With a page-one ranking on Google potentially representing the difference between a business seeing rapid growth or a slow painful death, the stakes are high. Therefore, every possible technique, process or trick has been tried to get better search results.
Google’s pursuit to provide users with the most tailored, relevant and valuable content is itself unwavering and, in what is a constant game of cat and mouse, it makes regular updates to its algorithms in order to weed out bad practice - and bad websites.
Last month saw its latest algorithm update, Penguin 2.0. Its previous iteration, Penguin 1.0, was a general shotgun blast at websites attempting to move up rankings through ‘unnatural’ link acquisition. 2.0 has been a series of targeted and more refined sniper shots based on what's going on in industries, especially partial to the creation of ‘spammy’ links (ie those who look to gain links to their websites through payment, manipulation, trading or good old fashioned begging.)
For a significant number of websites, these updates have meant drastic drops in traffic due to previous engagement in aggressive SEO specific campaigns and, because of that, work now has to be done to again fall in line with Google best practice.
5 tips to improve your ranking
- Use ‘Panguin Tool’ from Barracuda Digital. While there is admitted bias here, the Panguin Tool is hugely popular within the SEO community and is free to use. It allows webmasters to see exactly which landing pages and keywords have been affected by Google's algorithm updates by pulling in organic traffic data from Google Analytics and overlaying it with individual update information.
- Check your Google Webmaster tools. If your website has experienced drops in traffic levels as a result of Penguin 2.0, it’s likely that Google will tell you directly. Check whether you have any message saying that your website has ‘unnatural links’. If this is the case, there will likely be a few example links supplied which are deemed as low quality. This will be a sample list only and not the full list of offenders. If you suspect there are many others …
- Analyse your backlinks. Download the list of links pointing to your website from Google Webmaster tools. Use any link-analysis tool or go through them manually and contact website owners in order to remove those ones that are ‘spammy’. As stated earlier, likely offenders should be easy enough to spot; links stuffed into non-relevant press releases or forum posts, links in barely readable copy on barely readable websites, single links in among a multitude of other single and completely unrelated links. You get the picture.
- Use the Google Disavow tool. If the sheer scale of ‘spammy’ links is overwhelming and/or there are those you could not remove through asking the webmasters, you may want to use Google’s disavow tool. Basically, you're telling Google that you don’t want those links and they shouldn’t be considered with regards to your rankings. It’s simple tool to use. Just head to the disavow URL page. The tool works by uploading a text file of the links that you’d like to ignore. Then simply add the URL of each page that you want removed on a single line along with any efforts you’ve tried to remove the links.
- Submit a reconsideration request. Once you've cleaned up your backlink profile, go to Google Webmaster Tools and submit a reconsideration request. From there, Google will assess the links and drop them out of its processing. Google will then get back to you saying whether your website was manually penalised or not, and what action should be taken next.
As certain as death and taxes, so is it that Google will continue to streamline its algorithm to provide the best possible content for its users. The SEO industry has already, to a large extent, moved away from chasing the algorithm, having been forced to come up with compelling content that creates user engagement and organically increases reach and popularity. As a result, web spam is reducing.
There is also a noticeable rise of content marketing as, more than ever, marketing and PR departments work alongside SEOs to try to create compelling content that attracts links and social interactions in a natural or ‘organic’ way.
In general terms, the Penguin updates have been a positive thing for the industry and for the internet as a whole. While there are certainly cases of innocent websites - those that were not involved in spurious link building techniques - having been impacted, it remains, as ever, the website owner’s responsibility to ensure websites follow Google’s guidelines.