Another update, another dose of mayhem. This time the mayhem is called Penguin. As with all Google updates over the years, there have been winners and losers.
Before we start panicking, we should remember that for Google to survive and continue dominating in the next decade it has put in huge effort to keep its SERPs relevant, useful, and clean of spam. As a reminder, Penguin isn’t the first major update Google has rolled out in the past 10 years:
We won't go into detail on each of these, as plenty has already been written about these updates on Search Engine Watch and elsewhere. Instead, let’s focus on the one theme that runs through each of them: To keep spam in check. Granted, Google’s definition of spam has varied, but generally they have done a good job of being vocal in the community through Matt Cutts, head of Google's web spam team, and also through Google’s own Webmaster guidelines.
Some websites are out to make a quick buck (not thinking of their customers/visitors), or they have been misguided by an agency or by some black hat SEO magician that it’s OK to use tricks. Here are a few of the things websites should avoid as outlined in Google’s Webmaster guidelines:
- Hidden doorway pages
- Buying links
- Different page for engines and users
- Hidden text or hidden links
- Cloaking or redirects
You’re playing Russian roulette if you’re engaged (or plan to engage) in any of the above tricks. Businesses who are in for the long haul should think a lot about their customers. Specifically, how can you:
- Improve the visitors user experience?
- Add value for your customers?
- Acquire an audience/customer base and keep them coming back for more?
With a mindset like this, the focus shifts from employing tricks like the ones mentioned above to a mindset of how you can publish quality content on a user-friendly website that makes users want to stick around.
As an in-house SEO, thinking of how to create value for your site visitors and employing ethical white hat SEO tactics should be on top of your agenda. And only if it is on top of your agenda will it filter down to other departments in your company. This will also ensure that there is no risk of turning to the dark side of SEO.
Let’s look at what in-house SEOs can do immediately when an algorithmic updates like Penguin happen, and how to plan for the future so you don’t get hit hard.
Immediate Plan of Action
- Check your analytics to assess damage: If you've been hit by Penguin or another Google update, start by checking your web analytics reports. A simple 30-day traffic report should tell you when you were hit and the amount of visits you lost.
- Check your keyword referrer report (organic): Once you know that you have lost traffic from Google, then a Keyword Referrer report can help you pinpoint which keywords lost traffic on and how much. Again, a 30-day report can paint an accurate picture.
- Manually check rankings on some of your top keywords: This may not tell you a whole lot more than your analytics report, but as SEOs we just have to do this! Check your top five or six money keywords.
- Check Google Webmaster Central: Chances are you may receive a message in your webmaster account from Google if your site was affected. You can also message Google web spam team if you think your site was wrongly targeted.
- Use link tools to see your link profile: Unknowingly, this could happen so always a great idea to run periodic reports on your inbound links and see your link profile.
- Run redirect tools to see if all is well: Run through this tool to see if any havoc was caused unknowingly by developers. Using tools like pingdom or webconfs can help.
Long Term Planning
- Enterprise-wide guidelines and training: As an in-house SEO, you need to create company-wide SEO guidelines around best practices of SEO, specifically: on-page optimization and the right balance of keywords in ad copy (to stay away from appearing spammy). The other initiative is training employees on nuances of SEO but also create a case-study of companies that got hit by recent Google updates. Remember to wear your SEO educator hat.
- Financial forecast of your drop: If you got hit by any Google updates, then you'll need to create a financial forecast of how much revenue you lost due to this update. Use that as a financial case study to alert everyone in your organization on why they should be taking every SEO guideline very seriously. One way is to take your lost traffic data, keywords that got hit, revenues lost at a keyword level, and total lost revenue based on missed conversions whether it is life-time value (LTV), cost-per-acquisition (CPA), or any financial metric you use in your organization.
- Clear directions for IT/Developers: We all know this but developers need clear guidelines on what is recommended for SEO best practices. For example, do they know the difference between the SEO impact of 301s versus 302s? You may find it tough to have them listen to your suggestions, but over time build bridges by working with them.
- Page level keywords: Do users want to read content when a single keyword is repeated 10 times in four lines of text? This can happen to some content writers who get carried away with the whole “SEO thing”. You need to pay close attention to content that is getting produced. One of the best practices is provide writers with the theme of the content and not provide them keywords to start with. This way their natural writing talent can flow into the theme of the content. Keywords should flow automatically since it will be topical, focused content.
- Link monitoring: Keep a close eye on the inbound links you are acquiring. Many times you will naturally gain links through variety of sources. We have also seen some instances of link warfare, where an outsourced company is employed by your competitor and is building links that work against you without you knowing about it. Ensure you’re checking your inbound links and your overall link profile.
- On-page SEO guidelines: This is a must-have document and should include all on-page best practices like title, meta, URL naming convention, ALT tag, H level tags, internal linking, and copywriting best practices, among others.
- Work closely with your content and copy team: Again, make sure they don't go overboard. Under no circumstances should your page be stuffed with keywords. Rule of thumb: use a keyword no more than three times on a page. Ensure your content is focused and keywords will occur naturally.
- Work even more closely with your agency or consultant: Ask the right type of questions. Go beyond a weekly status call where you go over SEO performance and ask for information about your link profile, site performance benchmarks, keyword mapping, and so on. Your job is to work very closely with your agency and have full knowledge and transparency of the work they are doing.
It can be a big blow to your business if you get hit by these Google updates. But avoiding SEO shortcuts, having a plan of action, and creating a long-term plan is a solid start. Think of this as your own SEO crisis management plan.
Stuffed Animals Image Credit: Matt Cutts/Instagram