for better or worse, a part of this ecosystem, and Google updated it earlier this week.
Here's why this matters for lawyers:
Penguin and Panda are nicknames for recent series of updates to the algorithm Google uses to rank and display search results. While every algorithm update is slightly different, generally speaking both Penguin and Panda updates aim to prevent low-quality or irrelevant websites from showing up in search results.
Regular updates are needed both because the Web is constantly changing and growing, and because people are always finding new ways to "game" the Google search system. For example, back in 2004, some clever young people figured out that a major component of Google search results was how many pages linked to a particular keyword. They linked the words "miserable failure" to President George W. Bush's biography page at the White House website so often that it became the No. 1 search result for that phrase. As election season geared up, Republicans caught onto the trick too, linking "waffles" to John Kerry's campaign website.
Such tactics are now verboten under Google's Webmaster Guidelines. Penguin isn't designed to disrupt politicians' funky good time, but rather to ensure that Google search results point to legitimate, substantive pages full of content rather than pages using "spammy" link-building tactics to boost their ranking in search results.
Every time Google updates its search algorithm, the Internet freaks out a little bit. Search result rankings change, which can cause a website that used to be on Page 1 of the search results to be relegated to Page 3 or 4. Businesses then have to figure out if the most recent algorithm update affected their website traffic and, if so, how to update their site or practices to show Google that their site is not "spammy" and their practices are not in violation of Google's guidelines.
For example, one component of Penguin is whether a site has a large number of "spammy" in-links, such as purchased links or links from low-quality websites. A couple questionable links likely won't affect a site's search rankings, but a large number of these kinds of links tend to make Google think that the site owner is attempting to artificially manipulate search results. The result is a downgrading of that site in search results, usually coinciding with a Penguin algorithm update.
Website owners who think their site has been unfairly targeted by Penguin can complain to Google, but the fact remains that one company gets to decide which results are good and which are bad. The most recent Penguin updates only affected about 1 percent of all English-language search results, but you still have to do what Google wants.
Now that you know what Penguin is, how can you keep up with all of Google's algorithm updates? FindLaw's lawyer marketing experts can do it for you. Contact your local FindLaw consultant today for a free needs analysis.
Editor's Note, October 22, 2014: This post has been updated to clarify the effects of the latest Penguin update.