Year 2012 has been quite tumultuous when it comes to SEO. Even though Google has been picking up pace ever since it started providing its services, the number of algorithm updates and changes made to search process itself have been quite astonishing. For the most part, the changes were for the best, but such a huge task as the one that Google has set for itself is not easily accomplished, especially in the ever-changing environment such as the internet, so naturally, not everything went as smoothly as we might have hoped. Anyway, we’ll provide a short overview of the most important changes, and leave you to judge whether we’re better off for them, as SEOs and as internet users.
Google+ (G+) has, arguably, disproved the barrage of commentators predicting its downfall and is making strides towards becoming a great network and useful resource. Last year, more than 600,000 new users and five billion +1 uses were recorded every day, with 60 per cent of users logging in on a daily basis.
With Google continually making changes to the layout of their first page of results and rolling out updates to punish low-quality pages, it has never been more essential to use every technique at your disposal to compete for a top spot. If you’re a website owner or SEO practitioner, then you know that’s it’s important to stay up-to-date with the latest developments, and that’s why today we’re going to go over how to roll-out an SEO for Video strategy that will help you rank highly and improve your traffic.
This year Google announced a number of improvements in their services and cemented their inviolable position in the technology world. The most important announcements on this year’s Google I/O conference were definitively launches of cloud computing platform GCE, Jelly Bean and Google Nexus 7. However, they didn’t forget to update their search technology as well.
Obviously determined to preserve in their efforts to fight black-hat SEO and webspam only with black and white animals that are just cute and cuddly enough to not make the public’s opinion on the algorithms that they are mascots of even worse than it is, on the 24th of April in 2012, Google activated their new algorithm that was later to be officially named Penguin. As was the case with Panda, Google didn’t give the algorithm a name until it became possible that the public might come with a, not too flattering, name on their own. People were already starting to call the algorithm “Titanic”, when Google decided that they actually might be if they did their own branding, and made the name Penguin official.
The WordPress platform has many characteristics that make it excellent from a search engine optimization point of view. SEO is largely an endeavor that has to do with generating content and making it accessible to users and to the search engines to index. WordPress has its origins in the world of blogs, which are all about providing interesting information and sharing it among users. When you consider the fact that generating a great deal of content and linking to other content are two of the most important considerations in many SEO strategies, it’s easy to see why WordPress would be a natural choice for a content management system.
January 2011 was still a blissful time for farmers, despite the inferior seed that they were planting and the fact that they have often just been “appropriating” the crops from their neighbors, the harvests were plentiful. But that January was marked by an ominous rumbling coming from the nearby bamboo patch. Something huge was approaching, something that threatened to put an end to their farming practices and force them to find other disciplines to try and exploit. The black and white fury descended upon them with the wrath of betrayed user expectations and the vengefulness of a community deceived. Ever since that day people have started paying a lot of attention to the beast’s mood and its constantly changing habits, lest they also end up being mauled by the Panda.
In constant efforts to only bring the most relevant and useful content to its users, Google announced an improvement of their search algorithm in the January of 2011. At the time a number of sites that offered less than interesting content, or in some cases, less then original, were still able to get quite decent, or even excellent, rankings on SERPs. This tendency of such sites to clutter up the higher positions in the search engine’s result page and attract visitors only to let their expectations down came to be called “webspam” and Google would suffer it no longer.
Sites that only offered superficial and unengaging content that seemed to be mass produced and lacking in any real substance became known as “content farms”. The content published on such websites only served as a carrier for keywords and was devoid of any real value for the user that might stumble upon it. So called “scrapers” were another prominent type of webspam. Basically, scrapers are websites that have very little to none of their original content, but they instead publish content from other websites. While there are sites that are meant to do just that, gather information from various sources through, for instance, RSS files, there are also those that are simply stealing other people’s content and passing it on as their own. It was the latter type that Google wanted to find a way to penalize.
Panda is in the game
Panda was a perfect tool for the job. Well not perfect, the algorithm is, naturally, still being updated quite frequently. Since its inception it has been through a lot of changes, but its purpose remains the same, weeding out the websites that are ranked higher that they objectively deserve. As it is mostly an automated process, one can’t really expect it to be infallible, but constant updates and improvements to the algorithm are at least keeping some people on their toes, and ensuring that they will think twice before stealing someone else’s content or post a nonsensical wall of text instead of a well thought out and written article. Another advantage of the new algorithm was that it took the entire website into consideration. Before Panda, pages of a website were assessed individually, allowing a terribly constructed website with just one well made page to be displayed on the first page of search results. Today, sites are judged as a whole, if you have a bunch of duplicated content, unfavorable content/ads ratio or anything else that is deemed undesirable by the algorithm, that fact will be reflected in your rankings.
As I have already mentioned, the first installment of the algorithm was announced in January 2011, and it was activated on February 24th of the same year. Unofficially targeted at scraper websites and content farms it made quite an impact. Panda manged to affect 11.8% of search results. This first version was limited to US websites, but just a month later, in April, Panda got the next update that applied to all of the English language queries all over the world. The new update also allowed users to block certain sites, and by doing so send a clear signal to Google’s crawlers. Panda 2.0 affected 2% of the queries made. Next three updates that were released in May, June and July didn’t really have a pronounced effect on the queries, but the next update in line that was released in August, and that is known as Panda 2.4 did. It is with this update that Panda expanded to non-English languages, and affected the queries by 6-9%. The next update was released in September, but Google was not as forthcoming with the information on this update as it was with some of the other. In the October, Panda flux was announced, preparing site owners for fluctuations in their rankings. It turned out that the fluctuations were connected with the new update, Panda 3.0, which affected somewhere around 2% of the queries made. There have been a number of smaller or larger updates since then, with the last one being the 20th update of the algorithm. Most of the updates that preceded it influenced less than 1% of the queries, and rarely resulted in significant changes in ranking, but the last update that was released in September of 2012 affected 2.4% of queries in English.
- Panda 1.0 – February 24th
- Panda 2.0 – April 11th
- Panda 2.1 – May 9th
- Panda 2.2 – June 18th
- Panda 2.3 – July 22nd
- Panda 2.4 – August 12th
- Panda 2.5 – September 28th
- Panda 2.5.1 – October 9th
- Panda 2.5.2 – October 13th
- Panda 2.5.3 – October 19/20th
- Panda 3.1 – November 18th
- Panda 3.2 – January 15th
- Panda 3.3 – February 26th
- Panda 3.4 – March 23rd
- Panda 3.5 – April 19th
- Panda 3.6 – April 27th
- Panda 3.7 – June 8th
- Panda 3.8 – June 25th
- Panda 3.9 – July 24th
- Panda 3.9.1 – August 20th
- Panda 3.9.2 – September 18th
- Panda #20 – September 27th
- Panda #21 – November 6th
Different kinds of websites were penalized during that period. A number of shopping comparison and ecommerce sites lost their rankings when the algorithm found their content to be lacking. However, some websites were not affected by the updates, even though their content was not exactly perfect. If you are reading this, then there is probably no need to explain what damage a decrease in your rankings can do to you, this is why site owners and SEOs have devoted a lot of time and effort to tracking what demands Panda makes of your website. If you know what it is that the algorithm is targeting you can either avoid getting penalized, or try to recover from it if the penalty has already been incurred.
First of all, you need to determine whether the decline in your rankings is caused by Panda. One of the ways to do this is to check whether the decline coincided with an algorithm update. Naturally, even if it does, it is not necessarily Panda’s fault, but chances are that it is. Don’t forget to check if the visits form Google search have decreased, for it is them that would be affected by the update. Now if you do think that you have fallen prey to the beast, there are still some things you might be able to do if you want to get out of its claws. Naturally, all of this also applies to sites that haven’t been affected by the algorithm, and would very much like to stay in its good graces.
If you needed to summarize the ways to redeem your site in one phrase, that phrase would probably be “improve user experience”. After all, the goal of Panda and similar algorithms is to help the users find what they are looking for. This, however, includes a number of different things. First of all, you’ll need to check your page loading time. If your pages are loading slowly, or if they fail to display certain pieces of content, you will not exactly become too popular with the users, and the algorithm will take note of it. This might be caused by a number of reasons, and whatever they are, you have to make sure to eliminate them.
Be sure to check your bounce rate, are people leaving your site immediately after seeing the homepage? If they are there might be a number of reasons for that. It might have something to do with aesthetics, but it might also be caused by bad page organization, such as confusing navigation or too many ads. You need to make the user want to stay on your site and click on through to the other pages after seeing the homepage. Speaking of ads, they might relate to both of the above issues. First of all, if you have ads from too many networks, that might have serious negative impact on your page loading times. Additionally, even if all the ads are from the same network, you should really be careful about how many of them you display on any of the pages, not just the homepage. Content should dominate your pages, not the ads.
Content & the Panda Update
Which brings us to the most important factor when it comes to your rankings and Panda, content. Sure, you need to limit the number of outgoing links on your pages to a reasonable number, you need to pay attention to your internal linking structure, and you have to make sure that your code is all in order, but it is content that makes or breaks most websites. It is content that the users are looking for and it is content that will keep them on your site. It is also content that will make them, or another website, want to recommend you to someone else. There are several things that you have to look out for. First of all, and this should go without mentioning, you need to make sure that your content is within the rules of grammar and that it is spelled correctly. It should also be informative, and actually relevant to the keywords that are likely to bring people to that page. Now when I say “informative” I don’t mean that it should just state the very basic things about the topic, as is often the case, instead try to really involve the potential readers, offer unique insights or little known facts, make it an entertaining or a truly useful read. You’ll find that if you offer something that people can actually use, it will promote itself. There should also be enough of it, you might write a 200 word article on a topic and decide that it is enough, but you might want to think about making it longer, especially if the page has something that is distracting people from the content, such as ads for instance.
One of the things that you must watch out for is duplicated content. If Panda determines that you have too much of it on your website, you’re very likely to get penalized. Now, this is not always the rule, there are websites that dodged the algorithm despite having a lot of duplicated content, but those were usually quite strong as brands, and that helped them pull through. It is important to note that when I say “duplicated content” that doesn’t only apply to content that you have copied from another site, but also to separate iterations of the same content across your various pages. This often happens with dynamic pages, so make sure that you pay special attention to them. If, for some reason, you do need to have multiple pages with the same content, use canonical URLs, or noindex and nofollow attributes to avoid being penalized.
If you find that some of your pages have suffered a significantly larger drop in rankings than other, analyze them and try to determine what the cause of such a discrepancy might be. If you do find the cause it might help you improve your other pages as well. Based on your findings, you might even decide to improve your worst page(s) or completely remove them. As long as it doesn’t disturb your site’s functionality too much, it is better to redirect or 404 a page, than to let it bring your whole site down.
Also, be sure to check your incoming links. You might be getting links from less than reputable sources, and enough links of that type might hurt you quite badly even if you weren’t responsible for them. Try arranging for those links to be removed when it is in your power, or if all else fails, consider removing the pages that such sites are linking to, it sounds extreme, but it might help you in the long run. Likewise, try to get inbound links from reputable sources, keeping in mind that quality is much more important than quantity.
Once you have made sure that your site is working properly and offering visitors useful and engaging content that is easily accessible and well organized, all you need to do is wait to see if you recover. This might take some time, but if you have covered all of the important issues, you should eventually see improvement. If all else fails, you might try writing a report to Google explaining your situation, but be sure that you provide them with all of the necessary information, and that you are actually justified in your claims. In the end, it all boils down to a quite simple truth, if you want to have a site that ranks well, you need to have a well made site. There, I hope it’s all clear now.
For a long time, using exact match domains to rank for specific keywords was one of the easiest ways to gain an edge in the competitive SEO wars. Domains names were given a ranking advantage over websites when it came to the keyword phrase contained in the domain.
While this ranking boost made sense from common-sense standpoint – after all, if your website is bluewidgets.com, it’s likely relevant to a search for “blue widgets” – this phenomenon was often used by SEOs to easily outrank more authoritative sources for specific key phrases, especially long-tail search terms.
Whether you think it’s a positive development or not Google released an algorithm update on Sept 28, 2012 – known as the EMD update – that has severely reduced and possibly eliminated any SEO benefit of having your targeted search phrase in your domain name. According to Google’s head of webspam Matt Cutts, this update noticeably affected .6% of English-US search queries. To add to the confusion, Google released a major Panda algorithm update during the same period which affected 2.6% of English-US search queries. This caused many webmasters and SEOs to confuse the algorithm update targeting exact match domains with a panda update designed to target low quality content. The timing of the updates was likely intentionally designed to cause confusion.
What To Take Out Of The EMD Update
While there is no way to know with 100% certainty at this point, it seems likely based on the initial data and that the EMD update devalues exact match domains, rather than penalizes them. Many strong, white-hat exact match domains dropped a few positions/pages in the search engine rankings but didn’t suffer anything that would be consistent with a penalty.
For exact match domains that were severely demoted, this is likely because they were experiencing significant boosts from their domains which – once devalued – severely hurt their rankings. Some of these significant drops also look a lot like a panda penalty, and could also be a result of the Panda update that occurred at the same time, and may actually be unrelated to the EMD update. After all, Panda is designed to target what Google deems to be low quality websites, and the reality is that many exact match domains built around long-tail search terms are created by SEOs solely for the purpose of generating Adsense or affiliate revenue.
With reports that many EMDs with highly optimized keyword density and header tags experienced significant drops, one other possibility is that the EMD update not only removes exact match SEO benefits, but it also goes beyond and penalizes domains that are over-optimized for their exact match key phrase. Because the EMD update was released at the same time as a major Panda update (which could also target over-optimized sites), it may be awhile before we sort out whether the EMD update has any actual penalty effect, or whether it’s merely designed to remove the extra boost given to exact match domains.
How The EMD Update Will Affect Your SEO Strategy Going Forward
One thing is clear going forward after the EMD update – relying on the exact match domain boost for easier search engine rankings is no longer a viable strategy. With reports of heavily keyword-optimized sites being penalized, it also seems clear that Panda, Penguin and the latest EMD update are working together to force SEOs to develop ranking strategies that look as natural as possible.
While there will always be exceptions to the rule, the general trend in SEO will be focused quality and diversity. Including a targeted keyword in your title, url, h1, h2, h3 tags, picture alt tags, and bolded throughout your content may no longer be the best idea. While you should ensure that your targeted keyword appears in your title and at least one header tag, focus your on-site efforts towards creating a quality user experience. Whether it’s due to the latest EMD update or an addition to the Panda update, it looks like Google is targeting websites that are over-optimizing their on-page SEO for specific keywords – especially if your website is new or has less authority.
Continue to build links from quality sources with a wide variety of anchor text. Avoid links from linkfarms, spam, or any source that will link out to bad neighborhoods such as low quality directories/bookmarking sites. The more natural your link profile and on-site SEO, the less likely you can be targeted for penalties.
Is SEO Dead?
The cries that SEO is dead are as always – totally misguided. This latest algorithm update didn’t change the number of organic positions in Google, and many of these positions are still occupied by smaller niche sites. There is definitely a trend with Google towards favoring larger authority websites, established brands, and Google’s own content, but there is still plenty of room for other sites to rank.
Nat is a full-time SEO and a part-time blogger for Whoishostingthis.com – an Alexa top 10k web property. You can find additional information about their hosting reviews through their company website.
A cold chill has hit the world of Search engine optimization consulting and online business over the past few months. An arctic chill, to be precise, as Google rolled out its search algorithm update, Penguin 2.0. Online business and SEO forums are aflame with debate about the effects on site portfolios of this latest Google “housekeeping” update and of course, the main question that is being asked is “how do we get around it?”
Why has Google released Penguin 2.0?
To understand how to “get around” Google Penguin 2.0 requires that you understand the point of it in the first place. For the past ten years, Google has been the search engine powerhouse of the internet and no other company has managed to oust them form the top spot. Google’s goal, apart from making money, is to make sure the results it returns to searchers are valuable to them. The more relevant and high quality the results, the more money Google makes and the better the user experience for everyone. Google is investing heavily in algorithmic updates to weed out the junk, spam and downright illegal and that’s where Penguin and its predecessor Panda come in.
What is Penguin?
Penguin 2.0 is Google’s attempt to weed out sites that use keyword stuffing, duplicate content and keyword cloaking. Penguin 1.0 was first released in April 2012.
What links are affected?
Panda was all about thin content and poor quality user experience. Penguin is all about manipulation and poor content. In July of 2012, Google sent out unnatural link warnings to around 1.5 million webmaster tools users. These are links that are solicited, black hat, bought or found through link directories and which help a mediocre website work its way quickly up the search engine rankings unnaturally. In combination with Penguin, Google is taking direct action on sites that use these unnatural linking methods and are bringing down sites manually from their high ranking positions where abuse or blissful but spammy ignorance is found.
Which links to get post-Penguin?
If you want to recover your search engine rankings after taking a beating from Penguin, or you just want to make sure you only acquire clean, white hat links, then follow the guide below.
- Anchor Texts: Pre-Penguin, anchor texts were rewarded for being keyword rich. Now the tables have turned and your inbound linking strategy should appear as natural and diversified as possible, with no over-optimisation.
- Quality Content: This is and always will be one of the best ways to get good quality links and avoid the wrath of algorithm changes. Good quality content is what the internet is about and what Google is aspiring to achieve. Keep your spam anchor texts to a minimum even in good content, write at least 500 words per piece and keep your keyword density at around 1% for the almost perfect, Penguin-proof website.
- Image Links: These are loved by Google post penguin and will do wonders for ranking your site providing the alt tags are correctly optimised and explain the image to users who cannot view it to prevent inadvertently showing Google something users are not seeing.
- News: Google also loves news for link building, so think about press releases, company news and comment on recent events through your site or blog. It provides rich quality content whilst offering you the opportunity to build some great quality, Penguin friendly links.
Which links to AVOID post-Penguin?
In general, Google rewards sites which have an overall tendency to organic, high quality SEO and high quality, user-friendly content. Any site, network or other vehicle for artificially building rank for “thin” sites is out post-penguin. Here are the main links to stay well away from (at least for now) or Matt Cutts will show you this:
- Blog Networks: These networks have been hot big time by Google. They have gone as far as to de-index altogether any blogs found within these networks. Popular link building blog network Buildmyrank.com was almost decimated in April by the first roll out of Penguin.
- Link Directories: Except for respectable and long-standing directories such as Yahoo and DMOZ, no other link directories are safe post-Penguin. You will find it difficult to be listed with DMOZ unless your site is top quality.
- Article Marketing: Thanks to the very poor quality of many articles on the web and the usage of them solely to rank spam and poor quality websites, article directories have taken a huge hit in Penguin 2.0. Many of the article repositories are taking measures to clean up their submissions process so this formerly fantastic way of getting links is a temporary (hopefully) method to avoid.
Oliver Ortiz works for Expert Market, a division of MVF Global. Expert Market is a B2B UK based provider of a wide variety of business related equipment. Our services include helping your business acquire trackers for vans. Follow us on Twitter and connect with us on Facebook.
1. Google Penguin – 2.0 or 1.2 | State of Search
2. Google Panda | Wikipedia
The guys over at Subtle Network Design and Marketing have created a rather humorous, dungeons and dragons-esque card game focusing around the many forms of search engine optimization tactics.
Each card has its own unique character with their special abilities and a clever description about how they handle their services. We found the con-man to be particularly entertaining. In addition to their own special abilities, they have unique attributes such as diamonds, authority bombs, shield strength, and attack power which represent how effective an individual character is at SEO.
The diversity and descriptions are creative and entertaining to read, and we hope the guys at Subtle Network will include more cards and characters as time goes on, especially with all the diverse tactics in the SEO world. We wonder what Subtle Network will come up with next.
Enjoy the infographic.