Google has been busy with search updates this year, and the frequency with which they’ve been dropping major algorithm modifications & penalty filters is enough to make the entire SEO process seem a bit daunting.
So I did what any sensible web publisher would do – I took a long vacation. While I was gone I didn’t touch anything on my websites, but I did keep an eye on the SERPs with some Moz Reports and manual searches from a mobile, dynamic IP.
The conclusion is that there are a lot of triggers that could be causing low rankings, and the first step to fixing any traffic problems now is to correctly diagnose your website’s condition based on the symptoms being displayed in search.
Google’s Webspam Exile – The Penguin Penalty
The big thing that has webmasters talking is the Penguin update and associated penalties. Affected websites can disappear from the search results literally overnight, with many first page domains suddenly showing up about 250 spots lower than they used to be. The result looks like that search query report from webmaster tools up above.
How does it work?
The primary mechanism of action seems to be related to anchor text variation. It used to be rather easy to get a good location in the organic search results just by getting a high percentage of your backlinks with exact-match anchor text, but Google is now apparently recognizing the patterns SEOs are creating.
Every few weeks, Google runs the Penguin algorithm, and it searches through the database of URLs to find offenders – URLs that have too high a percentage of anchor texts that match. Those pages will practically vanish from the useful part of the search index, and the rest of your domain could lose some weight as well – even the pages that weren’t excessively optimized.
Some forum users are reporting that this can apply to internal links as well, but I’m not seeing that particular issue with any of the sites I’m running. For larger domains, you might want to avoid site-wide links to highly competitive keywords. As always, focus more on an open and accessible website structure rather than quick links to sales pages.
How can you fix it?
Well the first key is to vary your anchor text. If you still have control over some links, replace exact-match phrases with links to your homepage URL (ie: http://websitebuilding.biz)
Other than HTML URLs, any anchor text that becomes too repetitive could be subject to a Penguin penalty, and that is the last penalty you want to get if you’re counting on any traffic from Google.
How do I know this fix works?
Well, I used it. I had a pretty good ranking for a pretty valuable keyword. I was about 5 or 6 and it was already worth nearly $1,000 a month so I was keeping a close eye on it and always trying to rank higher. On the day Penguin hit, my URL completely disappeared from the results. I ran some analysis and noticed that after four years of link building, the links that had survived almost all had the same anchor text. Quickly then, I took all of the links I could personally control and changed them to other, less specific anchors.
After about two weeks, the URL started showing up in the SERPs again, just at a really bad location beyond page 20. I built a few more new links with varied anchors, then left for vacation. By the time I came back home, I was ranking in the middle of the second page again and starting to see the occasional referral.
So if it has recovered from Penguin, why is it lower than it was? Ah, read on!
Inorganic Downgrade – Down but not Out
If your keyword rankings have fallen a just a little bit, you might be effected by Google’s recent tweak against inorganic links. The most valuable links have always been those organic ones directly in the primary content area, so inorganic links would include your sidebar links, footer links, comment links, forum signatures, and possibly even author resources boxes.
Google doesn’t want to outright kill the work-for-rank model of SEO, but they do want to tone it down a bit against organic signals and discourage those submissions that create a lot of clutter without adding content. So if you have recently gone from the middle of the first page to the top of the second one, don’t panic. You’ll just need to get more links, and hopefully, find a way to get them in a better location!
Still a bit confused about how SEO works in the post-Penguin web? Don’t worry! My next post will feature some information I’ve gathered from new domains popping up in the niche I’m watching. While the process of ranking is a little bit.. messy.. there is definitely a way for new websites to show up organically in the search results for valuable keywords. Stay tuned!
Image credits: “Penguins Crossing” uploaded by Mollivan Jon and shot by his wife, Laura.