SEO tips: trouble with Google algorithm updates

Google regularly updates how they arrive at the search results provided to users.  The process is part of the ever changing search landscape; SEOs tweak for best Google positioning and Google tweaks for best search results.  You can view a list of Google's algorithm updates at SEOMoz, a SEO tools provider.  Two recent Google algorithm updates have had a particularly significant effect: code named Panda and Penguin.

For Google's search results to be relevant it has to correctly identify the best answers to user searches.  Google works hard in this regard, sometimes with transparency and sometimes not. To it's credit Google has published Google Webmaster Guidelines for designers and SEOs outlining best practices.  To quote Google (emphasis mine):

Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you'd feel comfortable explaining what you've done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, "Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?"
Avoid the following techniques: Automatically generated content, Participating in link schemes, Cloaking, Sneaky redirects, Hidden text or links, Doorway pages, Scraped content, Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value, Loading pages with irrelevant keywords

All of the techniques Google mentions have at one time or another been common practice to either promote websites or create website content.

Panda Cleans House

The Panda algorithm update targets websites whose content was duplicated or automatically created.  Examples  include websites that copy content from other websites for the purpose of competing for search traffic and selling advertising.  You may have encountered such sites while doing Google research - websites with an uninspiring appearance and generic names whose content exactly or nearly matches that of another site in your results. If Google thinks it had correctly identified such a site it is moved much lower in search results.

Penguin Takes Names

The Penguin algorithm update is a different animal altogether.  While Panda focuses on website content, Penguin looks at where and how a website is being linked -  back links.

Search engines have for a long time used a website's incoming links as an indicator of relevance. This being the case SEOs have tried to game the system by manipulating these links. Examples of this type of promotion include the automated creation of thousands of links to a website in unrelated comment forums or attaching unrelated links onto buzz words in an article that bears no relevance to linked website. Called link spam these disingenuous links have always been considered low value, but because they are simple to create in quantity they are widely used.

Penguin turned this around by identifying disingenuous links and assessing a penalty on the targeted page. Particularly chilling as this turns what was once considered website promotion, if low value, into a penalty! The effects often evidence as specific search terms for a website which once ranked well dropping off suddenly and without warning.

And For The Worst Offenders

Google also starting issuing manual penalties for particularly egregious practices.  Google calls these unnatural linking practices, and include linking schemes like web rings or purchased links.  While for Panda and Penguin Google would simply adjust their search results to reflect it's assessment, with a manual penalties result in exclusion from the Google index along with an email or notice informing the website of the action.

Things Gets Personal

My Blender website was itself affected by the Penguin algorithm update.  Through monitoring I noticed the traffic to my website from Google drop off suddenly. With a little research I identified which search terms had stopped ranking well.  Knowing this it became obvious that Google did not like how I was promoting my website with footer links in websites I had designed for clients. I had been including keywords such as 'website design' in these links, and for this Google was penalizing me on these terms.

How To Recover

If you have noticed a drop in search traffic and can identify which of Google's guidelines you may have transgressed there are actions you can take.

Panda - If your website is a copy of another or scraped from several sources you might be out of luck.  If you have several websites under different names with the same content you need to choose which you want to be the primary and either remove the others or identify the primary as canonical. Then wait and see. It might speed things up to resubmit your website through Google's Webmaster Tools.

Penguin - Look at your website's incoming links and clean them up.  Either remove them or change them to be less spammy. If you do not have control over the links and are unable to change them Google has provided a disavow tool. Then wait and see.

Manual Penalty - Much more serious and complicated. What I have read indicates this penalty has been assessed by an officer at Google and will not be removed without rectifying the issue.  You will need to document how you corrected the problem and register an appeal.

 A Happy Ending

For my Blender website I was fortunate. I had access to troublesome back links as I was still working for the clients whose websites had the problematic footer links. I updated in one of two ways:

  • In some cases I edited the links to focus only on my website name 'Blender', removing verbiage like 'website design'.
  • In others I pointed the footer links to an internal page within the website which itself mentioned me a linked to my website.  This dropped the number of back links from these websites from in some cases hundreds to one.

Within a week of updating my website's back links it began climbing to it original place in the SERPs  and my traffic from Google search was restored.




6 responses to “SEO tips: trouble with Google algorithm updates”

  1. It all goes back to doing this organ­i­cally and not try­ing to cheat Google in their own land. If we do the things we ought to do, we should not get any of these penal­ties you describe on your post, right?

  2. stephen b says:

    Yes. It’s a bit of a bal­anc­ing act. Google engi­neers are smarter than us, but their com­put­ers are busy. As SEOs we can get away with some tricks for a while, but it is always safer to work with Google on their terms. Do some­thing while it works, mon­i­tor, and stop when it doesn’t. Work with Google, not against it.

  3. sreedev says:

    untill I saw your blog, I used to think that search engine opti­miza­tion is complicated.
    your arti­cle totally changed my mind. Thanks for help­ing me out.

  4. Andrew says:

    Panda and Pen­guin updates were the worst night­mares when google pub­lished them first. Lots of sites got penalty for those updates. But now we can avoid penalty by some sim­ple pre­cau­tion like those described in this post. This post is pre­cisely writ­ten with recov­ery tips for both updates. Thanks for sharing

  5. Geo says:

    A nice overview of the major Google updates indeed and a good case with your own web­site. You were lucky to get away so easily 🙂

    Know­ing the dates of the updates is, how­ever, only the first step in fig­ur­ing out whether your site (or your client’s site) has been impacted and how much. In fact, if you want to do the work prop­erly only the Google Ana­lyt­ics part of it may take sev­eral hours per site. I have tried to auto­mated this process and this tool is the result: . If you find your­self try­ing to fig­ure out Google update impact on many sites, this is, I believe, the most handy helper you might want.

  6. Siya says:


    Well, Google has made it dif­fi­cult for new­bies like us, with these algo­rithm updates. I am really try­ing hard to learn to com­ply with these updates, after one of my blog got hit from last panda update and I guess Pen­guin is also coming.

    So, read­ing a lot about these updates, so I can remove the risk of penalty from my blogs.

    Is there any spe­cial thing, which I can follow?

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