Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Penguin Impact and Reviewing Your Website

So there’s been a lot of talk in the industry recently about the recent Panda Update and Google’s new Algorithm change, Penguin. And having seen that this has been live since the 24th April now is a good time to review where you sit in the rankings and if there has been any impact to your rankings following this change.
Having a look at your core keywords have you noticed any changes to your rankings? Are these changes large or small? Following the go live of both Panda 3.5 and Penguin there seem to be a large number of sites which have seen a couple of place changes for their keywords, both increases of a couple of places and drops of the same. However, some sites, although only a small amount, have seen some large drops in their rankings with many of their core keywords.
So what are the sorts of things which we are noticing that the Penguin update is frowning upon and what things are we finding are working?  As we know Panda is about quality but Penguin is more about stamping out of manipulative over optimization of sites.
As mentioned previously there are some things which are clearly against the Google Website Guidelines and these seem to be some of the things which Penguin is cracking down on. This is great as it means Google themselves are using the guidelines as a measure (and so these mean something for webmasters), but I do wonder why they’ve not done this before as these guidelines have been around for ages!
Here is a sample of the things which we’ve noticed that might be causing issues for your site if you’ve been hit by Penguin.
Hidden text
An example of hidden text is having white text on a white background. This sounds really old school but we’ve seen sites with this on recently. This is frowned upon because it means you are showing things to Google to get them to rank you which your visitors can’t see. Remember;  your website is for your visitors and not for Google as your visitors are the one’s who spend money.
Cloaking or Sneaky Redirects
This happens when you have content in your code which is not presented to a browser.  This can be done by IP serving content specifically to Google.
Keyword Stuffing
This is where you’ve used your keywords too many times on a page. Content should read naturally and not have the feeling that keywords have been shoe-horned into the page to artificially manufacturer relevancy or even links. They way to review this is to make sure that content reads well out loud and doesn’t sound artificial.
The other thing to do is to consider if a link in your content is actually a link that someone would follow. If you just link your keyword and main service pages changes are people won’t follow it. However, linking to a related blog which you mention in your content or to your contact form (“if you want more information about this Contact us now”) is a good idea as these links are things people are likely to use. Keyword stuffing can also be seen as having a large footer at the bottom of pages as these can also be seen as false methods of promoting your content.
Now is also a good time to review your on page optimization. Keyword Spam is also something which can be seen in over manipulated Title Tags (with the same keyword in multiple times). Your meta descriptions can also have this over use of keywords so review these too. Remember your meta descriptions are seen by potential customers in the SERPs and so making sure that these are well written and compelling is important.  Some time ago Google also announced that they are no longer using the Keywords Meta tag to define what pages are about and now that Penguin is live this could also be seen as something which stuffs keywords onto a page to influence the rankings. Look at your keywords tag and consider what message this is sending, this could be perceived as a list of keywords and what’s more a list of very similar keywords… Personally I’d be removing these from your site now.
Spun content is also an issue as it is something which can be seen as low quality and is something which Panda picked up on. However, with Penguin now live, this is also something which could be considered spam.  Make sure that all of your content is useful for visitors and delivers something unique to their experience, rather than having multiple pages which are very similar and are designed to make a keyword rank and create links to another page or series of pages.
Back links
This becomes an issues if your back link profile contains links from link schemes, blog networks or site wide links from other sites. Paying more attention to your back links is important as Google have also been emailing people about “unnatural” links as Stu mentioned in his blog last week.
Keep an eye on your back link profile and check Google Webmaster Tools to make sure that you have not received a message from them about these links.
Now, there has been a lot of talk about sites which should have been hit by Penguin and weren’t, including one site which Matt Cutts used as an example of web spam which doesn’t appear to have been penalized. There are also sites out there who aren’t doing things wrong but have been hit and found their rankings have gone.
So, if you feel that your site has been penalized unfairly or if you have corrected the issues you think were a problem then Google has a form to provide feedback with which can be found here.  One note on this though is that the Penguin update is an algorithm change so it’s an automated process rather than something which has been manually reviewed so be aware that you might not see the results from this that you would like.
My key tip post the launch of Google’s Penguin update is to make sure that you are reviewing how you are presenting information on your website including the optimization and to make sure you aren’t link building using any techniques which Google frowns upon.
I’m quite sure that like Panda, the Penguin update is going to be a regularly applied set of rules that Google will refine and update on regular intervals so watch this space for the next Penguin update. 

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Google: Actually, Meta Tags Do Matter

Especially the Meta Description Tag :

Google posted a new Webmaster Help video from Matt Cutts today. The question at hand this time is: How much time should I spend on meta tags, and which ones matter?
This one is also significant because Cutts submitted the question himself. That means, he felt this was an important enough issue, that even though it wasn’t submitted it by a user, needed to be addressed. 
Google posted a new Webmaster Help video from Matt Cutts today. The question at hand this time is: How much time should I spend on meta tags, and which ones matter? 

This one is also significant because Cutts submitted the question himself. That means, he felt this was an important enough issue, that even though it wasn’t submitted it by a user, needed to be addressed. 

“So the conventional wisdom a few years ago was that meta tags mattered a whole lot,” says Cutts. “You really had to tweak them and spent a lot of time to get your keywords right, and did you have a space, or a comma between your keywords, and all that kind of stuff. And we’ve mostly evolved past that, but the pendulum might have gone a little bit too far in the other direction, because a lot of people sometimes say, don’t think at all about meta tags. Don’t spend any time whatsoever on them, and so let me give you a more nuanced view.”

“You shouldn’t spend any time on the meta keywords tag,” he says. “We don’t use it. I’m not aware of any major search engine that uses it these days. It’s a place that people don’t really see when they load the browser, and so a lot of webmasters just keyword stuff there, and so it’s really not all that helpful. So we don’t use meta keywords at all.”

This is actually not the first time Cutts has posted a video about this topic. There was one from several years ago, where he basically said the same thing about the keywords meta tag. At the time, Google talked about how it used the description meta tag, as well as the meta tags “google,” “robots,” “verify-1,” “content type,” and “refresh”. 

Google: Actually, Meta Tags Do Matter
Google: Actually, Meta Tags Do Matter
Here’s a chart from Google Webmaster Tools, which breaks down how Google understands different meta tags:  

“But we do use the meta description tag,” Cutts continues in the new video. “The meta description is really handy, because if we don’t know what would make a good snippet, and you have something in the meta description tag that would basically give a pretty good answer–maybe it matches what the user typed in or something along those lines, then we do reserve the right to show that meta description tag as the snippet. So we can either show the snippet that might be the keyword in context on the page or the meta description.”

“Now, if the meta description is really well written and really compelling, then a person who sees it might click through more often,” he says. “So if you’re a good SEO, someone who is paying attention to conversion and not just rankings on trophy phrases, then you might want to pay some attention to testing different meta descriptions that might result in more click through and possibly more conversions. So don’t do anything deceptive, like you say you’re about apples when you’re really about red widgets that are completely unrelated to apples. But if you have a good and a compelling meta description, that can be handy.”

“There are a lot of other meta tags,” he says. “I think in the metadata for this video, we can link to a really good page of documentation that we had, that sort of talks about which stuff we pay attention to and which stuff we don’t pay attention to. But at a 50,000-foot level, don’t pay attention to the keywords meta tag. But the description meta tag is worth paying attention to.”

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Google’s Algorithm Changes: History of Search

An Interesting Chronology Of The Search Giants's Algorithm Changes Over Time...

No doubt Google has been one of the most influential characters on the internet and the search giant has changed the way we view the world and interact with it. When Google was first introduced in 1998 things looked a lot different. Their endless pursuits in refining search has given way to endless changes to their algorithm.
From 1998 to present there has been over 500 changes and this infographic attempts to reveal some of the major changes and milestone alteration. It’s an awful lot of information, but it may make sense to some of you.

Take a look:

Google’s Algorithm Changes: History of Search
Google’s Algorithm Changes: History of Search

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