The Importance of Listening to Google

For those who’ve been in the trenches of SEO for any extended period of time you’ll know that if you just listen to what Google is telling you (and sometimes not telling you) you’ll be able to take advantage of change before it happens and avoid issues both large and small.

Those who may be just getting your feet wet or who may not be SEOs but be business owners or executives responsible for their budgets, hopefully this article will help you understand the significant research and time invested by top SEOs (hopefully you call them “employees”) into following Google’s words, deeds and even patents to insure your budget isn’t always spent keeping up with the Jones’ but working on tasks they may not even know about yet.

Before we get into some resources to help keep up or know if those working for you, let’s look at some examples of Google telling us about changes before they take hold and imagine what this could have meant had their words been heeded before they were needed.

The Panda Updates

The first Panda update visited us on February 23, 2011. The focus of this algorithm was to devalue thin content, content farms and sites with a high ad-to-content ratio. Essentially it was an attack on spam. Unfortunately there were sites that weren’t spam but looked like it and they got hit too. Even worse, there were business owners following the advice of their SEOs and churning out poor copy only to get hit when the Panda invaded.google-panda-logo

Worth noting, this wasn’t a single update. There were a total of 27 official pushes of the Panda algorithm and the “threat” that another could roll out at any time. But what’s important here isn’t the number of updates or even their impact, it’s the date they started … February 23, 2011. And now we have to ask ourselves, “Could we have seen this coming?” Let’s take a walk down memory lane. Here are some statements and actions from Google prior to the first Panda update:

  • March 15, 2010 – In an interview with Eric Enge Matt Cutts said, “If there are a large number of pages that we consider low value, then we might not crawl quite as many pages from that site.”
  • April 28 to May 3, 2010 – Google’s May Day Update focused on content quality as it related to long tail rankings. One of the bit effects was the reduction of long tail rankings for strong sites with poor quality internal pages that had previously ranked well.
  • January 28, 2011 – A Google update on January 28, 2011 targeted low quality and scraped content. As the folks at Moz aptly point out, this was a clear precursor to the Panda update less than a month later.

These are far from the only examples of clear indicators of the Panda Update but they certainly serve to prove the point, Google wasn’t hiding what they wanted prior to the update series. But let’s look at another example in: The Penguin Updates. 

The Penguin Updates

While the Penguin update technically targeted spam as a whole, it has become synonymous with link spam and for good reason, as some of the largest effects came in the form of link penalties and the complete decimation of rankings based on these. For the purpose of this article and to keep the examples on topic, let’s focus on this aspect in our examples. What we’ll be asking ourselves then is, prior to the April 24, 2012 launch of the Penguin update series (which went into everflux mode on December 10, 2014 after 6 unique updates).

Worth noting before we begin, the links the Penguin updates seemed to attack were those most subjected to manipulation, including: blog networks, comment spamming, directories, and pretty much anything that was easy to do. It seemed that when Google created an algorithm that included links, they really only wanted to include natural links. Go figure.

So let’s look at some of the warning signs. This one’s a tough one as it’s difficult to limit the times these link strategies were brought up by Google, but let’s find just a few of the clearest:

  • March 3, 2010 – On his blog, Google’s Matt Cutts asked for link spam reports. These reports were apparently in aid of, “some new algorithms and tools to tackle linkspam.” In case you’re wondering, when the head of Google webspam asks for examples of link spam for an algorithm they’re working on, there’s a good chance you’re going to see an algorithms attacking link spam.
  • March 19, 2012 – This wasn’t the first but it was yet another example of Google taking action against a blog network. This time it was BuildMyRank.com that took it on the chin and had their network brought down. 
  • Late March, 2012 – Google starts sending out what would amount to over a million messages to webmasters warning then of unnatural links. At this time the links tended to only impact the rankings of the target page but the writing was on the wall, Google was going aggressively against link schemes.

So anyone hit by the Penguin update for links couldn’t, in any way, claim ignorance. It was clear from these and many, many other statements and warnings from Google that link manipulation was an area of contention and violating Google guidelines in this area could lead to trouble.

But let’s pull into a more current example.

The Mobile Update

This may be the first time that Google has given so much formal warning of an update and who can blame then, adding a new index just for mobile is big. Who could have seen that coming?

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  • December 15, 2011 – Google announces on their blog that they have launched Googlebot-Mobile. This bot is tasked specifically with crawling to determine which sites will provide a better mobile experience.
  • August 8, 2013 – Google adds support on their PageSpeed tool for mobil,e giving webmasters information on their website and how to speed it up specific to mobile devices. With the time and effort it takes to do something like this, clearly it’s important.
  • November 18, 2014 – Google begins adding “Mobile-friendly” at the beginning of site descriptions where the pages are mobile-friendly. If none of the past signs didn’t send the signal certainly this one should, Google wants to send visitors on mobile to sites that will provide them with the best experience on their device.

So the writing was on the wall well before the announcement of the mobile index. If you didn’t have your site over by the announcement, you couldn’t say you weren’t warned. Heck, for most people, you simply need to look to your analytics to know mobile was important but Google definitely gave us signs they thoughts it was.

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