Google is watching you. Don’t panic

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Google’s latest algorithm update

Once again Google has announced it will shortly be releasing another update to its search algorithm. As with most other algorithm updates, everyone is talking about how this one will change the SEO game again. Before you panic, let’s take a closer look at what’s going on.

Let’s go straight to the source.

google webmaster blog

On the Google Webmaster Blog, engineer Matt Cutts hones in on what part of this next update will entail. At the core it’s about rewarding high quality websites and penalising low-quality, spammy websites that are trying to game the search engines. It’s not new news. It’s just a reiteration of what we already know – black hat SEO will be penalised. If you undertake practices like keyword stuffing, spammy linking and backlinking, and poorly written meta data, you’re going to get knocked down.

Google is not saying you should forget everything you’ve heard or learned about SEO. They are just asking you to use common sense when building, maintaining and marketing your website. Their focus is on rewarding websites that contain great content – content that keeps a user on the page, content that is written for actual human beings and not search engines.

In his Whiteboard Friday update, Rand Fishkin, CEO and co-founder of SEOmoz sums up the changes that search engine optimisers should make before the ‘over-op’ penalty strikes:

  1. Make sure your title tags are authentic. Take a look at the following title tags for an example of bad versus good writing:
    Bad: Digital Marketing, SEO, Web Design, Xanthos Digital Marketing
    Good: Xanthos Digital Marketing – Professional B2B Web Design Services
  2. Don’t use manipulative internal links – don’t link repeatedly to another page using the same word over and over on the same page – in the body, the sidebar, the footer, etc. Link to content that is useful and that you actually want people to go to.
  3. Avoid link filled footers – they’re old style. You should place in the footer what people expect to find in the footer. Don’t put useless grey links on a grey background. If you need anchor links on a page find a way to put them in naturally – within the content itself.
  4. Get rid of blocks of keyword stuffed content. Content should be written with the user in mind, not the search engines. Websites that have a short section of good content and then a stream of over-optimised useless content below will be hit by this one. This should be obvious. You’re going to drive users away if you’ve got a load of useless content.
  5. Avoid back links from sources that are likely to result in a penalty. Be careful of people offering to place links to your websites from sources that don’t relate to it. This could get you in a lot of trouble and is a waste of time. Don’t do comment spam, be careful of reciprocal linking – don’t do it unless it is relevant.
  6. A large amount of pages targeting the same keywords or synonyms of. Not only does this tactic have the potential to confuse the people that really matter – visitors to your website – but Google doesn’t like it either.

While it is indeed wise to stay on top of things, we’re not suggesting you go ahead and do anything brash. We say wait for the update to hit. Wait for the proof. If Matt Cutts’ post on the Webmaster blog is anything to go by, the people that are going to be hit the hardest are those that have bad link building strategies. Of course if you know you’re using black hat tactics, go ahead and make the changes, but otherwise, read on.

In their April ‘top 10’ newsletter, SEOmoz disseminated an article by Tom Rusling. Beyond an absorbing discussion on the webmaster tool messages, Google’s ‘scare tactics’ and what the update will entail, the gist was:

‘Google is well aware of the power they have over the SEO community and it’s their ambiguity that leads unseasoned marketers to scramble to make changes to their sites. Rule of Thumb: Until you have data that backs up Google’s claims, it’s better to not make a move.’

Part of the scare and the panic over this update has to do with the 700 000 or so messages sent from Webmaster tools regarding suspicious inbound links. If you received a message, be aware that this does not mean you should panic and begin changing everything on your website. After all, how do you know that the links you’re deleting aren’t the good ones?

If you are set on doing something however, take a look at Sujan Patel’s post on Search Engine Journal. Go on and skip down to ‘step #3’. There’s a great section on determining the extent of the penalty after Google changes its search algorithm. Here are a few simple things you might want to do:

  • Check your site is still indexed because to be honest, that’s really the worst that can happen – you don’t show up in listings. Here’s how to check whether or not this has happened:

Google Site Index Screenshot - Xanthos Digital Marketing URL

  •   If you’ve started up a new link building campaign, it’s not uncommon to be caught out by ‘the google dance’ – google reevaluating your website because there are many new links. Don’t panic. Wait.

Google Dance Terminology Explained

  • Relax a little if your website’s ‘young’ – apparently (though Google’s never officially confirmed it), there’s a ‘dampening’ effect on younger websites – this may well mean though your site initially has a high ranking, when Google’s re-evaluated it, it may drop in the rankings.
  • Evaluate whether your traffic/rankings have changed significantly – is this a small penalty related to a low ranking keyword or a larger one that extends across your site? Don’t blame the algorithm change by forgetting the constant flux in popularity of search terms.

It’s a great article and I highly recommend reading it.

In the meantime, relax. When the Google algorithm update has been officially implemented and when you are certain of what needs to be adjusted, go ahead.