Staying on the safe side with Google’s latest SEO algorithm updates
A Quick Talk About Google’s Algorithm Updates
Every now and then Google changes its search algorithms for better and more accurate results – you may have probably heard by now about the well-known
and feared Panda or Penguin updates. All these updates implement various changes: some of them are minor and won’t be noticed by anyone (excepting
the web gurus), while others are major and will competely destroy websites in terms of rankings.
Keeping an eye on the bigger updates and on the most important changes they bring will definitely help you while SEO-optimizing your website because
some of the techniques you were probably using may become deprecated or even risky.
Did you know that Google changes its search algorithm up to 500-600 times every year?
Penguin And Panda Fundamentals
In a nutshell, Penguin is all about matching search queries with user expectations concerning results. That’s really been the goal of Google since Day One,
but Penguin takes it to another level entirely.
From Google’s point of view, Penguin is important because it indirectly punishes Black Hat SEO practitioners. It cracks down on unnatural anchor text,
attacks link cloaking (cloaking is when you create separate pages for your visitors and for search engine bots), and generally focuses on taking the evil out
of SEO. Essentially, it attempts to reward solid, well-connected content that’s highly regarded by authority sites and negate the impact of sly tricks.
A year ago, Panda seemed to focus more on the connections between content without a lot of consideration given to the quality of sites from which
backlinks originated. Google has fixed that with another Penguin update, which can really be considered a response to the changes that Black Hat SEOs
made in the wake of Panda.
Penguin also seeks to improve results by actively penalizing sites and pages that have what Google sees as an unnatural link profile. The key to success
is now most certainly quality over quantity.
I’ll now present you with a list of the biggest and most important changes and risk factors brought by Google’s major updates. You will find out exactly
what each update will look for in a website, thus allowing you to take immediate action and fix your website so that it avoids all of the following problem
The “Payday Loan” Update (released on June, 2013)
Spammy niches like loan websites & pornographic websites, including websites that specifically mention payday loans as well as websites targeting
The Penguin 2.0 (#4) Update (released on May, 2013)
Deeper detection of unnatural links use (see “Phantom” update) in all pages of the site, not just the homepage;
Webspam backlinks (links coming from spam directories or sites)
Heavy use of exact match anchor text;
Any other use of linking schemes defined in Google’s documentation;
The Phantom Update (released on May, 2013)
Unnatural links (e.g. too many do-follow links to other websites, and improper balance of do-follow and no-follow links)
“Sister” sites with heavy cross-linking to each other, especially when using exact match anchor text links;
Pages that scrape content instead of having their own original content;
Previous hits by Google’s updates;
The EMD Update (released on September, 2012)
Low-quality ‘exact-match’ domains (that is, domains whose names match exactly the searched keywords)
Spammy domain names.
The DMCA “Pirate” Update (released on August, 2012)
Repeated reports for violating copyrights;
Piracy of content owned by major copyright holders;
Offering search functionality to find infringing material;
Hosting files for the purpose of distributing or sharing them without consent of the copyright owner;
Blog plagiarism and copying content from other websites in order to rank higher.
The Penguin Update (released on April, 2012)
Low variety of link anchor texts;
Backlinks from websites of the same type (e.g. mostly forums or mostly blog comments)
Backlinks from irrelevant websites;
All sorts of link manipulating schemes (including cloaking)
The “Top Heavy” Page Layout Update (released on January, 2012)
Pages with too many ads above-the-fold;
Pages dedicating a large fraction of screen real estate to ads;
Pages with too less content above-the-fold (users want to see content right away)
The Farmer/Panda Update (released on February, 2011)
Thin, non-original or paid content, as well as content intended to build SEO value or links;
A high rate of duplicate content with little to no original content on page and/or website level;
Exceeding amounts of advertising on the pages;
Over-optimized content (heavy overdose of target keywords)
Low user experience & user engagement (bounce rate, time on site, pages viewed per visit)
Low quality unattractive UI/designs and less usable/readable/consumable content.
Low CTR in Google search results pages.
The May Day Update (released on May, 2010)
Very large sites with “item” pages (e.g., product pages) that don’t have many individual links into them;
Very large sites with “item” pages that are several clicks away from the home page, and may not have substantial unique and value-added content
As you can see, Penguin focuses on elevating the good, whereas Panda was all about sinking the bad. That makes it a lot harder for low-quality sites
to simply tweak a few elements here and there to get back on top. With the arrival of Penguin, the loopholes that allowed lousy websites to climb the
PageRank ladder through clever keyword optimization are rapidly closing. Paid links just got a whole load more risky!
Site owners who’ve seen a drop in traffic will simply have to adjust their sites to adapt to the new realities. Building organic links from well-respected
authority sites is the best way to go. Whether you opt for a guest blogging approach, a reliance on social media networking or some other strategy, the
links will have to come naturally from now on.
All successful webmasters will follow the same pattern: they develop and implement their SEO strategy, and regularly revise it to adjust to the changing
environment. It’s also important to keep an eye on your competitors and their activities. If some of them are hit by a new algorithm update, you may use
your historic data to detect their mistakes and avoid doing the same. Keep your data and revisions history well organized.
No matter what quality updates Google rolls over, don’t panic and keep on working. If you were hit – try to recover; if totally damaged – start from scratch.
Thanks to Matt Beswick for all his insights on Google’s “Zoo” updates.
What To Do In Case Of A Penalty
Has your website suddenly lost a lot of (or all) its traffic and doesn’t give signs of recovering? Or has it stopped showing up in the search engine
results for a while for your chosen keywords and phrases? Or maybe your high PageRank now shows up as “N/A”? In that case your website might be
the subject of a Google penalty.
Although it’s hard to tell if a website has been penalized or not due to the ranking fluctuations that appear on every algorithm change in search engines,
the above 3 points usually are a good indicator that your website might have received a penalty.
Sometimes it’s fairly easy to recover from a Google penalty, other times it’s really hard, but there are also times when it’s impossible to recover in which
case the website in cause becomes useless and has to shut down. Next is a checklist for identifying the probable reason(s) of why your website has
been penalized, and also suggestions on how to proceed in every situation (for more possible causes and up-to-date news about latest Google updates,
please see the above list of Google’s algorithm updates)
If you link back to websites that have been penalized, you will likely face the same situation. Therefore, go through all your outgoing and incoming
backlinks and make sure there are no banned websites in your link network. The same could happen if you are networking with spam websites, so be
aware of those, too.
Another aspect that you should be aware of is that of guest posting – if you accept people posting or commenting on your website, make sure that what
they write is relevant to your content because otherwise you risk a spam penalty.
Over-optimizing your pages will almost all the time attract Google’s attention, so make sure that you’re not overusing your targeted keywords (which is
known as keyword stuffing). Some signs of overuse are when your keywords have high densities, when there are too many keywords in a paragraph or your
URL addresses, or when your keywords are too close to one another. So always try to keep your content natural, original and informational.
Although having duplicate content will not get you penalized right away, not fixing your duplication problems can ultimately bring you a penalty (not to
talk about the fact that duplicate content has a really bad impact on your rankings). So always check your Meta tags since these are most likely to be
duplicated, your link anchors, your body text, and anything else that can be duplicated.
Never hide text from your visitors on purpose (like changing the color of your text so that it can’t be seen, or other sneaky techniques), because even
tough your visitors won’t probably notice it, search engine bots will.
Google doesn’t like automated queries to their API, nor does it like automated page redirects unless properly implemented. If you need to use their
API to make automated search engine queries, make sure you have an API account and use that for querying data. As for the automated redirections, try to
use 301 HTTP response status codes to implement permanent redirections (this is the recommended solution as suggested by Google), or you can use
First of all you should never purchase or sell backlinks (the latest Google algorithm changes have triggered mass penalties for a large number of
websites just because they were using paid links). So always build your links naturally and Google will love your website.
Secondly, be careful not to add a big volume of backlinks in a relative short time because this will also raise a red flag (Google will think you’re using some
black hat SEO techniques or some specialized software to accomplish this and will quickly act on your website).
And finally, make sure your backlinks are relevant to both your content and your niche. If you’re accepting irrelevant backlinks just for the purpose of
having backlinks, it’s almost the same as buying backlinks – it will harm your website.
Affiliation And Advertising
Affiliate websites with no good quality or original content is another penalty trigger. And did you know that having lots of ads on your website will
have the same effect? Google dislikes websites with too many ads because it sees you as someone who is trying to make money no matter what,
and it will also make your visitors leave the website after they see it (the higher the bounce rate, the more will Google dislike your website). Everyone
wants to see good, original and quality content, not a ton of ads that clutter a website’s design.
And a last tip: be patient! After you’re done cleaning your website, make sure you submit a fresh Sitemap to give Google a notice that your content has
been changed, and then you just have to wait until the search engine bots revisit your pages.
If, however, Google won’t remove the penalty from your website after you make all these changes, the only solution would be to backup your website, buy a
new domain (and possibly a new hosting solution), transfer everything to the new domain and then promote your new domain.