For the average website owner, getting into trouble with Google’s organic search algorithm can happen accidentally. Between optimization, architecture, getting links and structuring data, it’s easy to make a misstep or three. Simple mistakes can unwittingly put sites at risk for ranking loss, manual penalties, and algorithmic filters.
With changes that consistently tighten Google’s “quality” belt, there are inevitably winners and losers. The slap-down nature of algorithm updates are intended to improve the quality of search results, but they’ve also created a landscape where it’s entirely possible to mess up, even while trying to do things right.
Structured data penalties, recently invigorated after Google’s recent Quality Update, offer slightly newer opportunities to enter the danger zone – cue the Kenny Loggins.
Targeting marked-up pages that include invisible, misleading or irrelevant content makes sense on Google’s part, but the notion of relevance does create some gray area of subjectivity. Moreover, the specificity of the guidelines surrounding ratings and reviews on individual products, rather than lists or categories, is such a precise detail that it would be easy to inadvertently implement them on disqualified pages.
While understanding the nuance of the guidelines is the first line of protection, a larger reflection on the purpose of structured markup provides an even clearer directive. Principally, consider how it adds to the user experience in a way that is more significant than the visual effect or SEO value.
Certain markups should always be about making it easier to navigate to a place or a product on the site directly from search. But it’s only of value when this is the exact information a user intended to get. Reviews and ratings applied to categories does not provide the granular level of feedback a searcher may be expecting. In any situation, if the markup only makes it easier for a user to get to the wrong information, that’s when there is a problem.
Individual Page Value
There are so many ways page creation and optimization can go wrong, putting a site at risk for Panda problems. New URLs created by search parameters, internal search results, and quick views can get cached inflating a site’s index with inauthentic, low-value pages. The addition of new pages to provide destinations for searchers can be perceived as low quality if they are lacking in distinct user value.
Legitimate features like coupon codes, maps, listings and definitions can be considered thin by the succinct nature of the information presented. These innocuous and useful resources can be perceived as insubstantial, particularly when they comprise a considerable portion of the site’s entire composition. In all these cases, the offending behavior may be a result of small cracks an SEO foundation, rather than a willful attempt at manipulation.
Link building has become a minefield. Old, misbegotten links can fester. An overabundance of keyword anchor text, purposeful or not, can incur wrath. Directory placement, certain guest blogs, syndication and a number of once-popular – and unfortunately, still available – tactics can cause a site’s rankings to plummet. Then comes the difficult process of a reconsideration request in manual cases or the painful limbo of waiting between Penguin rollouts.
While these refreshes may eventually be integrated into the standard algorithm, for now they remain few and far between. Getting in bed with the wrong link provider or even failing to keep a closely monitored profile can result in bad links that can pop up like weeds in a garden. And just like weeds, if enough of them are allowed to invade, they can choke out the growth you’ve carefully cultivated.
Scrutiny is Safety
Even if current iterations of Panda and Penguin are causing less widespread devastation than in the past, continuing data refreshes can still hurt. Minor oversights in the areas of links, markup or content errors can become ticking time bombs.
If the core of your SEO strategy is users – rather than search engines and creating quality content, building relationships and leveraging multiple channels for brand visibility – you’re already on the right course.
But if good intentions can pave the way to hell, even the best SEO intentions can take a wrong turn. Having people on your team who are monitoring the evolution of search engine changes and can apply that insight as it relates to all areas of planning and implementation is crucial. When it comes to search the big picture perspective and understanding the granular details become equally important for creating a safe and thriving strategy.