Pandas, Penguins, and the Past and Future
of Internet Marketing

Pedro Cardoso
Oct 8, 2013

Guest Post By Pedro Cardoso

The world keeps changing at an ever faster pace - and the Internet even more so. Seasoned webmasters know this, and often experience sour repercussions. Consider this:

If you own a website, one of the best sources of traffic you can hope for is organic traffic (which is to say, visitors originating from search engines). And the undisputed king of search engines, as everyone knows, is Google. As such...whenever mighty Google enacts a major change to their ranking algorithms, the Internet marketing industry trembles, and is often forced to shift and readjust drastically.

This has been the case, most notably in the past couple of years. In 2011 Google released their so-called Google Panda, and in the next year they introduced the Google Penguin. These were codenames for what is generally regarded as the most drastic update ever introduced in the algorithm Google uses to organize search results. Read through this article for the gist of the matter, as well as some logical predictions of the future of Internet Marketing.

Why Google Became THE Search Engine

As the legend goes... Once upon a time in the dawn of the Internet, making money online was indeed very easy – at least for the few in the know, that is. You just had to find a relevant and profitable search keyword, and make sure your website ranked first for it.

Doing so, you would be flooded with high quality, laser targeted traffic, i.e. the best possible kind, when looking to monetize a website. Fortunes were made around this time. On the flip side, the user experience at the time wasn’t that great; remember when most search queries pulled up such wildly disparate and irrelevant results that it was almost funny?

Back in the early days before Google came about, manipulating search engine results was very easy. It could be as simple as stuffing your desired keyword dozens of times into your content and meta tags, and soon enough your page would be ranking for that search term. Google was actually the first search engine to realize these manipulations had to be averted to keep the search results in good quality.

How Google Made Content King

In the late 1990’s, when Larry Page and Sergey Brin surfaced with their revolutionary search engine based on the PageRank concept, they quickly swooned the global audience. With the concept of using academic-style references to determine the relevance of a page – rather than just analyzing the actual content in that page (which was all too prone to manipulation), things started getting much better for the average Internet user of the time.

All of a sudden, you started getting relevant and useful results for most of your search queries, and you couldn’t get enough of it! Google was vastly influential in the expansion of the Internet. But did you ever notice the gigantic battle raging in the background? A battle between search engine giant Google (the aspiring search behemoth) and the ever-persistent legions of spammers and self-serving “Internet Marketers” (possibly best described as Internet Rank Manipulators, for the most part).

The Rise and Fall of the Link Selling Industry

Fast forward to 2005-2010, and Google was starting to lose grip on the increasing legions of rank manipulators who used a myriad of tactics to cheat their way into the top results. During all those years, the search giant kept trying to perfect the accuracy of search results, and the value delivered to the end user by those results. On the other hand, SEO's (search engine optimizers) kept looking for ways to use PageRank to their advantage as a way to manipulate their search engine rankings. A huge, billion dollar industry was spawned, with webmasters realizing that links had become the life and blood of a website – so buying and selling links to artificially inflate the rankings of a website became common practice. The problem being that Google wanted webmasters to earn their top search rankings, rather than *pay* for it.

This battle rages on to the present day, almost two decades later. And Google’s Penguin and Panda algorithm update were Google’s atom bombs, meant to upheave the battlefield. To mention it worked as intended would be quite the understatement. It’s much more accurate to say that these algorithm updates outright dismantled the morally questionable industry that had flourished around the practice of buying and selling of links.

Google Panda, circa 2011

It was a time for drastic measures, and the search team at Google knew it. So around February 2011, the first iteration of this major algorithm change was launched. The result, you can see in the chart below (courtesy of SearchEngineLand)

Google Panda Results Chart

When Panda was originally released, it severely brought down the traffic of many websites – mostly those that were littered with so-called “thin” content: pointless, vague chunks of gibberish that offered no real value to the reader. Before Panda came about, many big websites were thriving on the publication of such content; with Panda, a clear message was sent by Google: weak content is no longer acceptable. Looking at the graphic above, you'll notice that even though many of those websites tried to react to the changes by coming up with new tricks (and succeeded for a while), progressive revisions of the Panda algorithm kept neutering those websites' traffic. It's now been over two years since the advent of Google Panda, and most webmasters by now realize there's no way around it, content is once again king. Not only does trying to manipulate Google rankings by flooding the Internet with garbage no longer work as it once did, such tactics now actually cause very negative results.

2012: Penguin Came By to Finish the Job

With Panda, Google tackled a huge part of the webspam equation: pointless filler content. At this point, serious websites knew they had to focus on producing amazing content. However, they also knew they could leverage their assets by investing in "website promotion", aka – purchase of links to their websites for rank manipulation effects.

A year later, they would release another update to finish the job; it would be known as Google Penguin, and it would be geared to subvert manipulative link portfolios – i.e. websites that grew by purchasing or trading links with other websites. Penguin had just as devastating an effect as Panda, literally shuffling out millions of websites from the first page of search results. The message was now clearly set in stone, and Internet marketers all over the world had to change their ways, or altogether fold their business aspirations.

A Clear Message for the Future

We are now living in the era after Google Panda and Penguin. What this means is that reasonable webmasters and legitimate Internet marketers now know it's an entirely new game board. Anyone who's in it for the long haul has realized that trying to manipulate their Google search rankings is like building castles in the sand. So what is the right way to make a living as a webmaster or blogger?

Creating amazing content that delivers value. Writing things that people want to read. Researching your competitors and producing content that is far better than theirs. Engaging an audience and investing time and effort into your social media efforts.

Stop trying to hack and cheat your way to the top, because even if you chance it – Google will ensure you won’t subvert their engine for long. Who knows what will be the next runaway beast to come from the Google Zoo? Stay safe, and align your interests with those of your readers. That will ensure Google naturally aligns with you...and you’ll never have to worry about getting your website trampled.

Main image courtesy of Doodle 4 Google's 2009 finalist, Courtney Bodine of Moorestown Upper Elementary in Moorestown, NJ. To see her doodle click on Grades 4-6, Region 2.

This post was written by Pedro Cardoso, one of the bloggers behind Dom's Tech Blog, and this content represents his views on the subject matter.