SEO tips: trouble with Google algorithm updates

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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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