Search engine algorithms updates can be frustrating. Everything is going great and, then – wham! – your site experiences a drop on SERPs and PageRank. Two updates that have had particular impact on websites are Google Panda (aka Farmer) update and Google Penguin update which is really a continuation of Panda. Both updates aim to penalize low-quality sites and reward high-quality ones. If you have been impacted by either of these updates, all is not necessarily lost. Even if you have not been impacted, you can still prepare for future updates.
You can survive Google updates by identifying the reasons you have lost rankings, fixing the problems, and then getting your site reindexed by Google. It can be a costly undertaking for sites that have major issues or have dropped off SERPs completely. These sites typically have multiple or repeat offenses that Google had tried to previously address including through direct notification to site owners. Following are recommendations site owners can use to survive Google Panda and Penguin updates.
Avoid Black Hat Tactics
Black hat SEO are tactics that violate search engine guidelines and are considered to be unethical ways to get higher PageRank and SERP rankings. There are many types of black hat approaches – and you should avoid ALL of them. Webspam is the primary target of Google Penguin. Spam is a huge problem that Google has been trying to control for years. Spammy sites are sites that are low quality sites with little or no content. They are ad-rich sites that aim to make money off of affiliate relationships. Or they are sites that exist for the sole purpose of selling backlinks to other sites. The point is they have no intrinsic value for search engine customers. If you operate one of these sites or are linked to some, you have probably already been penalized. The only way to survive the updates now is to clean up your site. This includes removing redirects meant to mislead search engines. Cloaking is prohibited by search engines. What crawlers see should be exactly what visitors see. Other misleading tactics include hidden texts and links that only search engines can see. Using any of these black hat tactics can prevent your site from being indexed by search engines. Both Google Panda and Penguin target these practices.
Use Keywords Properly
Any time you use keywords, they should fit naturally with your content. Go back and clean up your keywords. Make sure you have absolutely no instances of keyword stuffing. You know you are keyword stuffing when your text doesn’t flow smoothly or simply doesn’t make sense. Sites that are nonsensical but keyword-rich have been hit hard by Google Panda updates. Keywords should be relevant to page content. Search engines don’t care if you use the “right” keywords or not – their concern is with how you use them. Excessive use of keywords can cause your site to drop in rankings. Be careful using synonyms as well. Even overuse of long tail keywords can be problematic. A good rule of thumb is to keep keywords between 3% and 4% of your text. Anything beyond that may be viewed as keyword stuffing and trigger a penalty.
As mentioned above, Google is taking a strong look at links. PageRank is a link analysis algorithm that gives websites a score of importance based on the number of backlinks to the site. Because a high number of links was needed to get a high PageRank, many site owners manipulated the system by getting lots of low quality links. Now Google is penalizing this practice. The quality of links is more important that the quantity. Remove links to bad neighborhoods and link farms. Paid links should be a very low percentage of your backlink stock. If you have more paid links than organic ones, you will have to eat the cost of those links and give up most of them. If you have lots of out bound links, consider using nofollows on them so spiders don’t leave your site during the indexing process. Your site visitors will still be able to use them. Out bound links should not be sold links. They should be relevant to your site. Finally, verify you have no broken links. This includes internal links and out bound links.
Build Content Inventory
Poor quality content sites are most at risk when it comes to Google updates. If your site has low quality content on it, you need to remove it and replace it with high quality content. Google really likes fresh content. You may have found your site dropped in rankings simply because you do not have current content. Don’t view this as a “penalty.” Rather, it is a natural reordering that occurred with the updates. You can regain your higher ranking by publishing fresh content on your site. Blogs provide an easy way to build your content inventory. Check to see what type of blog entries are currently being posted by competitors so you are not writing about the same exact thing. You can also use Google keyword tool to see what the most common searches are related to your keywords. Select the ones you would like to write about. You can add that to your blog or submit articles to directories.
Remove Duplicate Everything
This includes duplicate content, domains, and tags. If you have multiple domains, each should have original content even if you are using the same or similar keywords. Each page of your site should have unique title tags. Content of every page should be sufficiently different that Google will not penalize you. You can use the same images across your domains but be sure to change the alt tags for each image. Search engines can’t “read” images but they can index alt tags when you utilize them. Be sure to optimize your alt tags with appropriate keywords. Originality is the name of the game. If you take short cuts, you will be penalized by Google. Always run your writings through a plagiarism checker – there is so much content online that it is possible to accidently have the same phrases as other related or unrelated works.
Revisit Affiliate Programs
There is nothing inherently wrong with affiliate programs. However, your site cannot be an exact replicate of the affiliate’s site. You must offer something unique to your customers. Sites that are loaded with affiliate ads are considered to be spammy and will losing rankings. You must have more original content than affiliate ads. Your gut instinct is to sign up for affiliate programs that offer the highest return on investment. However, if you join affiliate programs after you have established your own website, you should only join affiliates that are relevant to your core business. Consider affiliate programs from your customers perspective – which ones would they be most interested in? Those are the ones you should join. Placement of affiliate ads is also important. If you place them on your landing page, they should not be the first thing visitors see. In fact, it is recommended you spread out your ads across your site. Place ads based on your web page content – ads should complement your own content to engage your visitors and to appease Google.
Adjust SEO Strategies
Refocus your attention on your customers. When you do this, your SEO should occur more naturally. You will be less inclined to over-optimize. Google Penguin addresses over optimization that site owners have used to get higher rankings than they deserve. Incorporate SEO strategies that benefit your customers. This includes adding a blog if you have not already done so. Invite authority site owners to be guest bloggers and try to get a similar invite from them. At the very least you can leave comments on other high quality blogs. Comments provide backlinks from those high quality sites. You should also consider adding social media channels to get more high-quality backlinks. There are plenty of white hat SEO tactics you can use to optimize your site. By thinking about user experience, it should become more obvious which SEO methods are most suitable for your needs.
Unless you have engaged heavily in black hat SEO, you should survive the current and future Google updates. Review Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to make sure you are current on requirements. Make adjustments where needed to prevent future update fallouts. Google will eventually reindex your site. If you lose rankings because of the Google Panda update, you can fix the problems and submit a request for reconsideration directly to Google. Doing so may help you regain your original ranking or near enough to it that you can work on building it again.
Your site design and content should be Google-friendly at all times. You can protect it against just about any type of Google update if you follow SEO best practices and abide by Googles terms and conditions of use. Write and design for users first and Google second to ensure your site meets everyone’s expectations. Even Google recommends this approach to site owners who want to rank high on SERPs and survive Google updates.