If you’re an SEO then you probably know that Google Panda is two years old. The first Google Panda Update (or farmer update) was on February 24, 2011 targeting content farms (and those made for search engine sites) and it was a nightmare for webmasters. And then there were more updates to penalize websites that were over-optimized (Google Penguin), using exact match domains, pages with too many above the fold ads, etc.
I love all these updates as it improves the search experience of users and that’s obviously the goal of a search engine. That said, Google is STILL far away from that “perfect” search engine definition.
So I’m going to focus on all major updates by Google with their recovery tips that I collected from various sources. From all this research, I can easily conclude that if you haven’t violated any Google’s Webmaster Guidelines then you shouldn’t worry about any Google updates.
I guess Google became obsessed with penalty starting with Overstock and JCPenney. In 2011, Google penalized Overstock.com and JCPenney.com (popular e-commerce websites) for artificially inflating rankings on Google search result pages. Then they came up with several updates in an effort to improve the search results and the latest manual penalty being Interflora.co.uk (yet another e-commerce site that got hit for bad SEO practices).
Google Algorithm Updates That Matters (Panda Era)
I haven’t included ALL the updates as some of them were regular updates and others were “feature” updates like Social Signals, Local, Google +1, Knowledge Graph, etc. I suggest you to check out Google Algorithm Change History by SEOmoz to track ALL updates since 2000.
Each year, Google changes its search algorithm up to 500 – 600 times. While most of these changes are minor, every few months Google rolls out a “major” algorithmic update that affect search results in significant ways.
Google Panda (Farmer) — February 23, 2011
Freshness Update — November 3, 2011
Page Layout Algorithm (Ads Above The Fold) — January 19, 2012
Google Penguin (Over-optimization penalty) — April 24, 2012
DMCA Penalty — August 10, 2012
Exact-Match Domain (EMD) Update — September 27, 2012
AuthorRank — ???
How To Know If You’re Hit By Google Panda, Penguin, Page Layout, etc.
In order to recover from Google Panda, Penguin or whatever update you have to confirm the exact date you got hit. Go to Google Analytics – Reporting > Traffic Sources > Sources > All Traffic > google / organic and use the web analytics to identify the issue.
If you noticed a sudden drop in traffic then you’re probably hit. And you should also check the analytics to see if it was a side wide penalty or a page specific one. It’s possible that you can lose good amount of traffic if you lost the ranking of a top keyword.
If you have suddenly noticed a huge traffic drop after a specific date then you can compare that date with various Google algorithm updates For example, if there was a massive traffic drop on April 24th then it obviously means that your site was hit by Google Penguin.
And don’t forget Google dances as Google uses over 200 ranking signals to rank pages so as they deploy various other changes you’ll see traffic drop/increase.
Google Panda was announced on February 23, 2011. It was a major algorithmic update by Google that impacted 12% of all search queries. Though the primary target of Panda update was content farms (and hence the name farmer update) it also affected websites with low quality content (thin content), made for AdSense websites, and others. After the Google Panda update, Google gave more guidance about what counts as a high quality website.
On November 3, 2011, Google announced Freshness Update by saying that their search result pages will contain more fresh content. It impacted 35% of all searches (compared to just 11% impact by Panda update).
Page Layout Algorithm (Ads Above The Fold)
On January 19, 2012, Google improved the Page Layout Algorithm so as to penalize web pages with too many ads above the fold.
“Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away. So sites that don’t have much content “above-the-fold” can be affected by this change.”
It means that if you click on a search result and the landing page is full of ads then it might be penalized as that’s not a good search experience for a user.
If you got hit by this update then you need to revamp the whole website by changing its architecture, design, and page loading speed. Google also says that:
“If you decide to update your page layout, the page layout algorithm will automatically reflect the changes as we re-crawl and process enough pages from your site to assess the changes. How long that takes will depend on several factors, including the number of pages on your site and how efficiently Googlebot can crawl the content. On a typical website, it can take several weeks for Googlebot to crawl and process enough pages to reflect layout changes on the site.”
Google Penguin (Over-optimization Penalty)
Google announced the Penguin update on April 24, 2012 as another step to reward high-quality sites after Google Panda and Page Layout Algorithm update. Google Penguin is also known as over-optimization penalty or a “webspam update” as it targeted websites that were involved in black hat SEO tactics to manipulate search rankings. Since it’s a “link” related issue you can make use of Disavow Links tool.
Google Penguin Recovery Tips
Link Building Tactics – Post Penguin
Google introduced DMCA Penalty on August 10, 2012 by saying that:
“…we will begin taking into account a new signal in our rankings: the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site.”
It means that if Google received multiple DMCA Notices against your website then your web pages will appear lower on search result pages. It can be difficult to recover from this kind of penalty as copyright violations are serious. So just make sure that you don’t copy content from other sites and if you ever receive a DMCA Notice by a webmaster then you should do the needful by responding promptly.
Exact-Match Domain (EMD) Update
Google released Exact Match Domain (EMD) Update on September 27, 2012 by tweeting that:
“Minor weather report: small upcoming Google algo change will reduce low-quality “exact-match” domains in search results.”
And it basically means that low quality keyword rich domains will be penalized and will be ranked lower on search results. Google historically ranked domain names (even those spammy sites) with keywords higher.
If you’re hit by EMD update then it probably means that the web pages are of low quality. In that case you have no other choice but to improve the quality of your content. You may also move the site to a new branded domain name (use 301 redirect) so that you won’t be hit again and make your website social media friendly.
I haven’t included the “Site Speed” update that Google incorporated in 2010. Ever since that update, Google began to use “site speed” as a ranking signal. It means that sites that load faster will be ranked higher than those pages that are slow.
Google announced that “We encourage you to start looking at your site’s speed — not only to improve your ranking in search engines, but also to improve everyone’s experience on the Internet.”
10 Tips For The Perfect Google Reconsideration Request
Popular Indian blogger Amit Agarwal’s labnol.org was labeled as a “Content Farm” by Google when the first Google Panda was launched. And he recovered eventually as his blog never violated any webmaster guidelines and moreover it’s not a content farm. It’s a real blog with original ideas, reviews, tech tips, etc. that never hired any writers.
Amit wrote that,
“…what makes me more sad is the fact that Google algorithms have labeled Digital Inspiration as a ‘content farm’ despite having tons of high-quality and original articles. And there’s little I can do about it.”
I can fully understand his feeling as I know that he never used any writers and has never published a guest post. I assume that the penalty was due to “thin-posts” as he used to write blog posts with 100-300 words as well. But it does hurt especially when those posts were expressing the author’s thoughts on a topic.
What You Should Know About Reconsideration Requests
Okay, now based on various sources, articles, and videos I’ve sorted 10 tips that should help you to submit that perfect Google reconsideration request.
1. Reconsideration Requests Are Read By Real People
A user asked on Google Webmaster Help Forums whether reconsideration requests are read by real people. And Matt Cutts confirmed that 100% of reconsideration requests are read by a real person unless there’s no manual action by the web spam team.
It means that if your website was penalized manually by Google then they will read and respond to your reconsideration request if necessary.
2. Google Won’t Tell You Exactly Why Your Site Was Penalized
Google also confirmed that they don’t reply to your reconsideration request with tons of details but only with the exact reason why your site was penalized.
3. Admit That You Made A Mistake
Now let’s say you have violated few webmaster guidelines and got a manual penalty. In that case it’s really important to admit the mistakes you’ve made so that you can fix those issues and let them know that you made all the necessary changes.
For example, if the manual penalty is due to “paid links” then you can remove all the links that you have bought and then admit in your reconsideration request that you did violate webmaster guidelines by involving in paid links and you’ve removed them.
4. Don’t Just Reply That You Comply With Google Guidelines
When you send the reconsideration request you need to give as much details as possible. Google says that sometimes they get reconsideration requests from people that say “My site adheres to the guidelines now“. That really won’t help as they need as much information as possible from your side so that they’ll know exactly what you have done to fix the possible issues.
5. Read Google Webmaster Guidelines
If you’re not sure about why your site was penalized then you can read the complete Google webmaster guidelines before sending the reconsideration request as the reason could be unknown to you. If you don’t know where to start then you can begin with Google Webmaster & SEO Guidelines where I explored Google’s webmaster and SEO guidelines for you.
6. Get Help From Google Webmaster Forum
If you were unable to figure out the problems then you can seek help from other webmasters and Google employees who are active at Google Webmaster Forum.
7. You Are Allowed To Send The Reconsideration Request Again
When you get a notice of “Manual Spam Action” by Google then you should analyze your website and analytics. And once you identify the possible issues and improved things by making all the changes (so that you comply with webmaster guidelines) then you can always do another reconsideration request.
8. Don’t Try To Fool Google
Google uses sophisticated tools internally and “real” people are actually looking at your reports. So if you try to fool them with misleading information then they will disregard your request for reconsideration.
9. Don’t Spam With Multiple Requests
There’s no need to submit the reconsideration requests several times. All you need to do is submit ONE request with detailed information. As all requests are reviewed, you’ll get a response in few weeks.
10. Make Sure That You Don’t Repeat The Mistakes
You can also give some kind of assurance by saying that you have stopped violating quality guidelines and you’ll never repeat the mistakes that you have done.
BONUS: More Insights From Google Webmaster Help [Videos]
Oh wait! The updates are not over yet. If you’re tracking the SEO industry closely then you’re probably aware about the so-called AuthorRank update.
Image Credit: Free Digital Photos