Luke Janich
Oct 24, 2016

Beware Google's next game-changer

What to watch out for in Google's latest algorithm update, Penguin 4.0, and why brands need to embrace AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages).

Luke Janich
Luke Janich

If you've never heard of Google latest algorithm update Penguin 4.0 or Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), I don't blame you. Both have largely gone under the radar for many marketers. But they are set to have significant effects on the digital marketing industry. In short, the two together represent the biggest change to how Google ranks websites and content in over two years.

Let's start with Penguin. What is it and what does it mean for your typical marketer? Penguin 4.0 is the latest update to Google's ranking algorithm. It identifies sites that try to game the search results to boost their rankings. And—crucially—it punishes them. The latest update makes old-fashioned SEO techniques, like spammy pages and link networks, a thing of the past. And it does it all in real time.

Google is incredibly protective of its algorithm, so there's no foolproof way of knowing if you've been hit. Sure, any drop in search rankings is worrying, but the real risk of Penguin is blacklisting. If Google thinks you've been spamming its algorithm, then it punishes your site in the search results. If you're a digital marketer who's noticed a significant drop in web traffic, this could well be due to the latest Penguin update.

And this is only the start for digital marketers. Many brands have a ‘set-and-forget’ approach when it comes to building websites: cheaply developing their site, rushing out content and using out-of-date tactics like buying links to build their traffic. Many have invested considerable resources into SEO link schemes, which are now going to be completely ineffective. In future, marketers are going to have to look at other ways to protect and future-proof their sites. Luckily, there are many on offer.

One such emerging technology is AMP, or Accelerated Mobile Pages—though it too presents challenges for less digitally-savvy brands.

So what is AMP and why is it important? Well, Google has long been unhappy with long load times for mobile content. We've all been there, staring at a black screen for seconds—seemingly minutes—while a laggy article or webpage loads. Well, Google wants AMP to make slow-loading pages on mobile a thing of the past. And many experts expect AMP-optimised content to become the new normal.

The big news for brands is that they won't want to get left behind. Google has already announced that it's going to give preferential treatment to AMP-optimised sites in search results. And some big names have already started to optimise their content: Twitter, LinkedIn and BuzzFeed, to name just a few.

As Google rolls this out globally, we'll start to see AMP-based content dominating the search results. First, because sections like Google’s Top Stories will factor AMP into their rankings. This means non-optimised pages will be regularly outranked by optimised ones. Second, web traffic will be higher for AMP content, thanks for its faster performance. Crucially, these pages are more likely to keep their audience's attention. For brands this means more time to deliver their message, generate a lead or convert. 

In the coming months, AMP, combined with the Penguin update, is going to become a real game-changer. And, as ever, it pays to be prepared. The challenge for digital marketers today, is not just how to counteract the effects of Google's recent updates, but how to take advantage of them in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Luke Janich is CEO of RED².

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