Many site owners are still feeling the effects of Google’s Penguin update , which went live on April 24th. In my opinion, that rollout is just the first in a long line of Penguin updates to come. Since Panda launched in February of last year there have been about 15 subsequent Panda updates; I firmly believe Google will do the same thing with Penguin. So the question then becomes, what’s next for Penguin? Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m willing to bet a Penguin update that goes after keyword rich domains can’t be too far off.
To me, a Google attack on keyword rich domains seems like the most logical step. Panda targeted sites with low-quality content and Penguin really went after sites with bad link portfolios. The SEO community pretty much agrees that over use of exact match and keyword rich anchor text was one of the biggest no-nos that Penguin called out. Well what is a keyword rich domain if not over optimized anchor text? Since it’s not really a brandable name, whenever someone links to a domain like buyvirginislandcruises.com they have to use those exact keywords. In my experience, site owners with a URL like buyvirginislandcruises.com are usually just trying to rank for a short list of keywords anyway, and they want to do it quickly. It becomes less about building a sustainable and quality brand and more about ranking for specific search phrases.
I don’t think every site owner with a keyword rich domain is out to trick the search engines, and some of those might be unfairly caught in the crossfire. For instance, one of my SEO clients felt the effects of Penguin a little bit and I think it’s because of their domain name. This client works in the medical industry and they are undeniably the thought leaders in their specialty. Website visitors and physical patients come from all over the country to my client because they are the best at what they do. Their link building campaign is strictly white hat; they put out tons of great informational content, have a strong social presence and so forth. In essence, they are doing everything by the book. But Penguin came around and their site took a little hit. Nothing major, but more than the usual fluctuations we expect to see. In truth, the only thing I could find that was even remotely toeing the line was their domain URL, which was keyword heavy. Since their keyword domain is also their brand, there is nothing we can really do right now without completely reinventing the company so the plan is to focus on varying up the anchor text in their link building even more and stick with the white hat SEO campaign we’ve been doing all along.
No one can claim to know the mind of Google, but I really feel like a Penguin update that specifically targets keyword rich domains is coming down the line. It just seems like the most logical progression based on previous algorithm updates.