Q and A: What steps can I take to recover from Google Panda / Penguin?

QuestionHi Kalena

I work for an online retail site and our company was hit really hard by Google Panda and then the ongoing Google Penguin algorithm updates.

We haven’t used any obvious spam tactics and we don’t use link farms, but a lot of our content is auto generated based on our product database and it is also duplicated on the sites belonging to some of our distribution partners. For example, we sell toys and promotional gifts made in China and these categories and product descriptions are replicated on our partner sites.

Two years ago, we hired a SEO firm to optimize our blog and write some articles for us that integrate links to our products. I think all these things have contributed to us getting wiped off Google search results after the Panda and Penguin updates. From what I’ve read, we may be guilty of over-optimization. Is this right?

Our traffic from search engines is down by at least 40 percent and has stayed that way for the past 6 months. What steps can we take to get back in Google’s good books? This is really hurting us.

Thank you in advance,
Tim

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Hello Tim

I started to answer this and then realized that Jill Whalen has already written an excellent article on this very subject. I believe it answers all your questions, including specific problems that have likely contributed to losses of organic Google traffic for many sites in the past year.

Please go have a read of  Jill’s article: 18 SEO Killers You Must Clean Up and Avoid for 2013 and all the best!

Kalena
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Q and A: Is it good SEO practice to cross link related sites in the footer?

QuestionHello Kalena

I took your SEO classes at Search Engine College a while back. I’m hoping you might be able to help me with a question that I really don’t know the answer to.

I now work at an advertising agency and we have various clients…some we work on their SEO and some we don’t.

One of our client’s websites [link removed] has their sister companies listed on the bottom of the site with links pointing to each. All the companies are related and interlinked in the same way. They were told by their “SEO” company that having the companies linked is not a good SEO move.

I would think that since these would be quality links that it is good practice to link them.

Can you please weigh in on this?

Thanks
Lena

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Hi Lena

Actually, I can see where their SEO’s concern lies. All of the sister sites are linked together in the footer, in a kind of feedback loop. This can be misinterpreted by Google to be a mini link farm of sorts.

Please read Google’s guidelines about links and you’ll understand what I mean. They particularly highlight this issue:

“Here are a few common examples of unnatural links that violate our guidelines… Widely distributed links in the footers of various sites…”

By all means link to the sister sites, but use the *rel: no-follow* tag on those links so that no link value is attributed to them. That should prevent Google from misinterpreting the link intention.

Hope this helps!

Kalena
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Can competitors harm your Google ranking?

My little tribute to the Beastie Boys

A client and I were Skyping this week and the topic inevitably turned to Google Penguin and the impending doom of link building *tactics*.

This particular client has been having issues with rogue affiliates setting up fake link networks in order to boost their sales for my client’s products. Despite repeated warnings and/or promises to clean up their act, some of these affiliates have continued using dodgy practices for years, managing somehow to avoid Panda, Panda II and even Panda III. But their house of cards came tumbling down with the implementation of Penguin and with it went over 30 percent of my client’s traffic.

The problem is that, ultimately, my client has NO CONTROL over the tactics used by persons linking to their site. If they spot dodgy tactics being used, my client can alert or even ban the offending affiliate, but what of all the affiliates spamming under the radar? And these are sites supposedly in favor of my client staying in business. Imagine if they were direct competitors? All the education in the world isn’t going to stop spammers using whatever tactics they can if they are rewarded for those tactics in cold hard cash. And who can blame them?

This is inherently the problem I have with Google at the moment. They still claim it isn’t possible for spammers to hurt innocent sites using SEO spam but guess what? There are many, many examples of exactly that happening. Heck, this guy is offering a $10,000 reward to find the persons responsible for link bombing his site. Do you think he’d offer cash if the issue wasn’t crippling his business? There are even public projects set up encouraging people to use SEO spam in order to influence the Google SERPs in a positive or negative way for political purposes. And what about super competitive industries like the PPCs – porn, pills and casinos? I can assure you that competitor sabotage is alive and well and flying business class.

Now I applaud that Google are concerned enough about the issue to roll out updates like Penguin to try and punish persons using obvious SEO spam. Comment spam is evil! they warn. Artificial backlinks are evil! they say. Use of these tactics is a violation of our guidelines! But then they say don’t fret if others build backlinks to your site. Don’t worry too much. Just concentrate on making your site the best that it can be.

Why oh why do they keep insisting that competitors can’t harm your site using those same methods? Asked the question, Can competitors harm your ranking?, this was Google’s reply:

Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. If you’re concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question. Google aggregates and organizes information published on the web; we don’t control the content of these pages.

I look at these posts and this is what I’m hearing:

“Don’t be evil. Don’t do this, this or this. Doesn’t matter if your competitor tries that, they can’t hurt you. Oh look at these naughty spammers ruining your SERPs. We’ve got an update to fix that. What? Your legitimate site was smacked down? Not our problem. Don’t be evil.”

Well Google may not want to admit it but here it is: Can competitors harm your Google ranking? You bet they can.

 

 

 

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Q and A: Why am I getting traffic from porn sites?

QuestionHi Kalena

I run a website about SEO. I use Google Analytics to check some parameters in particular traffic sources.

Once I noticed that a big part of traffic came from a porno website. Does it mean it’s some kind of “black hat” technology and someone try to discredit my website? And what is your advice about how to avoid it?

Thank you
Valentine

Hi Valentine

In my experience, huge amounts of traffic from dodgy or unrelated sites is generally related to AdSense, fraudulent clicks and/or site scraping.

Do you run AdWords or Yahoo Search Marketing pay per click campaigns for your site? If you do and if you’ve opted into their Content Networks, your ads may appear on websites that participate in AdSense or the Yahoo Publisher Network. Those networks are designed to show your ads on pages that contain content that is relevant (contextual advertising), but some dodgy publishers can switch their content once their participation is approved, resulting in a temporary display of ads on pages containing adult content, (which is generally banned in the AdSense program), or other unsuitable content.

Clicks you receive on your ads on such sites are rarely authentic. They are more likely fraudulent clicks by the site owner or persons employed by the site owner to falsely inflate their AdSense traffic and earnings. The best ways to avoid PPC traffic from such sites include:

1) Making sure your target PPC terms are laser focused to your product/service.

2) Opting out of Content Networks to avoid your ads being shown on sites you don’t approve of.

3) Using negative keywords such as “-free”, “-best” etc. to ensure your ads aren’t shown for unrelated or inappropriate searches.

4) Monitor your traffic and add any dodgy domains to your PPC campaign’s URL Exclusion list to ensure your ads are no longer shown on those sites.

Another common reason for an influx of traffic from dodgy sites is site scraping. This is where site owners deploy software that trawls the web and scrapes legitimate content from other websites as a way of creating lazy content for their own sites. Usually this content is combined in a haphazard, unreadable way that is designed to fool search engine robots but not appealing to users at all.

Domainers often employ this tactic as a fast way to populate hundreds of domains with fake content so they can throw AdSense code up and try to earn money via PPC clicks. Or they might simply use it to try to gain fast rankings for competitive keywords and populate the fake pages with links to products where they earn an affiliate commission per sale.

Often you’ll find your site content has been scraped, complete with internal links to your pages, which is why you’ll see referrals from the site in your analytics. I’ve ranted about site scrapers before and even managed to get my own back on occasion, but short of sending site scrapers a *cease and desist* email, there’s not much you can do about them.

So while the techniques used to link to you may well be black hat, it’s doubtful any of them were employed to deliberately discredit your web site.

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Thank you Derek Powazek, but…

So last week, Derek, you decided that Search Engine Optimization ( SEO ) was worthless and persons who perform SEO were evildoers.

Not surprisingly, the SEO industry was outraged. Some bared their teeth and responded in kind. Others tried to reason with you and calmly deconstruct your criticisms.  All of us were offended on some level and felt the need to defend the industry, me included.

This week, you seem to have had second thoughts about your rant and you’ve posted an apology of sorts on your blog. This is to be commended Derek, thank you and I’m pleased you finally seem to understand why you were wrong to isolate an industry. BUT, you tarnish the apology by accusing us of being too defensive and not doing enough to clean up the industry.

You say:

“I ask the good SEOs: What are you doing to clean up your industry? Perhaps if you did more, you wouldn’t have to endure the regular bleats of frustration from people like me.”

As Shari Thurow and Jill Whalen state in the comment thread, we write articles. We speak at conferences. We publish blogs and newsletters that educate webmasters about *good* SEO.

I run this (unpaid) agony aunt column answering newbie questions about anything search engine related. My latest post even warns a reader against taking up the services of a scammer (calling himself an SEO) claiming to be able to put a site onto the first page of Google within 24 hours.

I tutor students in 44 countries in SEO via an online educational institution that I founded specifically to educate confused webmasters. And yes, web design, usability and copywriting are featured as key components.

In other words, we’re doing our best.

Derek, you end your *apology* with:

“If someone tells you that your hair is green, the only reason to get defensive is if it’s true.”

Another reason to come to the defense of our industry is when it is wrongly labelled. If we didn’t care about our industry’s reputation we wouldn’t bother to try and correct assumptions and stop the spread of misinformation, right?

As one commenter stated in the *apology* thread,  we felt we needed to clean up YOUR view of the SEO practitioners out there so it didn’t propagate the myth that SEO is evil. It’s just another way we’re trying to clean up our industry as a whole, as you are suggesting.

What more would you have us do?

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