With the recent Penguin update that came down a few weeks ago from Google, a lot of site owners are wondering what they can do to recover from a search engine penalty. We know that Penguin was designed to target webspam tactics (Panda was more about content quality), and while glaring black hat tactics like keyword stuffing are easy to spot and fix, it’s not always as simple to find the gray hat SEO tactics that might be contributing (or will with subsequent updates) to a search engine penalty. Many DIY SEO site owners run afoul of the Google Webmaster Guidelines simply because they don’t realize they are doing anything wrong.
If your site has managed to escape unscathed by a Google update so far, don’t assume that you’re free and clear forever. Each search engine update gets a little better at catching and flagging sites that are in violation of the Webmaster Guidelines. Before you find yourself in emergency mode because your organic traffic was cut in half due to a penalty, here are 5 things every site owner can do to protect their website and ensure that future updates will only help their site perform better in the search engines:
1. Forget About Keyword Density
There is no “right” number of times you should use a keyword in any given piece of content. Forget every piece of advice you’ve ever heard about keyword density (2%, 6%, use each keyword at least three times!) and just focus on writing great content. One of the few hard and fast rules of SEO is that content should always be written for the human reader first, the search engines second. Believe it or not, a well-written piece of content will partially optimize itself because the topic naturally encourages you to use various keywords. You never want to force a keyword into the content to meet some keyword count quota – it’s almost always going to negatively impact the usability of your content. Of course you want to optimize your content for SEO, but worry about targeting keywords AFTER you’ve written the content. You can go back and tweak the post to be a little more SEO friendly in the revision round.
2. Diversify Your Anchor Text
A lot of SEO experts are hypothesizing that exact match anchor text might have been a big flag for the Penguin update. It’s important to diversify your anchor text so the search engines don’t have any reason to suspect that you might be trying to manipulate the SERPs. Branded keywords are probably going to make up a large percentage of your anchor text portfolio, but you don’t want to rely too heavily on a short list of targeted keywords (and please don’t use CLICK HERE as anchor text; it has no SEO value) for your anchor text. Much like with optimizing your content, there is no “right” number of times to use a particular keyword or keyword phrase as your anchor text.
3. Remove Questionable Links From Your Link Portfolio
In the weeks before Penguin, Google started sending out notifications to many site owners warning them about “unnatural links” in their link portfolio. These could be link exchanges, paid links, unrelated links, links from splogs and low quality directories and so forth. If there are any links in your link portfolio that might catch the eye of Google for the wrong reasons, it’s best to do away with them now so you don’t have to worry about it later. Keep in mind that a few “bad” links aren’t going to destroy your SEO, especially if the vast majority of your link portfolio is full of great links. You can’t control who links to you, which has made many site owners worry about the ramifications of negative SEO (a competitor would purposely link from dangerous sites to you to hurt your site). It’s when you have an okay link portfolio or shady SEO past that you need to worry about scrubbing your link portfolio as quickly and effectively as you can.
Some SEO experts have also hypothesized that sites might feel a trickledown effect via their link portfolio. Even if your site wasn’t hit by Penguin, if a lot of the sites linking to yours were those poor quality sites Google penalized, links from those sites become pretty much useless to your SEO. Your site may have escaped unharmed, but your link portfolio took a big hit.
4. Analyze the Value and Quality of Your Content
Ever since the first Panda update last year, just about every Google update since then has been focused on quality, especially content quality. It’s hard to hold a mirror up to our own efforts sometimes, but take a good hard look at your content. Where is there room for improvement? Are there any thin pages that you could combine in order to make a strong page with a great user experience? Are there pages you should just delete entirely? Put yourself in the shoes of your customer – would you want to buy from your brand? Is your content compelling and user driven or is it just a bunch of company mumbo jumbo and ego?
If you haven’t already, now is the time to launch a company blog (or up the number of posts you have going live each week.) Onsite SEO and link building are crucial to long term SEO success, but content is really what is going to propel your brand forward. The more quality content you have built around your website the better you look in the eyes of the search engines. It gives your customers a reason to interact with your brand (and link to your site!), builds your online authority and helps grow your overall online presence.
5. Imagine There are No Search Engines
Speaking of overall online presences (and this is going to sound strange coming from an SEO professional), treat your online marketing like there were no search engines. It’s important to diversify your traffic sources so your entire online livelihood isn’t based on the mercy of the search engines. If Google didn’t exist, what other online activities would you invest into connect with your audience? Build up these other channels so that if your site is impacted by an update, you can survive until you figure out and fix the problem. Google doesn’t owe you anything, and even though they want site owners to do a good job with their SEO (it helps clean up the SERPs, which gives Google a better product) they aren’t obligated to make sure your site survives. It’s up to you to learn the rules of the online world and give your website the best chance at online success!
There are many, many things a site owner could so with their SEO that could trigger a penalty from Google. But these are 5 things a site owner can (and should) do to not only protect their sites from future updates, but actually benefit from them!
Nick Stamoulis is the President of Brick Marketing, a Boston SEO services agency. With over 12 years of industry experience, Nick Stamoulis shares his knowledge by offering SEO training and consulting sessions and by publishing the Brick Marketing SEO Newsletter, read by over 150,000 opt-in subscribers. Contact Nick Stamoulis at 781-999-1222 or firstname.lastname@example.org