This week I have been working with clients on the results of the latest Google updates. The Panda and Penguin updates have been a constant reminder this year of the fact that it is Google that owns the search engine and they are not shy in modifying it to meet their long term objective which has been stated as a desire to only rank quality sites. In addition there is a requirement not to use optimization tactics that are considered “black hat” SEO – these might include keyword stuffing, link farming and other “forbidden” maneuvers.
The list of activities that are actively punished by Google gets longer each year; this year however has been a comparatively tumultuous one for SEO. The first thing the big G did was to go on a witch-hunt to root out poor quality sites. This update removed a large number of sites from the search results – in the millions – and took place in the 1st half of the year. Following this update was another far-reaching one which de-ranked or de-indexed millions of pages which were over-optimized pages backlinks from dubious sources and anchor texts that were keyword stuffed and originating from non-relevant sites. This update, named Panda for some reason, affected other sites too; blog pages of SEO companies abound with harrowing tales of website owners whose business(es) just went down the pan. Sadly some of those businesses were pretty good quality sites by all accounts but unfortunately the algorithms caught some innocents too and punished their site for no reason, replacing them with undoubtedly poorer quality sites. Whether time will allow them recovery or not is yet to be revealed.
There is one consolation factor – there is the Google Reconsideration Request procedure recently defined so that site owners can ask for a review. This is not all it seems however so you should definitely read the information before you pursue this.
The Panda and Penguin updates by Google have left behind a trail of consternation and in many cases misery and tears as devastated business owners try to pick up the pieces. Google has as usual demonstrated little sympathy and apart from the new ‘disavow backlinks” procedure they allow site owners to engage in to remove spam backlinks have done nothing other than issue some vague statements about what they deem is good quality and what is not. They do publish website quality guidelines for those who can be bothered to read them. As an SEO professional navigating the SEO minefield is now a more difficult task than ever. These updates were not a single application of a new algorithm either – Panda is now on its 20th revision. My webmaster tools graphs look like a cross section of the Alps now, where they were previously very much either a steady growth curve or a plateau. One site I am looking at this week has dropped from 40,000 impressions to under 4000 – I will no doubt be asked to look at others over the coming weeks. Google states that it may take some sites that are hit a “few weeks” to recover from the algo change – Many site owners will be waiting with bated breath…
The last update in amongst all this was an EMD update. This gave favorable ranking to sites with Exact Match Domains but as with all these updates, for every winner there is a loser. Domains that previously ranked well for a keyword have disappeared in favor of sites which have little on them but have the exact match domain name.
One thing is certain, the world of search is changing again. Gone are opportunities to rank well by purchasing backlinks and other similar short-cut activities. What Google wants is quality, which means sites written by native English copywriters, SEO that is natural and not forced and above all the best user experience. Niche site building is probably now a thing of the past as small sites are not ranking anymore; niche marketers are already quite vocal about the loss of business – one I know of had 200 ranking domains – this year 120 of them disappeared from Google. The remaining sites are larger so escaped the wrath of big G.
If your sites are suddenly not performing it could well be that you have been hit by yet another update from Google – maybe even hit by multiple updates which is very confusing when it comes to trying to unravel the issue for a particular site. Be aware though that any SEO you apply had better be either very inventive or strictly within the Google guidelines or watch your domains become invisible.
If you have been hit by Google’s Panda, Penguin or EMD updates then you may need some help to restore your site back to its previous position. Some sites are irredeemable as they are not worth the expense in trying to get them to rank again; in these cases it is more prudent to create a new site and start again. Regardless of the damage, one de-ranked, it is a hard climb back up to the top. If you are de-indexed as well, experience has shown you may as well start over…