Recently Google has rolled out its updated algorithm with latest Panda update (3.3) that shattered hundreds of thousands of sites that were using SEO as a means of generating traffic by appearing high in organic search results in Google. The message reads…
“We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes”
The sites that we did SEO from scratch were not affected as they were built keeping in mind Google webmaster guidelines and the link building was purely manual and researched by our team. However, few of our clients got hit by the new algorithm as well with variable degree of decrease in ranking depending on several factors. The sites that were affected were mainly those who have been doing SEO since several years and had several bad links already, too much optimized and had used non-ethical ways to promote their sites in the past. Some of sites had thousands of blog URLs that were not of high quality. I manage SEO of over hundred sites and I have been watching ranking changes closely in the Feb/March 2012 after the recent algo update and based on my personal experience of Google’s unnatural links emails, here is case study of how the recent changes affected the sites I run SEO for and what are the best strategies to combat unnatural/artificial links warning given by Google.
- Extent of Damage: The effect of new Google algorithm update was different for different sites mainly depending on the factors viz; on-page SEO strength, number of links to the site homepage, number of homepage backlinks (HPBL), age of the site, number of URLs (subpages) on the site, site wide backlinks, bad neighbourhood, percentage of anchor text variation and frequency of exact anchor text matches, internal linking and the quality of content of the site.
- Damage Timeframe: Effected site got ranking drop between 7-14 days after the receipt of email.
- Ranking Drop Pattern: Most ranking drop was for the homepages and less for the sub pages. Also the most ranking drop was for the high competition keywords.
- Recovery Rate: Most of the sites got recovered after anchor dilution and building extra quality links on regular basis within 2-3 weeks of ranking drop.
- One other interesting finding we had that SERP went down in the sites that didn’t get this email, so email is not the only indication that your site got affected, the SERP is.
How to cope with unnatural / artificial links warning email from Google?
Those were the findings. Now as an SEO company, we had to go an extra mile to combat this recent issue of Google algo update. Several techniques were applied on different websites and results were measured. Based on the case study, here are the immediate remedial ways to get your SERP back
Solution to the problem (that works):
- Revise your on-page strategy, remove keywords stuffing to avoid over-optimization penalty announced by Google in March 2012. Create unique content, start a blog with fresh, worthy of reading content for your visitors. Revise your METAs and make sure they are not stuffed with keywords.
- The old equation of 3-5% of keyword density doesn’t work anymore, it’s all about how natural you look to Google now. I have seen sites with less than 0.5% keyword density on #1 in Google after these recent changes. So, don’t bother about making it high keyword density content as before. Instead use your keywords synonyms and theme as much as you can. Google uses its built-in synonym dictionary during the search. For example, if you search for Auto, Google will high light vehicle and car in results as well.
- Remove all HPBL, paid links and site wide links.
- Remove all the links from penalized sites (if the links are not already deindexed by Google, if the links are deindexed, it will clean Google cache on its own within 2-3 weeks).
- Remove links from bad neighbourhood and sites that sell illegal drugs, porn or gambling
- Concentrate on off-loading your homepage keywords. With these recent changes, i wont suggest using more than 2-3 keywords on your homepage or any other subpages.
- Spread keyword density in your subpages, create new subpages with keyword related URL (but don’t spam the URL). Bad example for an about us page: www.example.com/about-seo-services-seo-company-optmization.html. Good example for cash loans. www.example.com/cash-loans.html
- Generate generic anchor backlinks of about 20-30% of your total links
- Use 60% of your anchor text as variation of your main keyword and use the main keyword only 40% of the time. As you already have a backlinks profile, you need to see where you stand how to balance your linking profile based on above formula.
- Clean the site code, remove HTML errors, and search for any other suggestion errors in Google webmaster.
- After you make above changes, create a fresh sitemap, submit it and increase crawling rate in Google webmaster.
- Start creating consistent high quality backlinks and keep an eye on ranking.
- Change your link building strategy, only high quality manual, contextual links from relevant sites.
- Mix no-follow and URL anchors off and on to make it look natural to big G.
- Make social media signals an integral part of your ongoing SEO strategy, the more powerful you are in Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn etc, the more weigh you will get in Google’s eyes. Not even this, you will get good organic traffic from social media sites reducing your dependency on Google or other search engines only. We recently did an experiment on a site of one of our clients that was receiving about 800-900 daily visits from search engines for a quite competent keyword. We incorporate social media strategy, built Facebook likes, tweets and created professional network on LinkedIn and in only matter of weeks the client is generating the same amount of traffic from social media independent of search engines. The other advantage of social media traffic is that the bounce rate is much less than organic traffic.
- You may or may not submit a reconsideration request, as in most cases we didn’t see it affected anything in the SERP. If you just start following the above advice and let Google crawl and delete its old cache, you will start seeing your ranking getting back again.
What if Nothing Works?
If after doing all above the ranking doesn’t improve at all, or goes down on the contrary, then you need to start looking on some real issue in your site that was not related to recent Google changes. It might be some doorway pages, hidden links, misuse of canonical or other tags, or anything wrong in the code. It might be that some of your competitors are 301 redirecting some bad sites to you. One of our clients actually had few hidden links coming from a porn site, which were clearly placed by his competitors. Request removal of such links, clean your site and submit reconsideration request and wait for few weeks.
If nothing works still, leave the site aside and either start a fresh site or go fishing.