What Google’s Penguin 2.0 update means for local businesses

At the end of May, Google rolled out a major update of their search algorithm. The update was named Penguin 2.0 and can have a strong impact on search engine rankings for local businesses. Here are the main points to be aware of:

Search results are customised depending on the searcher’s location

penguinThis means that if you search for, say, a café while you are in Sydney, you will get different results than if you search for a café while you are in Geelong – even if you don’t type in “Sydney” or “Geelong”. Google tries to determine your location and will show you results tailored to your area. This can be good news for local businesses as they have a better chance of showing up for searches conducted in their local area.

However, this also means that search engine rankings are more difficult to measure – while your website may be on the first page if someone searches while in your local area, its rank may be quite different if someone searches from elsewhere.

A caveat in Australia is that location detection is not very accurate yet, so these results may not always be reliable.


Authentic, popular niche brands are rewarded

The strength of your brand and your “online footprint” are now more important than ever. Popular brands will rank higher. Building a brand in your niche takes time, but it will pay off in better rankings.

The way Google evaluates your brand strength is by checking social signals (e.g. likes and shares); content found on the web such as press releases, videos, blog posts, PDFs, articles and presentations; Google+ authorship tags and other factors.

To build your brand online, you’ll need to focus on creating quality content and building your social media profiles.

Clusters of results from the same domain are limited

Until now, it was possible for certain websites to dominate the search results for a particular query. With the Penguin 2.0 update, Google has reduced the number of results coming from the same domain. This gives smaller businesses a better chance to get to the first page.

However, one quirk I have noticed is that for many local queries, if your domain name comes up in the list of Google Places listings that are often integrated on the first page of results, it then does not show at all in the “normal” listings. This can be painful for businesses that used to have a #1 or #2 ranking, and are now only appearing further down the page in the list of Google Places results.

Exact match domains are punished

Until recently, having a domain name that exactly matched your “money keyword” was a good way to get ranked. However, exact match domains have been punished in the Penguin 2.0 update and will often show up much further down the page.

Unnatural link profiles are impacted further

When Penguin 1.0 came out last year, businesses with too many over optimised, unnatural links pointing to their website were marked as spam by Google and sometimes disappeared from the search results entirely. Penguin 2.0 has refined this even further and now includes unnatural links to inner pages (not just the home page).

Be careful when paying someone to “build links” for you – it is not necessarily a good investment of money these days. It will still help to be listed in some quality directories, and authentic links from reputable websites will definitely have a positive impact on your search engine ranking. But submitting your website links to thousands of directories and article submission sites is a bad idea. Quality over quantity is the mantra!

Google is going to refine its algorithm further in the wake of Penguin 2.0, so we may see more changes over the next few months. All in all, this is another step closer to rewarding quality websites and brand, and reducing incentives for spammers.

For an overview of where Google’s algorithm is headed, check out this 7 minute video by Matt Cutts.