Here comes a new challenger!

As part of our series on the difficulty in ranking in Google and other search engines, we first looked at debunking the oft told story of making guarantees in ranking. Truthfully, you shouldn’t make any guarantees in search and anyone that tells you such should best be avoided.

In this article, we turn the spotlight on Google’s most recent significant algorithm updates and how they have affected the ranking process.

Google Panda

Google Panda eyed up your website like it was bamboo. Did you have duplicate content on your website or pages with poor content? Did you have too many paid ads on your website? Did you have overly optimised content with the same keyword repeated too many times? If you answered yes to any of these questions (or heaven help us, all of them), then Google Panda was going to have a feast.

In addition to this, we have also seen Google’s Above the Fold Page Layout algorithm update play a role in how important your on-page content is.

Google Penguin

Google Penguin specifically targeted spammy link building practices – SEO tactics that involved building hundreds or thousands of links from poor quality, irrelevant websites to artificially inflate your ranking for particular keywords. Too many low quality links? Sayonara, links! Too many links with the same anchor text? Hasta la vista, links!

These strategies quickly saw several websites lose their rankings and have gone a long way in putting to rest the most unsavory tactics in the SEO industry.

Unnatural Link Warnings

In the summer of 2012, Google started to send website owners unnatural link warnings about the back links they had. This was another death knell for the importance of the back link – websites that received this warning often saw their rankings completely disappear overnight and had a real struggle in recovering their rankings and their traffic. No website was safe – even the BBC received a warning.

Website owners were encouraged to spend time and effort in removing the bad quality links that were potentially causing their website harm and then submit a Reconsideration Request. Although Google did not provide any specific details about which links had caused their link warning, they would then go on to unveil the Disavow Tool. For website owners that had tried their best but could not remove all the poor quality links they found, they could submit a list to Google and tell them to effectively ignore them in its algorithm of how it ranks websites.

Further to this, Google has publically announced its active targeting of link networks with several already devalued in Google. SEOs that have traditionally placed their emphasis on creating link networks (link wheels, link pyramids or whatever you want to call them), have seen some of their practices fall by the wayside.

What does this mean for you and me then?

There are no short cuts in SEO! Google has pretty much laid to rest the tricks that people used in the past to get you ranking seemingly overnight.

Google has got much better at analysing your website and seeing how much value it provides users. Their shift away from links has placed a greater emphasis on the following metrics:

  • Content – specifically the amount of content, the quality of content and how relevant it is
  • Engagement with the website including:
    • Time on website
    • Bounce rate
    • Pages visited per visit
  • Social trail – endorsements on social networks are a sign to Google that this website is worth being shared (currently social shares are less easily manipulated than links and therefore a more reliable trust/authority signal).
  • Reviews of the website/company and presence in Google commodities such as Google+ or YouTube

Would you trust the website with your credit details? When was the last time it was updated?

Look at your website and ask yourself the following questions:

  • If a customer landed on this page, what would their initial reaction be?
  • Is there enough user-focused content to make visitors engaged or convert?
  • How long have you spent working on the content for your website?
    • Are you happy with it?
    • Did you write it all yourself?
    • Are there spelling mistakes?
  • Would you trust this website with your credit card details?
  • Would you buy from this website? Even if you are not an established e-commerce business, this is still an important question to ask yourself around trust
  • Is it easy for people to navigate to the page they need?
  • Are there pages that you’ve created just for SEO?

Answer these questions truthfully and honestly – when was the last time you updated your website? When was the last time you made a real effort to make your webpages as engaging as possible.

Additionally, from Google Penguin – you may want to review the links you website has. There are lots of different tools that you can use that you can use to identify what links you have and where they’re coming from. When reviewing the links, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the link from a relevant website?
  • What is the anchor text used in the link?
  • Would you trust the website with your credit details?
  • Who else does the website link to?
  • Does the website have vast amounts of advertising on the page?
  • When was the last time the website was updated?

With great strategy, there’s no need to be scared of penguins.

These questions should help you identify links that you might not want to keep. Remember, links should be used to provide additional value to your customers and users – not just for SEO purposes.

In conclusion, spam-happy search engine optimisers might have once been able to trick Google but the most recent algorithm updates are very sophisticated and have made spam trickery a relative thing of the past.

Of course, in any update there will be winners and losers, and some innocent website owners may have found themselves foul of one of the updates. For the most part, these updates have improved the quality of the results for many search queries and have worked well at reminding website owners that you do need to work hard for your website.

Read more of our ‘How difficult is it to rank blog’ series

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