Google Algorithm “Penalties”
Many website owners and online marketers may have discovered that over the past few months, their website traffic has been decreasing and their search engine rankings have been dropping. Google in particular has been very busy with rolling out a new Google Algorithm called “Hummingbird” and layers of quality filters called “Penguin” and “Panda”. Penguin and Panda have been the major quality filters that deal with website quality and incoming link quality, and for most businesses that are suffering through decreased website traffic, the root cause can often be traced back to one of these two updates. A reduction in Google rankings from Penguin or Panda updates aren’t actually “penalties”, but a fundamental change and filtering in the algorithms that cause a decrease in rankings due to the history and makeup of links or content. These reductions in rankings don’t get notifications from Google because they aren’t actually penalties. Google does issue manual penalties, but decreased rankings from Penguin and Panda should not be confused with those manual penalties. In the event of a manual penalty, Google will notify you via Webmaster Tools that a manual action has been taken against your website. We can help with this too, but it usually is much more complicated because manual penalties are reserved for major link issues, breaking Google guidelines, or some other deeper issue.
Google Panda is a website and page quality filter update that attempts to decrease the rankings of lower quality websites and thin content websites. It also decreases the ranking ability of websites that have too much advertising or advertising in the most prominent content areas. Webmasters and business owners that are dealing with penguin penalties and issues are usually websites that have not invested time in creating quality content or have “over-optimized” their content with either too many ads or by stuffing too many keywords into their content to try and improve their SEO and rankings. Both cases can result in a decrease in quality from Google’s perspective.
The amazing thing about Panda is that it has learning capabilities. Panda was built based on the information gained from manually reviewing thousands of websites for quality. The similarities between high-quality websites were used as the basis for Panda, and it continues to learn and compare websites based on known quality signals – page load speeds, content orientation (where content is located in the code and on a page), advertising use, context, depth of content, links to other resources, and on and on. The better your content meets the needs of users, the less likely you are to suffer a Panda penalty, and the more likely you are to rank higher in the search results. Google specifically says that you should try to bring some “new value” with your website content that is different than other content on the web. This is a uniquely difficult challenge given the vast amount of content on the web, but it can be done with great planning, strategy, and implementation.
Panda does look at individual page quality, but takes action on a website as a whole. If Google crawls a website and finds a good percentage of duplicate or poor quality content mixed in with decent to good content, the whole site still may be penalized for the offending pages. That makes content creation and content strategies very important from an SEO perspective. Each page, service, product, and blog post published should be carefully planned, created, and executed as a part of a larger content strategy so each piece of content fits the goal of the website.
Where Google Panda looks at website content quality, Google Penguin filters look at link history and quality. Links are an important part of the web. Traffic and “signals” flow through links, and as long as links are the basis for getting from one place to another on the web, they will remain an important signal for Google. Since links are an important signal, SEOs and marketers have worked to increase the number of positive signals they get through links. This has given the rise to many link “strategies”. These strategies were created to boost the signals a website gets from links, thus improving the website’s rankings in search engines. Some of these signals include the anchor text used (the actual text used for link), the context of the link, the content and relevance of the page the link comes from, the relevance of the website the link comes from, the authority and trustworthiness of the website that the link comes from, and the IP Address and neighborhood of the link (websites hosted near the linking website). There are also many other signals, but these are some of the signals that can be manipulated by clever marketers. Because of this, Google has put filters in place to learn these unnatural strategies and penalize websites that engage in them.
Penguin algorithmic penalties often occur to websites that have many low-quality (easy to get) links from spammy websites. Another major cause of Penguin penalties is the over-use of “commercial” anchor text. Commercial anchor text is a link that has a commercial keyword as its anchor. An example may be a link to a show website with the link anchor of “cheap shoes”. “Cheap Shoes” is a keyword that a shoe website selling cheap shoes would want to rank for, so they may overdo it with commercial anchor text to try and rank for those keywords. If most of your incoming links are commercial keyword anchor text, there is a good chance you have a Penguin Penalty – or one on the way.
Penguin looks for natural link patterns and unnatural link patterns. A natural link pattern may include local business listings, links from social profiles, links or mentions in local news, links from other businesses in your market, or links from blogs and resources in your industry. Links are mostly topical in nature, and a natural link profile will have mostly links that are relevant and on topic. When links break a natural pattern, then it becomes more and more likely that a website could be penalized by a Penguin filter.
How Can SEOteric Help?
When a website owner comes to us for help, the first thing we have to do is diagnose the issue. Sometimes, this is the most difficult part. Understanding algorithm penalties from Panda, Penguin, or even Hummingbird can be difficult. In some cases, we see that it is not just one or the other, but a combination of Panda and Penguin. We start by analyzing the backlink profile to see unnatural link patterns and commercial anchor text links and tag each of them. Then we look at each one individually to understand if it has value. If it does, we may leave it active or request to change the anchor text of the link. If it does not have value, we request that the link is removed, or we disavow the link using Google’s Disavow Tool. We try to remove links before we disavow them. Once we have analyzed the backlink profile, we then start looking at how to improve website content. We look for thin content, ad-heavy content, duplicate or similar content, slow page load speeds, poor architecture, or spammy outbound links that can be indicative of link exchange programs. Once we identify and correct these issues, we monitor rankings and traffic and continue to make adjustments until the penalty is removed and website traffic begins to increase.
How Long Does Recovery Take?
Google Penalty Recovery can take several weeks to several months depending on how severe the issues are that triggered a penalty. Typically, it’s a several-month process. We won’t know how to estimate the timing until we can fully diagnose your specific case. Get in touch with us and we can take a quick look and make a rough estimate of the severity of your issues. Some things are easier to catch, while other issues lurk beneath the surface and take some time to uncover.