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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