Over the past few years Google has dramatically ramped up its efforts to improve search results and thwart web spam. While some penalties by the search giant are handed out manually most ranking demerits are made by specific algorithms such as the famed Panda and Penguin (see links for details). There are also numerous known and unknown algorithms and filters that are run every day.
To be clear Google would consider many of its changes ranking adjustments rather than penalties. As for the website owner they all feel like penalties. The problem is that Google neglected its search product for too long and rewarded many spam techniques that blatantly violated its quality guidelines. Small business owners got tired of this and many eventually joined in the SEO games themselves or by hiring a search professional. In 2011 the first Panda algorithm was run followed by Penguin in 2012. The website casualties were vast and for many small businesses that relied heavily on search traffic the results were catastrophic. Now that we are a few years out from the introduction of these new algorithm updates we now have enough information to stay in the good graces of Google while also ranking well and avoiding penalties.
How to Avoid Getting Hit by Google Algorithms Such as Penguin & Panda
1. Avoid Duplicate Content
This one has actually been around for a while. Citing a quote here and there will not cause problems but if you have much more than that you run the risk of having pages not show up because of duplicate content. Google is not interested in showing the same content multiple times in search results so the original source will almost always be the one shown. Duplicate content penalties are most often the result of buying cheap articles and not checking the work. Your best bet is to have your content written in-house and to always check it at Copyscape before publishing.
2. Write For Users
One of the driving factors of the Panda algorithm is determining site quality through user interaction. This is done with analytics and is actually easy for Google to decipher by factoring variables such as bounce rate, visitor time on site, pages per visit and search bounce back rate. Google has enough reach with its various products such as the Chrome browser and others that they don’t need you to install Analytics to know this information. Bottom line here is that if you write interesting content for users you will have better user metrics and will be rewarded (or not penalized) because of it. If you write your content based on search terms and strive to cram as many keywords into your pages as possible you will get hit.
3. Make Use of Related Content and Dynamic Menus
Related content and dynamic side menus are great features to improve user interaction on your site and keep you on the right side of Panda updates. These features have been used for years by big brands and news sites because they keep users engaged and clicking to additional content. If you are using the WordPress platform for your agency website there are a handful of plugins that make implementing these features a breeze. A few of our favorites are YARPP and Widget Logic.
4. Use Engaging Copy in Your Meta Descriptions
When your site shows up in search results Google will typically display the Meta title and Meta description. Many website owners will put in generic text for the Meta description or put nothing at all allowing Google to try and figure it out. If you want to stand out and get a higher click through rate in search results make use of good copy and add a call to action in the Meta description. Google wants to serve up the best search results so if you page is getting a higher click through rate it will likely move up in the rankings.
5. Don’t Build Links for Search Engines
The old mantra for “building” links to a website was simply to get as many as you can from just about anywhere you can get them. This technique was annoying because it, more than any other, allowed spammers to dominate search results. These unnatural signals are taken into consideration with the Penguin algorithm which is a welcome change for many. Numerous small and medium businesses who also built links in mass to try and compete were hit hard with the introduction of the Penguin update. Most have not recovered. We have a lot of thoughts and advice on Penguin “recovery” which will be covered in another post but the bottom line here is to try and get links to your website where your audience is. Before targeting a new link ask yourself, “If search engines did not exist, is this a link that would send me relevant visitors?”
6. Use Moderation with Anchor Text
Over use of keyword anchor text when building links was the most abused ranking technique prior to the Penguin rollout. The goal was to get as many keyword specific anchor text links as possible and certainly more than the competition. This is an unnatural signal that is easily identified by Google and should have been addressed long before Penguin came along. These days most search marketing experts will recommend having no more than 10-15% of any anchor text keyword in your back link profile other than brand terms (example for us would be “insurance leads guide”). You can check the anchor text distribution of your back link profile at ahrefs.com.
7. Keep Your Site up to Date with Valid Code
With the rapid pace of change among web browsers and standards in general a website can quickly become outdated if it is not updated regularly. Many common html and formatting tags that were used just a few years ago have now become deprecated. When you allow your website to sit for years without updating to current standards you send a signal to Google that the site has been abandoned or that is it no longer a priority for your business. Google wants to offer users relevant and up to date results to this can be a negative signal. The same thing goes for any design elements that run outside of the container or overlap each other. If you think your website might be due for an update run a check and find out at W3 Validator.
8. Make Sure Your Site Loads Quickly
With a focus on user engagement Google began to factor site speed into is ranking algorithm in 2010. As high speed internet has become readily available we have become less tolerant of slow loading web pages making this a very practical update for Google. If your website takes more than a few seconds to load then you should probably take a look at your web hosting, page size and page caching options. I recommend starting by checking your website load time at Pingdom.
If you have a site speed problem and you think it might be due to slow web hosting I suggest checking out one of our recommend web hosting resources here. If you are running your website on WordPress and are not already using a caching option take a look at W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache.
9. Build Social Authority
Being active on social networks has many benefits including trust signals with Google. As you engage and build an audience on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn you build authority, valuable links and credibility in your industry. The time cost of engaging in social media is high but the results can be very beneficial for both search engine ranking and real prospect traffic. Google is looking more places than ever for trust signals and I expect social media to get an increasing amount of weight moving forward.
I hope this guide has been helpful. If you have any additional questions feel free to add them in the comments or drop us a line directly.