If you’re a marketer or a business owner that likes to stay on top of the latest happenings in the world of online search, chances are pretty good that you’ve read an article or two about Google’s algorithm updates. But what are they really all about, and how many updates are at play at any given time? Here’s a quick reference guide for what each update targets and how your website might be impacted.
This update is all about content. Google introduced this one back in February 2011, and updates now roll out on a regular basis. If your website has "thin content" (lacking substance and usually keyword/phrase heavy considering), you’re a potential Panda target. Informative, well-written content is what Google wants websites to have, and any deviation away from that might potentially get penalized by Panda. Don’t write for search engines, but for the person actually coming to your website. Know your audience.
This update is about link profiles. Google introduced this one back in April 2012, and updates now roll out on a regular basis. If your website has an "unnatural" linking profile you’re a potential Penguin target. In essence, Google wants websites to get linked to from other websites that are in some way related to it, substance wise. For instance, a lawyer site with links on a cooking website doesn’t make much sense, and Google doesn’t want to reward the lawyer website for having that link because it’s unnatural. Don’t buy links, participate in link exchanges, or submit your website to irrelevant website directories.
This update centers-around search queries. Google introduced this new search platform in September 2013 and it’s a part of Google’s regular algorithm now. If your website content is not written for the user, with natural, conversational language, chances are high that it is not Hummingbird friendly. In an increased effort to devalue thin, unhelpful content, Hummingbird pays attention to every word collectively in a search query, as opposed to just individual words, and rewards content that more effectively answers these queries. Don’t keyword stuff and write for search engines. Answer questions with your content and it should rank well when people ask Google specific questions pertaining to it.
This algorithm update centers-around search results as they pertain to a physical location. Google introduced this update in July 2014, and is part of Google’s regular local search algorithm. If your business is located in just one specific geographic area, you should expect to rank locally for that location, but more than likely won’t rank locally for surrounding cities that are farther away from your actual location. In essence, the farther away a web searcher is from your actual location, the less likely they’ll see your website show up within their search results. Competitor density plays a factor here - a lot of competition nearby means you’ll show up less and less the farther you are from the searcher…minimal competition means you still may have a good shot at showing up in search despite searchers getting farther away from you. Don’t expect to rank for every major city in your state unless you have physical, brick-and-mortar locations there.
Google EMD (Exact Match Domain)
This update removed the benefits of have having a (often keyword laden) exact match domain URL. Google introduced this update in September 2012, and it’s now part of the regular ranking algorithm. If your website’s URL consisted of keywords associated with your industry, AND your website was ranking solely for this reason, Google removed this loophole to focus on websites that offer quality content and don’t employ questionable ranking tactics to show up higher in the SERPs. EMDs are typically associated with spammy, low quality websites, yet these sites received an overpowered rankings boost because of EMD. In many cases, EMDs allowed even brand new sites to rank very well within a very short period of time. Don’t rely on black or grey hat methods to get your website to rank well... build your website with the user in mind, not search engines, particularly when it comes to choosing your URL.
Google Top Heavy
This update impacted websites that featured an excessive number of banner ads and other advertisements on site. Google introduced this update in January 2012. If your website featured an excessive number of ads (not a common problem for attorney websites), then it may be impacted by Top Heavy. When it comes down to designing your website, particularly an attorney website, it’s always best to avoid practices that are considered spammy in nature if overused. For attorney sites, banner advertisements are typically not the norm, so including them on your site may seem unnatural and spammy from a user standpoint.
This update cleaned up search results for phrases that were traditionally spam ridden in nature, such as the phrase “payday loans” for example. Google introduced this update in June 2013. If your business is part of an industry that traditionally has more spam sites showing up within search results, Payday’s mission was to remove those spam sites from search so that more legitimate websites rightfully showed up within the SERPs. By avoiding thin content and questionable marketing practices, your site can avoid being grouped in with the spam sites hit by Payday. If you want to rank for certain key phrases, be sure to include content about those key phrases. Questionable tactics on the backend of your website will lead to penalties, and Payday may be one of them.
This update went after sites that had copyright infringement claims filed against them, and prevented those sites from ranking well within the SERPs. Google introduced this update in August 2012. Sites with unoriginal, plagiarized content can expect Pirate to catch up with them at some point. It’s in the best interest of all websites to only put up original, well thought out content in order to avoid being hit by Pirate. Google wants to reward to original author of any given piece of content, and if it determines that your website is ripping someone else’s content off, you will more than likely be hit with penalties such as Pirate.
Unfortunately, even when some sites follow ALL of the rules, Google’s algorithm updates STILL penalize them. Google’s ranking algorithms are automated and very "black and white" in nature. If you employ white hat tactics, Google will reward you. If you employ black hat tactics, Google will catch you. If Google is unable to determine whether or not your strategy is either white or black hat, chances are high that it’s going to penalize you anyway just to be on the safe side. Regardless though, if you follow the rules and avoid vague, grey hat practices, your website should rank well in the SERPs.
If you fear that your website has been hit with a Google penalty, diagnose the problem by referencing the above mentioned list. If you’re innocent of questionable marketing tactics, Google will correct itself the next time the respective update refreshes itself. It can be an aggravating experience for sure, but rest easy knowing that playing by the rules will ultimately bring your website out on top.
For more information about building your web rankings, don’t hesitate to contact the marketing professionals at SLS Consulting. We’re here to help repair and strengthen your web presence.