Clean up your backlinks or face off with Google Penguin

The Penguin: ‘Please, don’t hurt me! I didn’t mean it!’

It wasn’t all that long ago when getting as many links as possible pointing back to your site was top priority and it didn’t really matter too much where those backlinks were coming from. The goal of course was to position your website on the first page of Google and other top search engines such as Bing and Yahoo.

The quantity of backlinks was extremely important and many websites were rewarded with good search engine rankings and as such were placed at the top of the list when anyone carried out a search query.

Unfortunately, or fortunately (depending on which side of the fence you were on at the time), the bubble burst as the major search engines started to evaluate the quality of the links pointing back to your site.

This switch from quantity to quality caused all sorts of problems for those websites that were originally set up with “quantity over quality” link building methods.

Google penguin

The Penguin: ‘You don’t really think you’ll win, do you?’

Google first released their algorithm, code name Penguin, back in April 2012. Rankings quickly fell and many sites were penalised for having backlinks from sources now regarded as black-hat link building tactics. The latest update, Penguin 3.0, was released on 17 October 2014.

As a result, many of today’s SEO specialists need to deeply audit client websites and remove the offending backlinks. This is probably one of the most painstaking and time consuming tasks in SEO and yes, I’m speaking from experience as we have been called in many times to clean up toxic link profiles that have been built by other companies. I almost called this task unrewarding as well but that’s not quite true. The reward is the recovery from a Penguin penalty, or watching a client website start to improve in page rank, traffic and authority in their niche because you’re actually doing your job. So it has become a critical SEO task to clean up your backlinks regularly.

The Penguin: ‘I believe the word you’re looking for is “Aaahh”!’

If you want to use Google as your search engine of choice (and why wouldn’t you – Google is still the most popular search engine in the world with almost 70% market share?), you really have little alternative but to do your best to stick to Google’s rules of engagement. You only need to look at Google’s webmaster guidelines to see for yourself the types of penalties you could incur should you choose not to adhere to them.

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Impending Google updates and what your business needs to know

Matt Cutts – head of Google’s search quality team (and as a colleague commented the other day – one of the most powerful people on the planet) has made a new video. This outlines in his usual friendly, noncommittal manner what Google is doing in the next few months as far as the hugely influential search algorithm goes. (Google seldom pre-announces anything!)

In other words…

Things are about to get very rocky in the website sea!

Hold on to your hats everyone!

Google has “pre-announced” a number of areas where they are going to seek out and punish sites that are using “black hat” SEO techniques to artificially push sites up Google’s search results. Again.

The unfortunate thing is that your site might very well fall into this category without you even being aware of it.

We do have sympathy for the cause…

No one likes cheats and no one likes lazy people gaining big returns for very little effort (or if you are Black Hat – being smart enough and entrepreneurial enough and technically brilliant enough to subvert the biggest business in the world to make money)

The problem with black hat is that it is not a long term business proposition. Awesome for quick buck hacks but scary for real businesses and reputations.

To be honest I think it is amusing that these guys think they are smarter than a couple of hundred of the world’s top engineers…

But, back to the impending Google updates.

The importance of the Penguin Update

No one expected the first Penguin update to be as game-changing as it was.

The SEO world shifted on its axis – any manipulative “link building” was suddenly at best almost worthless and at worst a huge detriment to a client website and business.

I won’t go into Penguin 1.0 detail here as it has been very well covered elsewhere.

But the major outcome from our perspective has been the elimination of a huge number of cheap, automated, low quality SEO services offering the world’s riches for tuppence.

And there have been real benefits for great websites that are technically sound, that offer great user experience, that have high quality, well structured content, that have a commitment to fresh, high value information and a social sharing strategy. These benefits can be profound as I documented in this ROI/website visitor growth case study.

And true to his word Penguin 2.0 has just been rolled out. It is too early to make any judgements around whether it has been more effective, more punitive and whether the desired outcome has been achieved.

We will track this closely as the next days and weeks pass.

I am sure there are a lot of very nervous people out there right about now…

Before I digress further let’s get right down to what Mr Cutts is promising in the next few months.

Here’s the video:

And for those of you (like me) who are way to impatient to wait for a video to slowly roll out here is a helpful transcript (thanks Ross Hudgens)

So what are the big takeaways from the announcement?

My first thought is that like an iceberg only a small portion will ever be visible above the surface. Google seldom gives a warning of impending action and if it does you can guarantee it will be big!

Forget the platitudes and forget the cuddly Matt Cutts persona.

This will be a rocky road for many.

Impending Google updates and what you need to do

Penguin 2.0 – Now live

In my opinion this is the biggie. This has been telegraphed as far back as SMX West in early March and it has been built up as an update to be deeply concerned about if you have ever strayed across the line.
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The Best of SEO, Content Marketing, Social Media and CRO – 2012

2012 has been an incredible year for those of us who work online or who have an interest in search, social or any of the other variations in web strategy.

SEO in particular has seen upheaval after upheaval and Google has been instrumental in changing the way web marketing works or doesn’t as the case may be.

Anyone close to SEO will have watched as Google rolled out Panda update after Panda update, threw in a Page Layout update, an Exact Match Domain update, sent out link warnings and banished sites to the outer reaches, and generally shook  things up to such an extent that only the foolhardy would even contemplate manipulative techniques, black hat or webspam.

Best of SEO in 2012

2012 was also a year when social media really crossed over to the general business population in a big way. Even here in New Zealand most SMEs made the leap and invested time or money in their social media presence. As always the big players – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Youtube made frequent and significant changes to their platforms. The result of all this flux in social media means that it is essential keep your finger on the social platform pulse the whole time.

The big winners in 2012 were without a doubt content marketing and blogging and this is mostly down to Google’s efforts. The benefits of an integrated approach to content marketing, technical SEO compliance and social media authority have grown significantly as the year has progressed. Any business that is not considering a content based approach in 2013 will struggle to remain competitive online. (There, said it!)

Midge has done a great job this year in finding every week the very best content published on SEO, social media, content strategy and conversion rate optimisation and has delivered in our Weekend Wrap a combination of thought leadership, tutorials, opinion pieces and even some humour.

We hope you have found the posts educational, inspiring and thought provoking – we certainly have!

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Weekend Wrap up on the right here – we won’t spam… ever!

And while you are here please feel free to share with the social media buttons at the top – many thanks!

Here is my roundup of the very best of the Weekend Wrap – enjoy!

SEO

The future of SEO in 2013

Start with this great post from Stoked SEO who ask a number of the most influential SEO writers what they think will happen with Google and search in 2013.

Some of our favourite SEO people here: Jon Cooper, Jason Acidre, John Doherty, Julie Joyce, Paddy Moogan, Will Critchlow and more. Great insights!

Breaking Down the Mormon SEO Strategy

This post from Distilled was a bit of a surprise.

Who would have thought that a church would focus on an intensive SEO campaign and that they would be competing for phrases like Jesus, Church or scriptures.

Fascinating stuff and I really like the comment asking about the Mormon Church’s “conversion” rate! 🙂

An Open Discussion on the Current State of Link Building

This post stood out not only for the calibre of the SEO thought leaders taking part in the discussion and the quality of the information but also for the unique structure of the post and its informal concept.

Link building has definitely changed substantially in 2012.

We Can Do Better Than This

This is one of the standout posts of the year.

Jonathon Colman put together this epic piece which challenges many SEO writers to up their game with their content and to be more creative and inspirational with what they are producing and with the conversations they are having online.

2012 Year In Review: Important Shifts In Google SEO

This post by Tom Schmitz on Search Engine Land is a nice summary of some of the more important SEO changes from 2012.

He covers online reputation and trust, Google and webmaster notifications, over-optimisation penalties, Panda, Penguin, Pirate updates and lots more.
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Weekend Wrap 17 – Growth hackers, top social media tools and how to increase blog traffic

A brilliant line up this week and we kick off with an “oldie but a goodie” from Rand Fishkin – an incredible resource for bloggers to tuck away, followed by another great post about “growth hackers” from Distilled and what constitutes an effective SEO strategy.

And Forbes have a post which looks at the 20 most social CMOs in the Fortune 100 – surprising how difficult it was to find 20 who actually use social media. How does that work?

Also see what happens when you take some of the top SEO  industry players and debate the current state of link building  in an informal setting – very interesting and a fun post for those of you who follow SEO – there’s a few gems here!

And also from the Social Media and Content Marketing section we have Content,  Confusion, Clarity – a look at content and SEO from Search Engine Watch, a post from Mike Morgan demonstrating benefits and the dangers of using social media tools (includes a few horror stories) and the epic post of the week is from Jonathon Colman – a brilliant piece which questions content quality in the SEO space – must read this one…and lots more to keep you up to date and up late at night!

Photo this week Bobo the alpaca relaxing in the carrot grass!

Alpaca at Muriwai farm

SEO / Search Engine Optimisation

21 Tactics to Increase Blog Traffic (Updated 2012)

This one is from Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz fame and comes from WAY BACK in January. Amazing how all of this is still totally relevant despite the huge updates by Google almost every month this year. This is one to keep as a reference – put as many of these into practice as you can and note how effective the copywriting and structure of the post is..

SEO’s Are Growth Hackers

John Doherty of Distilled adds another great post about “growth hackers”. In his words growth hacking is all about data driven marketing and relates to not only growth but also customer retention. Being creative, implementation, measurement, repetition – as he says these are all part of a well executed SEO strategy. A good read!

An Open Discussion on the Current State of Link Building

Get half a dozen SEO thought leaders together (online) and get them debating the current state of link building. The informality of the structure offers real insights – five starting points are given then it is up to the participants to share their opinions and the conversation develops from there. Great idea!

What [insert random topic] taught me about SEO

This is the lighter post for the week. If you consume a lot of SEO blog posts like we do you will identify with what this post is poking fun at. “What Whitney Houston taught me about SEO?”, “What waterless urinals taught me about SEO” and many more gems that should have gone nowhere near the publish button!
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Weekend Wrap 11 – Google Disavow Tool, Penguin Proof, Genius Marketing!

In the Weekend Wrap this week the big buzz in SEO is about Google’s new Link Disavow tool. We have a great step by step guide but questions remain about Google’s motives for offering this feature and whether you should risk using it. Other featured posts include 10 innovative ideas that have changed marketing forever from Hubspot, Rand Fishkin, CEO of SEOmoz, takes a whiteboard session explaining why link building is becoming link earning, an epic post from Ana Hoffman that teaches you how to promote your blog posts like there is no tomorrow and much more.

This week’s photo – a beautiful Clivia Grandiflora in our garden.

Clivia flower

SEO / Search Engine Optimisation

Google Link Disavow Tool: The Complete Guide

The big news in SEO circles this week was the release of the Google Disavow tool. The debate rages about whether the tool is simply a “super snitch” technique so Google can identify and punish spammy sites or whether it really will be used to combat negative SEO. We will watch early data with interest.

Rand Fishkin, CEO of SEOmoz takes this Whiteboard Friday and explains why link building for SEO has shifted more toward link earning. As a thought leader in SEO there are not very many people as influential as Rand so it pays to listen to what he has to say.

5 Monthly Website Maintenance Tips for Small Businesses

This post is a great starting point for keeping your website healthy and fresh. I am always surprised (shocked) to see how many people invest a ton of time and money into their site then leave out of date, irrelevant content live on their site. Keep it updated, keep it interesting and keep it technically sound – good tips here.
Really like this post from Jeremy Morgan (no relation? Mike?). He talks about how to make sure your online strategies are not hurting your online business and adds some smart ideas around not being a jerk, not having a potty mouth, admitting that you don’t know everything and a few others that you don’t usually see in SEO advice posts.

Weekend Wrap 9 – Is SEO Dead? Penguin & Panda Updates, Landing Page Infographic

In the Weekend Wrap this week we see how some SEOs grapple with Google’s big recent updates, a humorous infographic that expands on the old cliche that SEO is dead (and what the agenda is for those that are saying this), treating your landing page like a recipe for smart results and some new techniques that show you how to get retweeted more often.

This week’s photo – our two woolly boys – Willie Bobo and Paco waiting to be sheared (shared).

Two male alpacas

SEO / Search Engine Optimisation

Google Penguin Refresh Completes Trilogy of Search Terror for SEOs

Well, what a couple of weeks it has been for Google! First they rolled out the new Exact Match Domain update then a few days later they announced “Oh yeah we ran a major Panda update at the same time…”, then just when everyone was scrambling they rolled out Penguin 3! Hold onto your hats everyone!

Is SEO Dead?  Yes, But Only to Some People…

Love this infographic! Is SEO dead? Has Google’s aggressive update schedule made SEO impossible? Some would have you believe this and this funny post identifies the key protagonists and their errors and agendas. Check it out!

Search quality highlights: 65 changes for August and September

Here is Google’s official version of what changes they have made in the last 2 months – 65 changes mentioned here. It is interesting to note some SEO commentators are finding some quite obvious omissions from this list. Now why would Google not give us the full story? What happened to transparency?

What’s New & Important With Google’s New Webmaster Guidelines

This quick overview of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines changes points out some very interesting additions. One that really stands out is that it is now considered a guidelines breach if you send someone a free product hoping to get a review and a link back to your site. Hang on, isn’t that how PR has worked forever in the offline world?
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Weekend Wrap 8 – Google Slams EMDs, CTA Wisdom, LinkedIn Infographic

In this Weekend Wrap we’ve got more Google changes guaranteed to upset some Webmasters, valued link building  information on how to recover from Panda and Penguin updates, how to run an SEO audit using Google Webmaster Tools and a cool infographic that shows why content marketing is the new branding… and lots more!

Enjoy the posts…

This week’s photo – the magnficient very showy Hippeastrum that graces us with it’s beauty year after year.

Midge's Hippeastrum

SEO / Search Engine Optimisation

Google’s EMD Algo Update – Early Data

Finally… Google addresses the common search engine hack of buying an Exact Match Domain and using it to rank a poor quality website. There will be some pretty angry SEOs and affiliates out there who have been relying on this dubious technique.

How to Make Your Ecommerce Site Link Worthy

How do you get links to an ecommerce site if your products aren’t very exciting? This comprehensive post outlines some mistakes sites are making and gives tips on how to attract those valued links.

Finally: An Easy-to-Understand Link Building Plan to Help You Recover from Penguin and Panda 

Was your website hit by Google’s Panda or Penguin updates? Neil Patel from Kissmetrics and QuickSprout outlines a few valuable strategies to help you recover your ranking and your website traffic..

Technical SEO Audit with Google Webmaster Tools

Very useful post on how to run an SEO site audit using Google Webmaster Tools. This step by step tutorial is worth tucking away for future reference. Comprehensive stuff!
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7 critical SEO blunders agencies are still making

Darren Woolley discussed recently on the TrinityP3 Blog the poor digital efforts of Strategic Marketing Consultants.

And agencies are as guilty as these consultants with their poor online performance.

It never ceases to amaze me when I am creating keyword competitive analysis projects the woeful Search Optimisation execution of many large advertising agencies.

These same agencies are advising on digital strategy for some of the largest brands in the world yet they consistently fail in SEO basics for their own sites.

 

Search engine optimisation is no longer simply a technical exercise. It is definitely not an IT task and Design and Development are usually pretty lost as SEO is much more about marketing than code.

There have been some major shifts in the world of search recently.

Google has been extremely aggressive with a number of major updates to its algorithm in 2012. It is critical that any online strategies take into account the intent of updates such as the Panda Update, which is a monthly refresh, and the Penguin update which has had two roll-outs thus far.

Panda targets a number of content based techniques whereas Penguin is related to link profiles and the quality and natural appearance of back-links.

Without going into too much technical detail, Google is indicating what they see as being their core business value proposition. This is to deliver the best possible search results for their customers by eliminating spam or any borderline manipulative techniques including some strategies which were seen to be compliant in the not too distant past. And the jury is out on whether they have improved results or not.

So how do you achieve high page results without resorting to risky strategies?

  • Create great content – content that will be shared, linked to as a reference, newsworthy content that will inspire discussion and inspire further new content
  • Get social – social signals offer proof of brand authority and popularity and are factored into ranking algorithms. The more active you are socially, the better your SEO results
  • Ensure technical compliance – get familiar with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines or at least ensure your digital team have a comprehensive understanding. Conduct a site SEO audit to eliminate any potential search penalties

There seems to be a lot of talk about the value of search strategy, social media implementation and content marketing yet many of the same agencies which are doing the talking are falling down badly when it comes to their own efforts.
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Weekend Wrap 5 – Google Leaks, Link Building Fears And Kicking Ass Online!

We kick off the Weekend Wrap with some secret insider information leaked from Google followed by how SEO hasn’t really changed much in 16 years (sort of), post Penguin webmaster fears of natural links, moments of truth on how shoppers buy, heavyweight blogs to bookmark and follow and a whole lot more from the week gone by.

Enjoy the posts…

This weeks’ photo – between putting the Weekend Wrap together we found a bit of time to get some dead trees taken down (between rain showers). Many thanks to our nephew Marcus! (that’s Marcus in the photo)

 

SEO / Search Engine Optimisation

Google Search Quality Raters Instructions Gain New “Page Quality” Guidelines

Rarer than hen’s teeth! A leaked internal Google instruction manual for their human page quality reviewers.  Wow!  You don’t often get this sort of inside information.

The Only SEO Strategy That Works (Cutting Through The Bullsh*t)

The Google algorithm created back in 1996 is still basically the same as the algorithm that functions today! (kind of!)  So have the SEO experts just complicated things?  An excellent post showing how SEO works, no tricks, no subterfuge, but a clear no-nonsense breakdown of how to do it – don’t miss this one.

The Hidden Cost Of Cheap SEO & Social Media Labor

Second post from Search Engine Land this week however this one is too good to leave out.  How often have you heard the saying “you get what you pay for?”  This is a great summary of what can happen if you are miserly with your SEO and social media budget.  What really happens if you say yes to one of the daily cheap SEO offers that avoid the spam folder in your email?

Fear Of Google Ironically Has People Considering Making Natural Links Unnatural

Google has caused ‘fear and loathing’ among webmasters with its messages about links.  This panic has led to many webmasters requesting to have links removed from sites that they would otherwise find valuable, fearing that Google will not like them and hurt their rankings. This post looks at another symptom of Post Penguin Panic Syndrome! (PPPS)
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Is Google Adwords the new snake oil target?

The last couple of months has been a rough ride for many website owners due to the frequent punitive Google Updates and now I am seeing new serious risks appearing for business owners who are not completely up to date with how websites and search engines work. Please use the share buttons above and let your business connections know about this new scam so they can avoid a really costly mistake!

Panda Updates and Penguin Updates

It had to happen really!

Let’s look at the last few months of Google updates and the repercussions felt by a large number of websites both good and bad.

First up, the Panda was tough… and very necessary!

The first Panda update was more than a year ago and I outlined the reasons for it here.

Each of the following Panda updates seemed to be even tougher and there was some serious collateral damage as even a number of high quality sites with tons of great content were punished!

And then came the Penguin… wow!

There will be a large number of web design and development companies who add anchor text based site wide footer links to every client’s site who will be feeling the pain right now (and probably wondering why).

And it seems from the various SEO based forums that SEO companies, web development, bloggers, Internet marketing services and more in the tech services field were hit disproportionately.

But it was not just this field that were hit. Many sites who historically had work done by low cost SEO companies to “boost search ranking on Google” also noticed disturbing trends in their analytics reports after Google’s aggressive targeting of non-compliance.

And because of the close dates of the various Panda and Penguin updates it can be difficult to analyse which particular update has afflicted many sites. Duplication issues, site errors, anchor text repetition, unnatural link profiles, overuse of keywords, over optimisation, comment spam links, thin content, too many links from a particular source, links from unrelated niches? And I could go on.

Google really came out with guns blazing! They hit every possible webspam or manipulative technique they could think of in short succession.

Here is the list of some of the recent Google updates:

April 19, 2012 – Panda 3.5

April 24, 2012 – Penguin

April 27, 2012 – Panda 3.6

May 25, 2012 – Penguin 1.1

June 8, 2012 – Panda 3.7

June 25, 2012 – Panda 3.8

So, Google has decimated webspam. Nice one Google!

Matt Cutts (Head of Google’s webspam team), take a bow.

You have made the Internet a better place…

Or have you?
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