Recovering from Google Updates

Google Penguin & Panda

Google released a barrage of algorithm updates in 2012.  In fact, the company rolls out updates almost every single day.  Sometimes they affect many websites, sometimes they don’t.  One thing is for sure, if you have ever made a living with your website and were affected negatively by a Google Algorithm update, you were probably desperate for answers on how to fix it.  Offering advice on recovering from any given update that may have affected a website is a daunting task however many fixes follow the same line of thought; creating good content and designing for users.


Recovering from the Google EMD Update


One of Google’s moves that caused a lot of buzz in the online community was when they altered their algorithm to go after spammy EMD (exact match domain) websites.  It is important to note the use of the word “spammy”.  The search giant did not go after sites that were simply using an EMD but rather it was a case of most sites that had an EMD also happened to be low quality websites.  The following will state why a website may have been affected as well as what to do to fix the issue.


Reason 1:  Low Quality Content

Fix:  Naturally, Google does not divulge the signals it uses to qualify a website as having quality content however they do offer tips on how consumers (i.e. the people that use their search results); can find quality content.  For example is the content on your site composed by a professional in the niche or is the content very shallow in nature?  Are there duplicate articles or posts on the website?  Would a user feel comfortable submitting sensitive or personal information to the website?  A dead giveaway for Google are sites that have frequent structural, grammar or spelling errors.  Are the posts on the site short or lacking in value?  If you are starting to answer yes to a lot of these questions, you probably have low quality content.  Start by either becoming an authority on the topics your site is about or finding someone who is to write for you.  Make useful content that people would find helpful.  Make your site an authority in its niche.  Make it look trustworthy, professional, and easy to navigate.



Reason 2:  Spammy inbound links


Fix:  Unless you are very talented at sniffing out bad links or you know of some behavior in regards to link building that you should not have been doing, it would be a good idea to have a link audit performed of your inbound link profile.  There are a variety of companies on the web that will perform this service for you.  If you decide to go it alone, you can use one of the many tools available for checking backlinks.

Google’s Disavow Links Tool: If you have identified links that you know are causing your website to fall in the SERP’s, you can use Google’s new disavow links tool.  You must first download a list of the links from your website and create a file from it to upload to Google.  Be sure that only links you want Google to ignore are contained in the list.  It does take some time for the information to be processed by Google and it is also incorporated into their index.


Examples include:

SEMoz Open Site Explorer

Ahrefs site explorer

Majestic site explorer


Once you have identified bad backlinks, stop at nothing to get them taken down.  This is a primary reason that EMD’s were suffering after the update.  Backlinks are still a strong factor in the formula used to rank websites.


There are also other things you should be doing to recover your site.  Once you have the above tasks squared away, engage in an aggressive (and white hat) link building campaign.  Add new content on a regular basis such as once or twice a week.  A blog is a great way to do this.  Become active in social media if you have not already.  Put sharing buttons on your blog post or on your web pages.  Get visitors to share your content by making it useful and informative.  Overall, the primary goal in recovering from the EMD update is to make a website that is designed for users.  Think about what people will find useful and do that.  Avoid designing and generating content for web crawlers.


Recovering from the Penguin Update


The web spam update (code named Penguin) was released on April 24th 2012.  This highly anticipated update was targeted at web spam and websites that the company felt was violating its quality guidelines.  Examples included keyword stuffing, link spam, and the spinning of content.


Reason 1:  Spun Content


Fix:  Problems with poorly produced content are among the easiest (although the most tedious) to fix.  If the content on your website has been spun using one of the many article spinners out there, delete it and start from scratch.  Write original content or have someone else write it.  Make sure it is grammatically correct, free from spelling errors, and above all else, make sure it is actually useful to the audience it is intended for.


Reason 2:  Keyword stuffing


Fix:  It is amazing to still see website owners doing this because it is one of the most easily recognized tactics for manipulating search results.  If you have tons of irrelevant keywords placed in meta tags, title tags or even in web page copy, take them out.  Google does not even use the meta keywords tag in its ranking algorithm (although other engines may).  Use only the keywords that are relevant to the content on the page.


Reason 3:  Unusual link patterns


Fix:  If you have links on your website with anchor text that has nothing to do with the content of the article within which they have been placed, augment or remove them.  The ideal model is to place links inside of a body of text that have relevance to the content that the user is reading.


Reason 4:  Over optimization penalty


Fix:  This can take many forms however a very interesting post on SEOMoz talks about a website being penalized for over optimization of anchor text.  The site in question was very well built in terms of SEO with lots of natural backlinks, lots of social signals and original, well written content.  Once the owner went a little deeper, he realized that 10% of his backlinks were coming from an old blog he had created and the anchor text was all the same keyword phrase.  So, if you think you have been affected by the Penguin update and cannot find any logical explanation as to why, try looking closer at your backlink profile.  Specifically, look for the anchor text that is used for inbound links to your site.  If you have an abnormally large amount of anchor text that is targeting the same keyword phrase (in proportion to your entire profile), chances are this is why you are having a problem.  If you have control over these links, change the text and resubmit your site to Google to have it crawled.  If you don’t have direct control, try and get them taken down using a service or contacting webmasters yourself to try and get them removed or changed.


Reason 5:  Cloaking


Fix:  While there used to be legitimate uses for cloaking, most webmasters use it as a spamdexing technique.  If you are using this technique, simply stop doing it and resubmit your site to Google for indexing.


The Penguin update encompassed a lot of targets deemed web spam by Google.  Many of the fixes are easy and controllable by webmasters.  Some, namely inbound links, are more difficult to get rid of.  If you notice one or more of the elements above being a part of your strategy, this may be the reason your site was affected by the update.  Changing the way you do things and resubmitting your site to Google should fix the issue.  Keep in mind that even after you change things and have the site re-crawled, it may take some time (in some cases a few months) before you see any positive results from your efforts.


Recovering from the Panda Update


The Panda update was Google’s response to “shallow content” or content that is not necessarily spam but is not that good either.  After the Caffeine update, Google’s index filled up with fresh content that fell into this category.  So results were now better for users but not as good as they could be.  Sites affected were those with small amounts of content compared with advertisements on the page, duplicate content and high ad ratios.  Check out this Q & A with Google’s top engineers on the Panda Update.


Reason 1:  Shallow content


Fix:  Take a look at your web pages and evaluate the percentage of structural design elements (i.e. menus, images, ads, etc) to the amount of actual words on the page that someone might find useful.  If there are far more design elements than actual content, you should work to reduce this imbalance.  You can do this by writing more content for the page.  If you can’t come up with more content, perhaps you should think about if the page is really necessary in the first place.


Reason 2: Too many ads on page


Fix:  We all know that websites need to make money and it is fine to have some ads on a web page.  If you have way to many ads (so much so that it makes it hard to actually find the content on the page) then you should remove some of them.


Reason 3:  Duplicate content (internal)


Fix:  Sometimes duplicate content is created inadvertently.  You can use Google Webmaster Tools to identify pages that have duplicate title tags or meta descriptions.  This is not always an indication that those pages have the same content however it will get you started.  Remove duplicate content from your site.  You can also use third party tools such as Screaming Frog to crawl your site and look for these kinds of problems.  Using a canonical redirect on the page that is meant to be the one indexed can also help with these issues.


Reason 4:  Duplicate content (external)


Fix:  If you syndicate your content or simply post the same thing in multiple areas of the internet you can begin to have issues.  This can be fixed by diluting external duplicate content that may be floating around.  Create more unique content for your website and perhaps stop sharing the same thing on other web properties.


Many of the Google updates that have taken place revolve around the same central issue; content.  Google works on a daily basis to balance its own needs with those of advertisers and those that use its service for free.  Its primary concern most of the time is the everyday users and whether or not they are getting high quality content in response to their queries.  Google has released hundreds of updates over the past year and if your site has been affected at all, you should first take a look at how your content is structured.  If that seems fine, also take a look at the links leading to your site and how those are structured.  Many of the changes that Google makes are in direct response to what many people are doing to game the system.


Have you been affected by an update recently or in the past?  What steps did you take to recover from it?  Was the process quick or did it take a while?


TCA Blog Chat – Live on Google Hangout – Recovering from Google Updates

TCA is hosting a live event on Hangout – Monday January 14, 2013 from 7:00 – 8:30pm.  If you would like to attend, sign up here:

Program Agenda

  • Segment 1: What did Google Update? We’ll review the biggest, most recent Google updates and what exactly was the impact/ change.
  • Segment 2: How to Recover from Google Updates? Let’s discuss the real ways you can recover from these changes.
  • Segment 3: Q&A/ Your Site: Our guest panelists will take your questions and also look at your site live to make key recommendations.

See you at the hangout!

Register here: TCA Blog Chat: Recovering from Google Updates

Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.

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