Google Penguin Update Recovery: Getting Better At Keywords

    May 2, 2012
    Chris Crum

Last week, Google unleashed its Penguin update upon webmasters. The update, as you may know, was designed to decrease the rankings of sites engaging in black hat SEO tactics and webspam. One of the classic black hat tactics is keywords stuffing, so if you’ve been doing this and getting away with it in the past, there’s a good chance the update took you down a notch.

Specifically, Google’s Matt Cutts said the update “will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines. Avoiding keyword stuffing has long been one of these guidelines. The guideline says, “Don’t load pages with irrelevant keywords.”

Google has a page about this in its help center, where it elaborates a little more. Here’s what Google says, verbatim, about keyword stuffing there:

“Keyword stuffing” refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google’s search results. Filling pages with keywords results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s ranking. Focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.

To fix this problem, review your site for misused keywords. Typically, these will be lists or paragraphs of keywords, often randomly repeated. Check carefully, because keywords can often be in the form of hidden text, or they can be hidden in title tags or alt attributes.

Unlike some of the other black hat tactics advised against in the guidelines, such as cloaking, Google specifically named keyword stuffing in its announcement of the Penguin update. Cutts even provided the following image in the announcement, highlighting this particular tactic:

Penguin Announcement: Keyword Stuffing

Cutts has spoken out about the practice plenty of times in the past. Here’s a humorous example of when he called out one site in particular about five years ago.

More recently – last month, in fact – Cutts talked about a related violation in a Google+ update. He discussed phone number spam, which he essentially equates to keyword stuffing.

““I wanted to clarify a quick point: when people search for a phone number and land on a page like the one below, it’s not really useful and a bad user experience. Also, we do consider it to be keyword stuffing to put so many phone numbers on a page,” he wrote. “There are a few websites that provide value-add for some phone numbers, e.g. sites that let people discuss a specific phone number that keeps calling them over and over. But if a site stuffs a large number of numbers on its pages without substantial value-add, that can violate our guidelines, not to mention annoy users.”

Here’s the image he was referring to:

Phone Number Spam

Getting Better At Keywords

Cutts has advised that you not spend any time worrying about the keywords meta tag (though Google does use the meta description tag):

In March, Google released a video about 5 common SEO mistakes and 6 good ideas:

One of the “good ideas” was:

Include relevant words in your copy: Try to put yourself in the shoes of searchers. What would they query to find you? Your name/business name, location, products, etc., are important. It’s also helpful to use the same terms in your site that your users might type (e.g., you might be a trained “flower designer” but most searchers might type [florist]), and to answer the questions they might have (e.g., store hours, product specs, reviews). It helps to know your customers.

I’d suggest including them in your titles as well.

Matt Cutts has talked about keywords a lot in various Webmaster Help videos. If you want to make sure you’re getting keywords right, I’d advise watching some of these discussions (straight from the horse’s mouth). They’re generally short, and won’t require a lot of time:


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.