Google's Algorithm Update to Benefit Small Businesses

Google's Algorithm Update to Benefit Small Businesses


Last week, Google announced another update to their search algorithm that will penalize what they call “webspam," and reward high-quality sites that haven't went overboard with search engine optimization. The update is called Penguin, which some SEO practitioners are calling the “over-optimization penalty” has been expected for more than a month, since one of Google's top dogs Matt Cutts made comments about leveling the search results playing field at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in March. 

Cutts, who was taking questions as part of a panel titled, “Dear Google & Bing: Help Me Rank Better,” responded to concerns that some markets had been saturated with optimized content that provided poor quality search results and made it difficult for small or mid-sized businesses to compete with larger company with army of optimizers - often a difficulty faced among ecommerce store owners.

Here is part of his response: 

“The idea is basically to try and level the playing ground a little bit so all of those people who have sort of been doing — for lack of a better word — over optimization or overly doing their SEO compared to the people who are just making great content and trying to make a fantastic site — we want to sort of make that playing field a little more level. And so that’s the sort of thing where we try to make the Googlebot smarter." 

"We try to make our relevance more adaptive so that people don’t do SEO, we handle that and then we also start to look at the people who sort of abuse it, whether they put too many keywords on the page or whether they exchange way too many links or whatever they’re doing to sort of go beyond what a person would expect in a particular area and so that is something where we continue to pay attention and continue to work on it and it is an active area where we’ve got several engineers on my team working on that right now.”

If this new algorithm change, which Cutts officially announced on Google's Webmaster Central Blog last week, does, in fact, do what Cutts promised at SXSW, it could prove to be great news for small and mid-sized ecommerce merchants. As with all things related to the Google search algorithm, the particulars of this change are secret, but its safe to say Google will be focusing on penalizing sites that violate their quality guidelines

The following SEO practices are considered 'black-hat' optimization and will likely take the brunt of the new algorithms wrath: 

  • Hidden text and hidden links.
  • Cloaking or sneaky redirects.
  • Sending automated queries to Google.
  • Loading pages with irrelevant keywords.
  • Multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with duplicate content.

It's safe to assume most Shopify stores aren't practicing black-hat optimization, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't take note of this new algorithm change which is said to affect 3.1% of English language queries to a degree that a regular user might notice.

Cutts insists that Google is increasingly rewarding high-quality sites, so this change gives you a good excuse to go over your website and ensure you're properly optimized. A couple months ago I wrote an article entitled 10 Crucial SEO Tips for Ecommerce Entrepreneurs, which gives ten easy to implement strategies specifically written for online store owners. You should also check out Google's Webmaster Guidelines, a fairly comprehensive guide on how to help Google find, crawl, and index your site. 

When all is said and done, Google makes hundreds of algorithm changes every year, so you shouldn't expect anything drastic to come from this specific update; however, it's nice to hear that Google's top dogs are actively making changes to benefit small businesses who produce good quality content and don't have the funds to hire expensive SEO optimizers! 


  • anon
    April 30 2012, 03:03PM

    Google screwed the pooch on this update

  • Beth
    April 30 2012, 03:07PM

    Nice update great that google is making these changes to help the small guys.

  • Derek
    April 30 2012, 03:39PM

    When will this happen? Is there a date?

  • @Shopify Mark Hayes
    Mark Hayes
    April 30 2012, 03:43PM

    Derek: The Penguin update has already been implemented. We’re just waiting to see how it will actually affect search results.

    Anon: Hey, feel free to elaborate on how Google ‘screwed the pooch,’ I’d love to hear more.

  • Ben
    April 30 2012, 04:25PM

    Cool info, thank you. I didnt know those resources from Google even existed.

  • anon
    April 30 2012, 04:41PM

    They’ve actually done more harm than good.

  • @Shopify Mark Hayes
    Mark Hayes
    April 30 2012, 04:47PM

    Anon: Interesting – thanks for providing some color, and for showing the other side to this algorithm change! It will be interesting to see how the changes affect small businesses over time. My fingers are crossed.

  • Janelle P
    Janelle P
    April 30 2012, 04:49PM

    I have no quirk with the idea of Penguin, I just have doubts that Google is using a large enough data set to tell if the results are better or worse. What I’d like to see is Google launching proposed algorithm changes in beta mode. Where you can see the results like you would normally see, but if there is a beta test of a new algorithm change, then there should be a link in the results that allows me to compare them and report back to Google if I think the new results are better or worse.

  • Andrew Youderian
    Andrew Youderian
    April 30 2012, 05:08PM

    I have mixed feelings about this. I love the idea behind the update, and it effectively removed a few really spammy sites from the SERPs in one of our store’s industries. But a second site of ours saw a SERIOUS hit to rankings to the tune of a 70% decrease in traffic, losing out to sites of far lower quality. I’ll be doing some pretty serious testing / tweaking to see if some un-optimization may be able to help.

  • Blekko Search Rules! Spread the word.
    Blekko Search Rules! Spread the word.
    April 30 2012, 06:39PM

    I’d like to know just how many Shopify stores went from profitable business to dead waste of internet space overnight! I know of one myself.

  • Brendan
    April 30 2012, 06:49PM

    All SEO was innovation at one time, as algorythms were heavily gaurded. It is only a new challenge, and we will figure out what works best. So quit griping and innovate.

  • Alexa
    April 30 2012, 08:01PM

    The more Google puts weight on quality content the better. Way too many people are gaming the system. Google will never punish a good online store that has a blog that talks about relevant information. I think Penguin is a blessing.

  • liz
    May 01 2012, 01:24AM

    So you want to cloak and do sneaky redirects or stop them?

  • wendy
    May 01 2012, 11:29AM

    Our traffic remains the same, but quality is gone. We now get blog readers vs shoppers. Our sales died overnight. Our entire store has custom content, but Google elevated our blog and demoted product pages. we now only get about 1/10 of visits landing on a product page. Our latest sale came from Bing. Look at your webmaster tools. It will tell you everything.

  • Ergode
    May 03 2012, 07:02AM

    The new update called Penguine (or OOP), this will de-rank the sites those are over-optimized and to check them up having great content in them.

  • Mrs Matt Cutts
    Mrs Matt Cutts
    May 05 2012, 10:13AM

    How can something be over-optimised.
    thats an oxymoron.
    Its either optimal, or it’s not.
    …. until someone moves the goalposts, that is.

    May 20 2012, 10:11AM


    once again, great review.
    thank you for the update.
    this update is useful becuase of the de-rank and the remove of the spammy sites.

  • suhana
    April 09 2013, 07:26AM

    Today i came across this amazing new website named…i really think you guys should check it out..

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