4 Recent Google Updates that Shook the Industry

cracked earthOver the past 2 years there have been several major Google updates felt throughout the world. It’s the first time in recent years I’ve seen so much chatter about algorithm changes; the big ones have been happening more frequently, with code names such as Panda, Penguin, Top-Heavy and EMD Update.

It’s also the first time in recent years I’ve personally had a website hit so dramatically.

One of the most frustrating things about these updates is seeing some of my websites tank, while watching the plethora of lower-quality competitor websites continue to rise. Especially the ones that clearly violate the rules.

As frustrating as it may be, I don’t let it bother me too much anymore and focus more on doing the best I can to improve my sites in a manner that appeases the ongoing Google changes.

Panda

Also known as the content-farm killer, the first Google Panda update took place on February 23, 2011, and affected an astonishing 12% of US search results.

Back in early 2011, many in the industry were expecting changes that would address a few major website such as Mahalo and eHow, but it rattled webmasters around the world, and had everyone scrambling for answers.

The Update, which is actually a new ranking factor, aimed at diminishing the ranking of websites with low quality issues such as thin content with high ad-to-content ratios. Since its initial update nearly 2 years ago, there has been more than 20 content refreshes and algorithm tweaks to Panda.

A few sites have made a full recovery, including eHow; while many others, such as Mahalo, EzineArticles and one of my own, have not.

mahalo.com reach via alexa

ezinearticles.com reach via alexa
 

Penguin

The Penquin update, which was first released on April 24, 2012, was only supposed affect 3% of English queries, but seemed to awaken the dead. It hit many of those who escaped Panda, while some got pounded by both.

Also known as the ‘Web-spam’ or ‘Over-optimization’ Update, Google says it created Penguin to help filter out sites using aggressive search engine optimization tactics such as keyword stuffing and link schemes.

Controversy quickly ensued after it launched because a significant number of good websites seemed to get hit too – including this one – while many of the web’s biggest offenders, and even Google’s own example, weren’t affected.

Some have called it the worse update yet. Just check these comments here.

Based on what I’ve seen and my own recovery experience, I believe this update is heavily focused on the anchor text distribution of your backlinks, and the “quality” of your backlink sources.

So far, I’ve fully recovered one website – which I recently sold on Flippa – by just changing the anchor text of a few back links. And have been able to get SEOrankings.com to also partially recover after changing a small number of anchor texts.

I’ve made several more changes since, but Google still doesn’t like this site as much as it used to. However, it still hasn’t picked up several of my changes, and I’m fairly certain there’s a few organic links hurting me too.

seorankings.com reach via alexa
 

Top-Heavy

This algorithmic change doesn’t officially have a name, but it’s often referred to as the Top-Heavy update because it targets sites with too many ads above-the-fold.

Upon its initial release on January 19, 2012, this update – also known as the ‘Page Layout Algorithm Change’ – was reported to have affected about 1.1% of English search queries.

Luckily, none of my websites were noticeably affected, which could be why it didn’t feel quite as big as the previous two updates did. But there were clearly a number of cages rattled.

Many webmasters were outraged by this update, saying Google’s being hypocritical since the majority of its pages come with a substantial number of advertisements above-the-fold. I completely understand where they’re coming from, but it is Google’s website, so they get to play by a different set of rules. Just like we do on our own sites.

What really irked me though, was that at the time Google kept emailing me to put more Adsense ads on one of my websites, and even appears to recommend several of them above-the-fold. I have since temporarily removed Adsense from the site, but as you can imagine, I was especially peeved when I got an email from them right after it had been destroyed by a Panda refresh.

So far there’s only been one known refresh since this update was launched. Google claims site improvements will automatically be detected and reflected the next time it crawls each site, but the one below clearly regained its visibility during the second update on October 9th.

searchquotes.com reach via alexa
 

EMD Update

The last of the 4 recent major updates rattling the Internet is the Exact-Match Domain (EMD) Update, which took place on September 28, 2012, and affected roughly 0.6% of US-English queries. That was only EMD algorithm change thus far, but Google says we should expect more to follow.

This new filter is was Google’s attempt to further diminish the positions of low-quality websites in the SERPs; specifically, ones that are receiving an “extra” boost simply because they match the searchers targeted keywords.

Some have suggested the update only affects domain names that match a user’s exact search query; however, this website dropped about 10 positions for the term ‘SEO ranking’, while maintaining a #1 position for the phrase ‘SEO rankings’.

About 50% of my keyword-rich domain names were affected by this algo modification in one way or another, but none to an astronomical degree.

Based on the evidence I’ve seen, this update had a significant impact on a ton of less-popular websites, but whether they are low-quality or not is subjective.

emd influence via mozcast
 
In the e-Book I wrote prior to this refinement, I talk about the option of using keyword-laden domain names to help you gain an advantage over your competitors. Well, they aren’t nearly as effective as they used to be, but there are still plenty of benefits to using them. However, whether to do so or not really depends on your overall goals.

Ever since Penguin I’ve had to make serious adjustments to my link-building strategy for keyword-rich domain names. What used to be one of its biggest assets – keywords in anchor text, has become a nuisance. My most popular keyword domains are frequently linked to with perfect anchor text which throws up a red flag when the site’s run through Google’s new anchor text distribution filter.

Now, whenever possible, I ask people to link to these web sites using the website URL, or KeywordsAllTogether (domain name without extension), rather than using a ‘Keyword Phrase’. Unfortunately, it’s much easier for natural links to hurt you now, so you have to offset some of those keyword-laden natural links with other ones.

For example, one of my sites seems to drop in rankings nearly every time it gets a new, natural backlink. That included a recent link from DMOZ and a couple of educational institutions – most with perfect anchor text. I haven’t sought an “unnatural” back link for that web site it in ages.

Strategies for the Future

I’ve never been in the business of trying to “trick” the search engines. My goal has always to been to identify techniques and opportunities that help the little guy compete with the big fish. I stay far away from what the majority of SEOs consider the “spammiest” techniques, but am forced to test the waters in order to compete.

As with every new update, some doors close while others open. If you’ve been affected by one of these updates I wouldn’t run from SEO altogether, but do recommend considering a more conservative strategy from here on out.

I’m absolutely changing the way I approach search engine optimization. And in light of these recent updates, I hope you’ll consider making some of adjustments too.

  • Get your content in order first and worry about links later
  • If you are strapped for time, or have little resources available to you, focus on 1 authority website rather than several smaller niche sites
  • Don’t be too aggressive with your link-building, especially when it comes to seeking keywords in anchor text
  • Stay away from more than 2 large ads above-the-fold, and always shoot for content-heavy pages
  • Don’t completely disregard Exact-Match Domain names; explore all of your available options and build high-quality websites regardless of the domain name you choose

Agree, Disagree, Been Hit, Recovered Yet?  Share your thoughts below..

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  • November 7th, 2012 at 7:53 pm Gil Pauley said:

    Wesley,

    Neat and Informative article. I will be back tomorrow and check out the links you have cited also. We were most hurt by Google’s “Proximity Lockout” for cities as were many other dentists and chiropractors (got that from reading several blogs)-this hurt us in the Local A,B,C ect, but we still have good organic positions for most of out key words. I have been trying to vary my titles when I write and to use varying internal linking words. Also, I went through every link to our two blogs and ran them again through the bad link checker that I sent you a while back – http://www.bad-neighborhood.com/text-link-tool.htm – and I eliminated about 20% of the links as an advanced precaution. I dropped them even if they were legitimate dentistry sites if there was more than one questionable bad link. All this, just to be safe.

    Our biggest problem since all these changes started taking place has been Google giving us “duplicate” sites and either splitting our Reviews or loosing them altogether. We have lost 5-6 in the last month. Also, one of the legitimate listings for one of our dentists is listed as “Closed” and they (G) won’t fix it after 3 contacts. They are very frustrating to say the least.

    Fortunately, we have no “adds”, so nothing bad is above the fold for us. But the complaint that G does it is certainly valid – they have much above and along the side as well.

    Lots of info in this article, so I will try to digest it more thoroughly. Thanks again. As always, very useful information. I will Tweet it out also.

    Gil

  • November 8th, 2012 at 11:00 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Hi Gil,
    I’m sorry to hear about your woes. I hate it when I have to contact Google and try to stay away from it whenever possible. The last time I contacted them about a blatant, illegitimate negative comment for a local business listing, they deactivated the listing instead for apparently breaking the TOS in some way, while giving the commenter the benefit of the doubt. Luckily, I was able to help them activate their listing again, and Google was fairly responsive, but the sabotaging comment still remains.

    Too be honest, I haven’t dealt with the “Proximity Lockout” much, and don’t know a whole lot about it. But after a quick review of it and analysis of your website, here are some things you might want to consider:

    – Adding ‘Bellevue, WA’ to the end of brooksidedental.com’s title tag
    – Appending ‘, WA’ to ‘Bellevue’ somewhere in the meta-description
    – Including ‘Bellevue, WA’ in the introduction of its Google plus page
    – Changing the contact page URL to ‘/contact-us/’ or ‘/contact/’ rather than ‘/dentist-in-bellevue-contact’/

    Let me know how it goes, Gil. And thanks for the shares!

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