In the last year, it's been reported that Google has updated its algorithm more than 500 times. Google has recently released some changes that have caused many sites to take a plunge in ranking within the search results. Google's top focus is providing the best user experience possible by delivering the most relevant search results for the query. The updates to their algorithm all work towards this end goal.
There are over 200 reported factors to Google's criteria for ranking websites. They are split into two main groups: on-page and off-page, or what some call on-site and off-site. On-page factors include items such as domain authority, code optimization, content, and inter-linking structure. Off-page primarily includes links pointing to your site and signals from social networks, bookmarks and forums. It's no surprise that Google doesn't explicitly indicate the exact parameters you need to improve your website ranking; however, they do provide guidelines and preferences. For instance, creating a great website will cause people to naturally share your site, writing unique and quality content will get others to link to you from other websites, and optimizing your site for the best possible performance will all help to enhance the visitors experience. This is sometimes easier said than done for some industries.
Many industry professionals agree that links pointing to your website have the most weight in the ranking algorithm. In the early days, coordinating link exchanges, paid links, directories, and press releases were all part of an SEO's task to improve ranking. Many companies that provide SEO services would often call themselves a link building company, simply because that was the major focus of work. The pressure from clients to see results competitors in the industry making promises of top ranking and how easy it was for people to call them SEO experts, the emphasis on link building resulted in the creation of tactics all focused around clever link building systems to trick Google and abuse those aspect of off-page optimization.
Manipulating Google's search results was a relatively straight forward, and this was effecting Google's position of the quality of search results, as illegitimate websites were taking spots away from more relevant and quality sites.
Google's more recent algorithm updates have been to clean up their search results, rewarding sites for quality and punishing others for trying to game the system or over-optimize. Many other algorithm changes have been made along the way, but two major projects at Google, code named Panda and Penguin, have had the biggest impacts.
The update effected 12% of US English Language Searches
Panda's mandate was to promote quality websites through the use of positive attributes in the content within a website. If many pages are tagged by Google as being poor, the entire site may be affected, even if some pages continue to rank.
While Panda has been around for more than a year, there have been updates and new versions on a regular basis. The list below illustrates the dates and frequencies of the updates to Panda so far:
- V1.0 February 24, 2011
- V2.0 April 11, 2011
- V2.1 May 10, 2011
- V2.2 June 16, 2011
- V2.3 July 23, 2012
- V2.4 August 12, 2011
- V.2.5 September 28, 2012
- V3.0 October 19, 2011
- V3.1 November 18, 2012
- v3.2 January 14/18th, 2012
- v3.3 February 29th, 2012
- v3.4 March 23rd, 2012
- v3.5 April 19, 2012
- v3.6 April 27th, 2012
- v3.7 June 8, 2012
- v3.8 June 25, 2012
- v3.9, July 24, 2012
- v3.91, Aug. 20, 2012
- v3.92, Sept. 18, 2012
- Sept. 27, 2012 (and roll out over the next 3-4 days)
These dates are important to note, as they can provide a lot of insight into your site's rankings, if you've fallen in the search results. You can easily review your analytics data and ranking information and compare it against these dates to see if you were likely hit by the Panda update. If so, removing or improving the poor quality content will not only work to provide a better user experience for your visitors, but could improve your rankings as well. Making the correct updates should cause you to lose the penalty and you may see increased ranking after the next Panda update is released.
Matt Cutts from Google gives further insight on this in this video.
The video references an article, Another step to reward high-quality sites as a helpful reference.
So what does having quality content actually involve?
- Displaying original content above the fold
- Minimal use of duplicate content
- No empty pages whose purpose is only to contain links
- One page that focuses on a topic instead of many pages of very similar content topics for the purpose of keyword variations
- Minimal use of advertisements
- Human made pages, not automated content pages and/or many affiliate links
- Up to date information
The important take away here is to create a great website that humans want to use. Look at on-page optimization tools and site fixes that actually improve your user experience. Keep an eye on your web analytics and find ways to reduce bounce rate, increase page views and time-on-site, all in an effort to make your website visitors happy.
This is easier to do in some industries and based on the type of website. However, keep in mind that you are not competing against the world; you are competing against others in your niche or industry.
Then, along came Penguin
On April 24, 2012, Google launched a new algorithm change focused on web spam. Any website violating Google's quality guidelines would have likely been affected by the Penguin update.
What most believe to have been affected by in Penguin is mostly outlined in Google's link schemes. Certain links will cause more harm to your ranking. Links that are clearly bought, an overuse of exact anchor text, the quality of the sites links are coming from, leaving spam comments, and guest posting on shady sites are all examples of poor tactics that would have caused your site to be penalized by Penguin.
Penguin Releases So Far:
- Penguin 1: April 24, 2012
- Penguin 2: May 26, 2012
- Penguin 3: Oct. 5, 2012
When optimizing your site, make sure to avoid:
- link schemes
- hidden text or hidden links
- cloaking or sneaky redirects
- automated queries to Google
- loading pages with irrelevant keywords
- duplicate content across pages or subdomains
- malicious behavior on pages that install viruses, Trojans, or other Malware
- "doorway" pages created just for search engines, or other "cookie cutter" approaches
- affiliate programs with no unique or relevant content
If you were hit by Penguin, conduct a back-link analysis and evaluate your linking profile. Many have found that getting problem links removed from other websites have helped.
The future of SEO has been changed.
It's no surprise that companies trying to manipulate the search results are being penalized. Many good companies that produced great websites with value, but tried to get a leg up by implementing some not-so-clean tactics may have gotten hit. There is no fast and easy solution; getting good organic ranking is about having authority, and this comes from creating a great user experience. That means more than link building or great content, all contributing factors to building a great website must be implemented. The link building companies mentioned above are a thing of the past. Any company that only focuses on off-page factors like link building will not succeed going forward. The future of SEO will become and is a lot harder then it used to be, and those using dodgy tactics will fall, while providers focusing on providing a holistic approach will continue to provide value and longevity to their clients.
To be continued...