Google has publicly said that they are cracking down on “web spam” also known as “over-optimization” and the latest Google Penguin update means factors like exact match anchor text are being used not as much and Google is looking more at the quality, diversity and natural look of the sites linking in and in fact penalizing sites where the percentage of keyword anchor text links or irrelevant sites looks too high or unnatural which Google deems as spam. Using automatic algorithms to detect and penalize web spam is not perfect and means innocent websites have also been caught up and penalized especially as Google irons out the problems.
Here are some of the main changes and what you can do to recover or avoid being penalized. These are actually changes that have been becoming more important for a while now but have become more pronounced with the Google Penguin Algorithm Update to combat web spam which took affect on April 24th 2012:
1) Avoid a high percentage of links from non-relevant sites – focus on links from relevant sites
Sites that appeared to be hit hardest in the penguin update had a higher percentage of links from non-relevant sites, which does look spammy and unnatural.
This has always been something to consider but Google seems to be taking it more seriously with the Penguin update.
I saw this first hand a while ago as I had a domain from an old site that I wasn’t using any more and 301 redirected it to another site which was in a different niche. There were lots of links and the new site seemed to get many of the links transferred and was ranking well for its new keywords for the first 1-2 months then tanked. I am pretty certain that the links from irrelevant sites from the old domain were the problem, so if you were going to 301 redirect an old domain to minimize the risk of any penalty try and keep it in the same niche.
Matt Cutts actually talked about this and gave an example of what they are going after – he showed an article about tips for nutrition which just had random words like “payday loan” and “fash cash loans” inserted and hyperlinked which had no relevance to the article at all and would make no sense to a human reader. So the point is you want to focus on getting a fair amount of links from sites that are actually relevant and at least broadly in the same niche.
One concern I have is say you do a Guest Post for a Business website and the author box or even the newspaper/magazine article featuring you links to your other websites which are in different non-business niches. For links from high quality sites that should not be a problem as the penalties seem to be more for low quality links and if those irrelevant links make up the lion’s share of your links overall.
2) Avoid unnaturally high proportion of exact match keyword anchor text links
Sites with an unnaturally high percentage of the same keyword exact match anchor text links appeared to be hit hardest in the penguin update.
To avoid this make sure there are a fair amount of links pointing to your site that use different and natural anchor text like your URL and your site name.
Good quality sites with diverse link profiles don’t seem to be getting penalised if there are spammy links here and there – the penalty is if that is all you do.
3) High quality links are becoming more and more important – Focus on quality than quantity
People have been saying this for a long time but it is becoming more and more important especially with the latest Google Penguin Update.
With blackhat techniques like article spinning and forum spamming the payoffs seem to be becoming less and less and the risks of being penalized becoming greater and greater.
Focus on the high quality links which you can get via Guest Blog posting and also getting PR from media and online magazines and newspapers like HARO and TheSourceBottle.
A good foundation of high quality links should safeguard against getting penalized for spammy links and negative seo tactics by competitors.
I remember Wil Reynolds (who is very anti-blackhat) said in his Affiliate Summit keynote that if you have a very whitehat / established site then “you could probably get away with some of these things … I can’t believe I just said that”). Rand Fishkin from SEOmoz also believes that if you have a whitehat / established site then you should not worry about being penalized, and he is so confident that with the current talk of negative seo he has issued a public challenge for spammers to try and get his sites penalized.
There is obviously quite a bit of concern at the moment about negative SEO and people hurting competitors by deliberately buying lots of unnatural spammy anchor text links to point to competitors websites in order to get their sites penalized. There have been some examples on forums where people have gotten sites penalized by deliberately buying spammy links and pointing them to competitors.
Best way to protect yourself from this is link diversity and having high quality links as spammy links alone don’t seem to get your site penalized – but having only spammy links does.
4) Careful of a high bounce rate
Google has talked about since the beginning of time to “focus on the user experience”. I usually prefer actionable tips rather than rhetoric but there is a very quick way to look at this – bounce rate, which you can see in your Google Analytics. Google is realizing it cannot rely just on links and exact match anchor text so if those factors are being discounted, the other signals and information they have such as bounce rate will be used more and more.
This is something I don’t see people talk about as much but I have found it to be one of the most important factors in SEO, especially since the Google Panda Updates and now the Google Penguin Update. Basically any page that has a very high bounce rate will not stay ranking in Google for long. If somebody clicks on your result in Google, and within seconds they have closed your page, hit the back button and are back at Google clicking on other results – well that sends Google a pretty strong signal that your website is not what somebody searching for that keyword is looking for, and if this keeps happening Google won’t keep sending traffic there. When you hit back after viewing a search result Google now even displays the option to “block results from this domain” that you just visited. I always knew this would apply to pages and that particular search term, but with the Google Panda and Penguin updates having lots of low quality links and high bounce rates can penalize your whole site and domain.
Jeremy Schoemaker aka Shoemoney did an Affiliate Summit Webinar about SEO Tips from Experience and I remember hearing him say that pages with a high bounce rate will not keep receiving Google traffic and it instantly resonated with what I was seeing as well.
To ensure a low bounce rate make sure there is a good user experience and the page offers exactly what the user is searching for and avoid stuffing the page with irrelevant keywords to the sake of getting SEO traffic – although tempting it will harm you in the long term.
I remember a while ago I was writing some reviews for online marketing products and saw people were searching for keywords like “product X filestube” and “product X rapidshare” and “product X torrent” so I tried to mention those keywords in my reviews (not in a deceptive way), but by saying – “make sure you download this from the official site rather than downloading from filestube, rapidshare or torrents so you get all the updates and support”.
Sure enough we got traffic from those keywords at first – but none of that traffic converted. I firmly believe a user is signalling their intentions by what the keywords they are typing – people looking for rapidshare, filestube, torrent, piratebay etc obviously have no intention to purchase or hand over any money. More importantly, if you are trying to sell them the product and obviously not offering a free rapidshare / torrent download which they are looking for they will just hit the back button and go back to Google and your bounce rate will go through the roof. So not only do you not get any benefit but more importantly by having a high bounce rate you risk penalizing your other pages on your domain as Google is focusing more and more on trusted domains.
Bottom line, deliver what you promise and don’t BS. When you consider that building a list and repeat customers is where the money is then tricking people to come into your site for a one-off is not the foundation of a long term lucrative business. With Social Media and social signals this whole sphere of customer feedback and interactions are becoming more and more transparent for all to see – Manipulation is not an ongoing tool for success.
For a quick tip using a WordPress SEO Plugin like SEOpressor and de-indexing your wordpress tags pages and wordpress categories pages means that people will actually land and click through on posts which usually tend to be higher quality and have a lower bounce rate.
Also I have been using this free plugin WP Post Corrector to bulk update posts and it is great! Managed to update tags on 100s of posts and bulk update easily
5) Focus on building a real business not an SEO play
Google looks for signals of a quality site and a real business with return readers and things like a Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus following and reader engagement and comments are becoming more important
More importantly, if you want to build a long term business asset all of these Google updates should serve as an important lesson – don’t rely on getting traffic from Google or even any paid source like PPC, Google Ads, Facebook Ads forever. That is not a business – it’s an arbitrage opportunity at best that could be shut off at any moment.
Any good business over time should be based more and more on repeat customers. Look at what is happening to the travel sites now like Expedia. They would have received a mammoth amount of search traffic from Google in the beginning for so many terms but if they did not build a list and brand and market to repeat customers and just relied on this flow of free traffic from Google being constant forever then they would be stuffed when Google made changes that effectively switched off the tap to them. Much of the traffic that Google used to send to sites like Expedia is now going to Google’s own properties like its own flight comparison engine and therefore bypassing comparison engines, and this is happening in many verticals like shopping and not just travel.
So make sure you are focusing on building up a list and nurturing your relationships with existing customers and followers – watch our videos and free guide to building your blog and online business here.
Have your sites been hit by the Google Penguin update? What changes have you seen and what steps do you recommend? Also what do you guys think of these increased penalties and the potential for negative SEO and sites being able to harm deliberately harm competitors by pointing spammy links? Would love to hear your comments!