December 20, 2012
Google unleashed a ton of “hurt” for many webmasters and site owners in 2012. It seemed like every other day there was a major change to their all-important algorithm or the formula Google uses to rank content on the web. The previous year’s Panda Update and its countless follow-ups, which went after low-quality sites, wasn’t enough for Google’s engineers and execs. They next attacked “webspam” with a vengeance using the Penguin Filter and its subsequent updates.
Needless to say, the fallout and casualties were enormous. The Penguin Update proved quite severe and all encompassing for many sites. If Google found your site’s link profile to be “unnatural,” then you were left scrambling to fix the issues. To be fair, Google did send out over 700,000 emails to webmasters who use Google Webmaster Tools, warning them that their sites had too many bad, low quality links.
Google didn’t say exactly specify the problem, just noted that there were unnatural” links coming into a site which put that site in a bad light. Webmasters were left wondering just what links were in play and how to fix them. This was extremely torturous for site owners who wanted to do the right thing and in many cases, simply couldn’t figure out what they were doing wrong or what exactly Google wanted?
The simple truth is that Google won’t provide webmasters specifics, because then those webmasters and other ruthless individuals could use the information to “manipulate” Google’s rankings. Transparency has its limits, especially when obtaining top keyword rankings can mean thousands, if not millions of dollars in the bank.
Many SEO experts believe Google created a simple link profile using the “anchor text” in backlinks coming in for each site. If this profile didn’t conform to the standard norm, your site drew a Penguin Penalty.
Most sites not trying to manipulate Google’s Search Index with keyword targeted backlinks or link schemes, have a certain ratio of “keyword backlinks” with most of these via the URL or brand name of the site in the anchor text.
In addition, a natural link profile has a certain ratio of backlinks with neutral anchor text, such as “click here,” “try this site,” “click this link” and so on. Of course, there will be a certain ratio of backlinks which target your “keyword,” but if you have 60% or 70% of your total backlinks containing the same keyword you’re ranking for, then something is certainly not natural about those links. Also, in a natural link profile, most sites will only have one or two links coming from another site. If you have hundreds or even thousands of backlinks coming from certain sites, this may draw the Penguin’s attention.
The Penguin Update, which Google launched on April 24th of 2012, created complete chaos for many webmasters who have been “over-optimizing” their sites and actively building links to boost their Google rankings. Other sites and webmasters simply got caught by pure accident – their backlinks may have been placed in a blog footer, resulting in the same keyword backlink turning up in hundreds or thousands of links – drawing a red flag from Penguin and causing a major disappearing act within Google.
For a while it seemed like Penguin would destroy the web as we know it since many webmasters and site owners stopped linking out to sites, even ones they thought valuable for their visitors, simply because they feared retaliation from Google or from the site owner. Millions upon millions of links, disappeared from the web overnight. Some site owners even took Matt Cutts’ advice and simply abandoned their domain and started over with a new site or a new domain. Ideamarketers.com is one site which comes readily to mind.
Penguin had a snowball effect. Many good sites lost valuable links because other webmasters feared Google’s wrath, and either removed the links or “no-followed” them en masse. Even if a site didn’t draw a penalty from Penguin, many still suffered a major downgrade, especially if one had a small “mom and pop” operation and not a big brand name site. The true devastation caused by Penguin and Google in 2012 may never be known but the damage is huge and long-lasting.
As a result of webmaster complaints about the difficulty of contacting thousands of sites to get links removed, Google introduced a Link Disavow Tool in GWT. Now webmasters can easily disavow any bad links by creating a simple text file with one URL per line and submit it to Google via Google Webmaster Tools. This has calmed the masses somewhat and help dispel the whole notion of negative SEO.
Another major area of damage was to SEO and SEO firms. Many webmasters wrongly believed Penguin killed SEO in 2012. SEO firms no doubt lost some customers who believed SEO no longer worked and link building, even strictly white-hat linkbait, is now dead and a waste of time.
However, many SEO experts now believe (and granted they’re a little biased), webmasters and site owners shouldn’t stop building high quality links to their content. Actually, the opposite is true, they just have to keep the right “anchor text ratio” so these links appear “natural” to Penguin and Google. Depending on your competition, some suggest using the following ratios: 35% for your URL as the anchor text and other brand keywords, 20% for your main keyword, 25% for related LSI keywords (just use Google search and take note of the keywords which pop-up when you’re typing in your main keyword) and 20% for generic/neutral keywords.
Of course, you have to gradually create these quality links over a period of time and it would probably be best to keep that exact keyword ratio of 20% much lower, so as not to draw attention to one’s site. There are those pundits, however, that argue webmasters and site builders, shouldn’t be building links or optimizing their sites in the first place. Everything should happen naturally and your site, if the content is superior, will rise to the top on its own accord. Good luck with that strategy.
Keep in mind, Panda and Penguin weren’t the only Google Updates, causing headaches for webmasters and site owners this year. For some webmasters, the EMD (Exact Match Domain) Update was just as devastating. If your exact keyword domain had poor or little content – it would no longer rank high in Google for your chosen phrase.
Then there was the Top Heavy or Page Layout Update. If Google found your pages had too many links (especially ads) and too little content above the fold, these pages were dropped in the rankings. Finally, there was the Pirate or DMCA Penalty. If your site had repeated copyright violations such as DMCA takedown requests, it may have suffered in the rankings.
Forget SEO and rankings for a moment – what was even more painful for many webmasters in 2012, was the move to make Google Shopping a paid service. This caused a major upheaval. One webmaster even went so far as comparing Google to a drug dealer. First supply it free, then start charging for it. This view may be a little extreme, but the switch took away another revenue stream from many small sites and businesses who couldn’t afford the extra costs.
However, a more far-reaching change may involve Knowledge Graphs and Google’s bold move to becoming the destination, rather than a means to your destination on the web. If Google is serious in becoming a publisher, rather than just a search engine, it could spell disaster for all webmasters. This change could mean every webmaster and every site could potentially have Google as their main competition. At the very least, this new direction could present another major hurdle before a web searcher clicks through to your site.
Overall, for the embattled webmaster and online marketer, it seemed like Google really took the gloves off in 2012 and came out swinging. The fallout and devastation are real and have proved fatal for many small businesses and site owners who depended too heavily upon search traffic from Google. Most learned a very brutal lesson – never put all your eggs in the same basket – always diversify your traffic sources.
Just makes one wonder what Google has in store for 2013? Will we all be feeling more lucky next year? Don’t count on it. Even webmasters and site owners who have been left unscathed by the countless recent updates and changes, shouldn’t become too complacent and smug. While this may be just short of fear mongering, everyone has to remember that until Google is no longer the dominant search engine with control of the majority of the web’s search traffic, it can inflict as much “hurt” as it wants to deliver and your site may just be in the crosshairs next time.
All opinions and views expressed in the article above are solely those of the author – Titus Hoskins. He has been a full-time search engine marketer for the last eight years and has several sites on the web. His main site offers free marketing guides/resources/tools and is located here: www.bizwaremagic.com. He has also written a very informative online report on the Google Panda/Penguin Updates, probably worth a read if you or your site have been affected by these recent changes. You can find it here: Click Here for Free Penguin Report.