All posts in Penguin Update

Black HatOne of the buzziest buzzwords in 2014 is, unfortunately, negative SEO. Recently, Forbes’ contributor Jayson DeMers chronicled how his small company was targeted by scammers. They demanded he pay them US$250 (£151.56); if he didn’t, they’d flood his website with inbound links – and not the high-quality, authoritative links that Google likes so much and which visitors trust so much either. Are schemes like this common, and, if they are, can you protect your website?

What is Negative SEO?

Prior to the Penguin update, the more links, the better. Link farms, link schemes, you couldn’t buy enough of these things.  With this major update, Google told websites in no uncertain terms that poor-quality, spammy links would not be tolerated. Infamous JC Penney and Overstock.com penalties, which caused both retailers to drop precipitously in the search engine results pages, emphasised just how serious Google was.

Now, while this was a great move for searchers – and quality, legitimate websites – it did have an unsavory consequence. It opened up a side industry in negative SEO, where “mercenaries” like those who targeted DeMers, thrive by threatening sites with spammy links.

In addition to bad links, negative SEOs can:

  • Copy your site’s content and distribute it over the internet.  Bam…duplicate content penalties for you.
  • Point links to your site using such reputable and estimable keywords as “Viagra.”
  • Developing false social media profiles in your name or that of your website or business.
  • Removing your high-quality backlinks.
  • Hacking into your website and having free run over your content and backend workings.

Should You Worry?

Yes and no. Yes, it could be devastating if your site were targeted, but no, it’s not that likely. Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, says:

In my experience, there’s a lot of people who talk about negative SEO, but very few people who actually try it, and fewer still who actually succeed. I know that there’s been a lot of people stressed about this. Whenever we dig into what’s actually going on, there’s been a lot of discussion but very little in ways of actually people trying to do attacks.

It is best to run your website, do your white hat SEO, and produce quality content as usual – but remain aware and take steps to keep your site – and your online reputation – intact. How?

  • Log into your Google Webmaster Tools account and enable email alerts. Google will let you know if your pages are not indexed, your site is attacked by malware, or if you’ve received a manual Google penalty. Simply click on Webmaster Tools Preferences. Enable email notifications for All Issues and click Save.
  • Monitor your backlink profile. See what types of sites are linking to your sites to ensure they are legitimate. You can ask a reputable SEO firm to help you develop and monitor your profile or use a tool such a Majestic SEO, Ahrefs, or Open Site Explorer.
  • Use a tool such as CopyScape to monitor for duplicate content, and keep an eye on your site speed. A sudden and marked slowdown can indicate that spammers or negative SEOs have attacked it.

If you do find bad links:

  • Contact the webmaster and request they remove the links.
  • Use Google’s Link Disavow tool. If you’ve taken every step possible to remove bad links, you can request that Google ignore them when assessing your site.

Like Matt Cutts reminds us, there is likely nothing to “stress” about. So don’t. Just be on top of your link profile and content to spot trouble before it can take root.

HummingbirdIf we were expecting cows, zebras, or skunks, Google surprised us all and announced the arrival of the Hummingbird update. It is, says Google, the biggest update to their algorithm since 2001. Uh-oh. Many businesses and SEOs are still recovering from Panda and Penguin. Should we be worried about Hummingbird?

Yes, very, very worried. No, not really! You should be right as rain, if you’ve been doing sound SEO. If you haven’t, you were likely caught up by previous algo updates. In fact, Google’s been running the update for a few months now.  So, what is it?

Hummingbird is designed to produce better search results. Specifically, Google is targeting longer and/or more complex search queries. This is in response to the change in search habits. We increasingly use questions in our queries: where is the best Chinese restaurant in Birmingham? And we are entering longer queries, particularly with the aid of mobile speech searches.

Google has to keep up – no, it must anticipate and surpass – search trends. With Hummingbird, they leverage Knowledge Graph and analyze relationships between concepts and keywords. Our searches are more “conversational,” so Hummingbird allows the search engine to better understand our locations, our contexts, the relationships between the words themselves. Google doesn’t want to return results that match what we’ve entered; they want to return results that match what we meant.

This update should not affect your website or ranking. As always, solid, relevant content is king, and implementing proven SEO tactics (i.e. creating optimised descriptions, titles, and tags and building sitemaps) will help you increase crawlability and visibility.

 

 

Rockhopper Penguins

Google rolled out Penguin 2.0 in mid-May to great trepidation. Website owners and SEOs are understandably skittish when it comes to cute black-and-white animals. Have the effects of the algorithm update been major as feared, or have the vast majority of websites escaped unscathed?

The first iteration of the algo change targeted unnatural links, and Matt Cutts indicated earlier this year that the changes brought in with Penguin 2.0 would be significant.   According to Glenn Gabe of G-Squared Interactive, who conducted an analysis of thirteen sites believed to have been affected by Penguin 2.0, Google went “deeper” into that territory, but not “broader.” That is, unnatural links are still a target, but other webspam factors, such as scraped content or keyword stuffing, do not appear to be.

Note: that doesn’t mean you can start content scraping or keyword stuffing! It just means that Penguin 2.0 seems to be targeting unnatural links. Google spiders are still on the lookout for hundreds of other factors.

In his analysis, Gabe found obvious attempts to game the system. Particularly blatant were links with exact match anchor text. Some sites had thousands of such links, which featured “money keywords.” Unlike Penguin 1.0, which only examined the homepage link profile, 2.0 examines the linking profiles of pages deeper into sites.

The good news is that the damage appears to be limited to sites obviously engaged in spammy practices. Unlike some previous updates, there seems to be little in the way of collateral damage. A drop in traffic doesn’t necessarily indicate that Penguin 2.0 is the cause, but it is worth examining your link profiles and removing as many suspicious links as possible.

The Link Disavow Tool can be used, if necessary. Unlike a manual penalty, algorithmic penalties can be “lifted” when your link profile is cleaned, Google runs the algorithm again, and it re-indexes your site.