If you’re a business owner with an online presence, you need to be aware of the change in the market. Sometimes large companies, like Google, make changes that affect your business on a grand scale. Google Panda was one of those changes. So was Google Penguin.
Google Panda was controversial from the start. Business owners realized quickly that it potentially could raise some serious issues in terms of ranking. In the world of internet searches, ranking is king. Business owners put hours of efforts and thousands of dollars into building up their reputation. Just think of how you search for things. You enter the search word or phrase, hit enter and get thousands, sometimes millions of suggestions. Which ones do you click on though?
Most likely you limit your actual clicking efforts to only the first-page top ranking returns. It’s common and business owners know this. That’s why they put so much time into building up their online reputations. It is not uncommon for a business owner to put months into a solid SEO and content marketing plan, all in the effort to rank higher on the search engines. The reality is that without showing up on the top-half of a first-page search engine listing, you have little to no chance of getting the much-coveted sale…and in the end that’s what it is all about.
When changes are made that affect that hard-earned ranking, it is clear to see why business owners are up in arms. They know that a lower ranking is a serious threat to their traffic and in turn, their bottom line. All that hard work they did to get the ranking is down the drain.
In addition to Panda, there was Google Penguin. Although it wasn’t quite as intrusive as Panda, it still changed the game in a lot of areas. Penguin targeted backlinks used within a blog and anchor text that was over-optimized. The sheer fact that so many blogs use both abundantly, Penguin affected a huge number of blogs.
Blog creators have to be more vigilant about what is happening with new algorithms created by Google and find ways to maneuver without losing ranking. Blogs are hard work and good content deserves rewards. Here are the details on changes Google has made and a step-by-step Google panda recovery guide on what to do about them.
WHAT ARE THE PANDA AND PENGUIN PENALTIES
Panda Penalty by Google was a particularly annoying creation. The goal was to filter through websites, locate the ones with low-value content and eliminate them from the top rankings. In essence, they targeted the content that didn’t do anyone any good in an effort to improve the efficiency of search engines. Sounds great, right?
There was a glitch in the mix. Most previous Google-created penalties targeted content. If you had bad or weak content, then you got a slap on the hand and were sent on your way. The Google Panda update was different. Rather than penalizing the content, it penalized the entire offending website. This meant that many websites lost valuable ranking as a result. It wasn’t just the websites with bad content either- some websites that were targeted by the auto-algorithm of Google’s Panda Penalty were swept away just as carelessly as truly low-value content ones.
It now is critical to maintain good SEO practices, which was a good idea in the past. Hopefully business owners are already accustomed to it, but those who were careless can’t risk missing the mark anymore. It’s all about the value of high ranking and protecting what you’ve built.
Penguin penalty targeted other things like backlinks used within a website and anchor text. The fact that most blogs use both is another reason why these elements need to be carefully monitored to serve you and not penalize you. Although algorithms are initially looked at as a hassle, the reality is that all they do is tell you what the rules are. Once you know those rules, you can create content that follows them closely and uses them to your benefit.
WHO THESE PENALTIES AFFECT
As mentioned above, the Google Panda and Google Penguin are unique in that they are domain-level penalties. That means that a few bad entries to your blog can seriously affect ranking. The most common websites that these new rules affected are those that:
- Farm their content
- Post low-quality content
- Are abundant with ill-chosen backlinks
- Duplicate their content
- Possess over-optimized anchor text
- Incorporate a bulk of ads within content
- Use poor grammar
- Have a slow-load issue
- Have too many 404-links, or missing links
If your website has a large amount of any of the following, then likely you were targeted by the Panda or Penguin Penalties. To fully understand why this is a big deal, here is what it means:
- Panda and Penguin penalties target your complete domain and bring it down in ranking.
- A few low-quality posts can seriously damage your ranking reputation.
- Any website considered “low quality” is also lowered in ranking.
- Generic websites take a bigger beating than niche-specific websites.
- Google rewards quality websites with quality content.
If you were targeted by the either penalty it is going to be a long road to getting back and may not be possible without serious restructuring and dedicated time. You can however, create a long-term strategy to get you back in the right track to Google penalty recovery and garner the traffic you once had. That strategy can also keep you safe from both Panda and Penguin algorithms and other ones that are created by Google in the future.
DID IT AFFECT YOU
The first thing you should do is figure out if you were a casualty of the Google Panda algorithm or Penguin algorithm. The easiest way to check if a site is penalized by Google is to look at your own analytics. Log into your account (or have your web admin log in) to see what your traffic changes were like at the end of September in 2014. This is when the manual Google penalty first hit the market.
When you get to your control panel and see traffic one of two things will be evident: 1) you’ll have no change in traffic around that time or 2) you’ll see a decline in traffic around that time. If you’re part of the former, then you’re likely on the right track. Continue to do what you have been doing and you should be in good shape. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t do a regular Google penalty check in the future to ensure you’re doing the right thing consistently, but you aren’t under-the-gun to fix anything right now.
On the other hand, if you find yourself a part of the latter (you see a decline in traffic in September-October of 2014) then you likely fell under the Google Panda and/or Penguin algorithms.
WHAT CAN YOU DO
If you find that you’re a victim of the Google Panda updates or Penguin algorithm changes, there are some things you should do immediately. Although the algorithms were not welcomed into the general market beyond the Google team that created it, it does have some value. At the risk of taking a “but look at the bright side of this tragedy”, it is still safe to say that these algorithms will cause business owners to return to their altruistic ways of promoting business.
The bottom line is that regardless of the changes that occur in the market, “good content creates valuable ranking with Google”. This was where people started at the beginning of the internet—understanding that a true desire to put high quality websites out there was key to bringing in the customers who wanted to buy. As a market, the internet world is being re-directed back to that statement. It’s the one thing that algorithms can’t mess with.
The thing to understand though it that even a statement as basic as that one is evolving with the times. It has now become “good SEO-driven content tied to strategic social media planning, creates valuable ranking with Google”. It’s getting a little more complex, but with the right step-by-step process it is still highly manageable.
FINDING YOUR WAY BACK STEP-BY-STEP
So how do you get your business back on track? Here are some clear steps to start with as you rebuild your brand and return to the traffic numbers that you once had:
- Learn SEO. If you’re a blogger then you likely have heard about SEO, search engine optimization. You may not be as good at it as you need to be though, to be competitive. When trying to recover from a traffic-damaging algorithm you need to make SEO your primary focus of learning. Start the process off with learning about keywords. If you have been blogging for any amount of time, you most likely have already heard the term thrown around. Now is the time to dig into it and learn what it really means and how it can work for you.
Keywords are just that- the “key words” that will help you to push your brand in the online market. The idea is that keywords are the ones that are truly valuable and will create the maximum amount of traffic. If you use a keyword search, you’ll be able to see the words that drive targeted traffic (which is what you want!) For example, let’s say you have a small niche market focused on selling “outdoor wood chaise loungers”. Do an initial keyword search using a tool like the Google Keyword Tool to see how it is ranking. This is a great place to start when you want to use words that are truly valuable to your brand.
The reality is that some words just play better than others and the ones that do well are the ones you want. If you use the above example, you may find that “outdoor chaise” does drastically different in searches than “outdoor wood chaise loungers”. If you see that the latter is more popular, then you know that you’re onto something with your initial keyword search.
Before you get too excited about understanding keywords, it is important to know that finding the right keyword is half of the story. Next, you have to find the keywords that have a lack of competition. This is particularly important if you’re just beginning in the market. You want to find the words that are the most valuable and that everyone-and-their-mother is NOT also trying to sell. You want words that have low competition because that will help you to set yourself apart in the market and truly become the best provider out there.
Spend some time working with the various keyword tools out there. You want that balance of valuable keyword that is has competition you can manage. There are different metrics that each keyword tool will give you. Read the details so you know exactly the information each one is giving you.
- Use SEO-friendly themes from WordPress. When you put together your website you may have considered a free WordPress theme a no-brainer. It’s convenient. It’s easy. It’s free. That may have been a great idea THEN, but now things are different. The reality is that the premium themes you pay for with WordPress really are better choices if you are looking for long-term relevancy and ranking online.
If you use a free WordPress theme, then the first step for you is to start really understanding what it is doing for you. You want to check the proper heading tags to find out if it is really SEO-friendly or not. The truth is that just because a theme is out there doesn’t mean it was built to be useful in any other way than its aesthetic value. Like finding a partner when you’re in your thirties, you want to move beyond the ones that look good and find the one that is built with substance AND looks good!
You can purchase many themes that are acceptable and aren’t there to break your wallet. In particular a Genesis theme is highly useful. The best thing about this framework is that it is easy to maneuver whether you’re an expert or still a novice. In terms of building your brand, it is invaluable because it has completely SEO foundational elements that do a lot of the work for you. In addition to this platform though, there are an abundance of other paid-for WordPress options that can offer you similar value for DIY SEO built-ins.
Although WordPress has been marketed as an easy template option to get you online right away, it also is a valuable tool because of its inner framework. If you aren’t a coder, trust that that inner framework is there and it is working for you 24/7. Plus, the variety of themes means that you can easily find ones that look the way you want them to and are customizable to your needs. If you hire a professional to design it for you, they won’t have any problems with WordPress. On the other hand if you opt to do the work yourself, it may take a little getting used to, but overall you should not have many issues. If you do, there are a lot of supports in place to get your through any development process relatively unscathed.
- Use Social Media effectively. This is huge right now. You know all of the hashtag-this and hashtag-that’s you hear about? They are all highly relevant and that’s why they have taken off. Learning how to efficiently manage your social media presence is a great way to get a handle on the market and how to get past any website penalties you may have suffered in the past.
The reality is that social medi is powerful. In fact, it is a billion-plus-user giant that keeps on gaining steam. Just think of the people who have no “real” talent but are number one on search engines because of social media. Sure you can scoff at them for their lack of depth, but they are doing something right. What sets them apart is that they know how to use all aspects of social media to build their brand. Just remember that if they can do it without a “real” product or service, you can do it WITH a “real” product or service.
Think of what the point of social media is. For example, take the Geek Squad. Everyone has seen their services. You buy a computer system, a smart TV, any device really that requires an install and they can come to your home or business to take care of it. Of course it is at a high cost, which is how they make their money. What people may not be aware of though is that you can go online and find hundreds of Geek Squad videos that show you how to install everything yourself. So what are they really doing as a company? The answer is—they are helping.
Taking a straightforward view of how to help people is key. Yes Best Buy sells the Geek Squad service, but that is a secondary choice. The first line of defense is to empower people with the information they need to do it themselves. Use that! If you can use social media to build your brand as a highly valuable service or product that truly helps people, then you will see results. Once you’re positioned as an expert that is creating to help, you will find that your brand recognition starts to take shape. Once that happens, simple evolution and consistent social media posting push you to the head of any search engine out there.
Good social media strategy is a full-time job for some people. That’s how intense it can be. If you’re just starting you can hire someone to do it, but you also can split it up into a few daily tasks. For example, post to your Facebook business page morning and night. Do this consistently for a month and you’ll be effectively building your brand. The only thing to remember though is that you’re not just posting to post. You’re posting to bring value and “help” your visitors. Tips, tricks, inside secrets are all highly valuable posts that will speak volumes about your brand.
- Remove unnecessary content. As you look at your website to rework it, be sure that you visit the initial culprit that first allowed Google Panda or Penguin to de-rank you: content. The Golden Rule to remember with Google and web page quality from this point on is that bad content will create penalties for you. Write it down. Say it to yourself over and over. You have to commit to writing content that is as far away from “bad” or “fluff” as possible.
So how hard is it to write relevant content every time you post? The first thing to do is recognize yourself as a leader in your market. If you aren’t confident in that, go back to the drawing board and educate yourself on what your service or product truly is and why you decided to promote it in the first place. Take note of your customers so far and ask yourself what they saw in your product or service that pushed them to purchase it. You can start off with a brainstorming session that helps you to regain your focus on why you entered the market in the first place.
Start with your existing blog and the first posts you have. Look at them and honestly ask yourself the following:
o Is the information presented well-researched?
o Is the information presented truly helpful to my viewers?
o Is the information perceived as valuable to my viewers?
o Is the information presented with trusted sources?
There are other questions you can tag onto your scrutiny, but these four are a great place to start. They get you thinking objectively about the content you have been sharing thus far and what it is doing, or not doing, for your brand. If you ask them and find that in your opinion everything you wrote is relevant, then pass the task on to someone else who you trust to give you honesty. Let them tell you what they think. No- you aren’t trying to be a punching bag, but you need to know why Google Panda cited your website’s content as worthy of a penalty. If you can’t see it, ask someone else who is farther away from it and may be able to see more clearly.
As you cull through your content, take out what is irrelevant. If it doesn’t bring value, nix it! Replace it with content that is valuable, informative, reliable and trusted. Then, commit to creating the same thing for every post you create from now on.
- Remove old irrelevant posts from Google searches. Google is where it all started, so return to Google for the answers. Despite the sometimes-pesky rules, Google is an invaluable tool to continue building your business. Start off by doing a quick search of your own domain name. See what comes up; this is what others see too! Type “site: yourdomain.com” into the Google search bar.
In the “olden days” of the internet, (you know, back in 2001) it was great to have a bunch of pages listed individually on Google’s search engine. Now, not so much! Now, you have to be careful about them. Consider this example: You have 100 different posts that are indexing on Google. They aren’t particularly helpful or valuable; they are just pages of superficial content pointing to your website and affiliated with your domain. Each of those posts have 3 tags. That means that you have 100-times-3, or 300, tags indexed with Google that are so-so in content. This makes your blog rife with irrelevant and flimsy content. See how Google got its info that your website shouldn’t be ranked high?
So how do you fix this? Well- you start of by no-indexing . You can use no-index tag for all links. From there you can use various plugins to make your category/date/old pages/tags no-index. One good one is WordPress’s SEO Plugin Mega Robots. It easily lets you work with indexing and control what content is allowed. Another rule is to leave your internal links as “dofollow”.
If you find that your admin sign-in page or your wp-content pages are also indexed within your Google search, use Webmaster URL removal tool to eliminate it off of the directory. Add those directories to your Robots.txt file. If this sounds a bit complex, it may be a little more than your business mind cares to deal with. Don’t worry though. A good webmaster will know how to use these tools to make the most of your indexing. You also can educate yourself by going to the websites that promote these tools and reading the how-tos. It’s always good to understand what is happening even if someone else takes care of it.
- Working with duplicate content. Another thing to concern yourself with is duplicate content. It is clear- you had twenty page and had to find some content to fill your pages. Everyone struggles with this. The honest truth though is that it is better to create 5 content-rich pages than 10 that say the same thing over and over again. In the world of Google-guarded web pages it is never a quantity-over-quality issue.
From the beginning, Google has not been a fan of duplicate content within a domain. Too much will seriously affect your search engine ranking; this was true pre-Panda and is even more important post-Panda. Here is the crux of the issue. Google’s algorithm notes when content is duplicated somewhere. It is NOT sophisticated, however, to figure out if it is from the same domain. So if it sees text on one of your pages and then on another, red-flags of duplication snap to attention. Bottom line is that Google doesn’t know the difference between duplicated information and plagiarized information. It will penalize you with either one.
The commonly spread idea is that Google has algorithms that take auto RSS content building blogs into account. Allegedly it watches them and has strict policies to catch them. There has yet to be seen clear proof of this. In fact, it isn’t uncommon to see blogs with copied content rank higher than the source blog it takes its information from. Sometimes the person copying content knows how to use SEO better than the originator of the content did. It sounds cut-throat out there. It is a real-life lesson of survival of the fittest. You can have great content but if you don’t know how to organize it and present it, you’re never going to get to where you most likely deserve to be—at the top of the search engines.
If you ever notice that another blog has your ideas or information copied, be sure to take swift action. Your best bet is to report it directly to Google. They can help you to stop indexing copied content and put the ranking plus on the originating web page. You also should follow up with the website’s webmaster to request that they stop using your content immediately. The good news is that things are getting better with protecting information that is posted online. It isn’t great yet, but you can still use the available tools to your advantage.
- Use external linking. If you use your website to sell paid-for ads or you do paid reviews, then you should discontinue the practice altogether. It was a lie that this is an easy money-maker. Anytime your blog links to a bad website, your search engine rank is negatively affected. If you are absolutely caught and have to use a link to a fluff-site, be sure that you use attributes that are no-follow. Do the same for any affiliate URL you use.
Be careful with your links also if you have multiple contributors to your blog. Some bloggers have guest blogs or affiliate their brand with others. This is a tactic to garner a bigger viewership and for the most part it is effective. It does get your brand in front of more viewers than you would flying solo. The problem is again, with “good” content. Be sure that whenever you decide to affiliate yourself with another brand you are picky. Make sure that the other content is relevant and informative. Check all URLs that are used within your website to direct viewers to another website. Be sure that the content there is as high-value as yours. The last thing you want to do is have great rank-worthy content and then shoot yourself in the internet-foot by having low-quality URLs that take your traffic elsewhere.
It is always good to review the content of anyone who will be contributing to your blog. Don’t just ask them what they are planning on posting, but ask to see what they have on their website. Remember if they have low-quality work on their own website, what are the chances they will bring top-quality work to yours? Not much!
Even after you invite a guest blogger to contribute content to your blog, do some follow-up work. Take some time to visit their website periodically for the next few months to see what else they are including in their own content. This is a great way to make sure that your own visitors are being managed with top-quality. That’s not to say if you see a blog on your guest blogger’s website that isn’t fantastic, you should cut all ties. It does mean that consistent bad content may warrant deleting their URL link from your own blog. Again- survival of the fittest… use it to your advantage too!
- Managing affiliate blogs. If you have a blog that capitalizes on affiliate marketing, then you also should be aware of ads. Traditionally affiliate blogs have lots of them. It is to be expected—that’s how they generate revenue. The problem with them though is that sometimes they have so many ads that they lose value. Imagine a website that promises one deal, and then another, and then another…it is rife with one link after another to a product/service-purchase webpage. Google’s algorithm sees those ads and counts them as low-content. This is very common with these websites as they are then penalized and listed lower in ranking than they deserve.
If you have an affiliate blog the best thing to do is to use fewer ads on your pages. When you post content, be sure that you don’t put ads between them either. Let your content speak for itself. When you use affiliate links within your content, be sure that it is no-follow. This is the best way to ensure that you won’t mess up the algorithms and get washed away with low-value content. Always give your website the best chance of ranking and it is the little things that can chip away at your value. Remember that algorithms are automatic. They don’t weigh anything out or debate anything. They just assess, label and act accordingly with one foul swoop.
It goes without saying that if you have an affiliate-focused blog you should check every URL you use- even those that are directly for sales. Make sure that wherever you’re guiding your viewers is consistently to high-value content. The product or service you are selling should maintain the same high standard that you put into building your own website. If you create great content and affiliate yourself with products or services of that same high standard, Google will have no problem with you or your links. You will see a good ranking and as you continue to put time and effort into development, you should see a rise in ranking.
- Contact Google for reconsideration. The final tip is to go directly back to Google for a solution. If you know that you were negatively affected by the Panda or the Penguin, then take the necessary steps to fix it. Go through each of the above eight steps to ensure that you’re ready for another assessment. Take each step seriously. Make sure you learn something about SEO and how to use it, improve your theme to be SEO-friendly, use social media, remove unnecessary posts or pages, remove irrelevant posts, deal with duplicate content, test your external links and rework affiliate blogs. When you’re done then you can start the final process.
In this last step, you should log into your webmaster tool and enter a reconsideration request with Google. The bad news is that this isn’t an overnight solution. It makes sense though considering how many websites are out there and how many likely are requesting the same thing. You’ll have to wait for the reassessment process and likely won’t see any changes anytime in the near future. So as not to leave on a bad note, the good news is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
The good news with Google is that they will get to your request. Most likely you’ll get a standard email telling you that you are not being penalized and that your ranking is fine. Don’t let this discourage you. The bottom line is that you have worked long and hard with the current Panda and Penguin penalty algorithms in place. You should reap the benefits as they continue to work through the internet world. You no longer have to worry about these powerful algorithms or their effect on ranking that plagued you before.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The bottom line with Google’s Panda and Penguin is that they are both game-changers. They caused a lot of websites to lose valuable ranking. However, now that the rules are out there, it’s a great time to revamp the way you manage your blog and take full advantage of them. Yes they were a hassle, but now that you know the rules and how to work them these algorithms are the same ones that are going to serve you well. As long as you’re vigilant with all of the tools available and follow the rules, you will see your ranking benefit accordingly.
Recovery from Panda and Penguin is not as bad as it sounds. In fact, you should thank Google for shoring up the protocols. They give you a way of taking your internet destiny into your own hands. You can use the Google search quality rating guidelines to your advantage consistently and enjoy the high rankings that every website owner wants.