Ranking factors SEO tips

Penguin 4.0 website backlinks penalty

The SEO community is scrambling after Google confirmed it’s release of the long awaited ‘bad links’ update – Penguin 4.0. Since the beginning of September many website rankings have crashed.

Overnight, some websites descended from page one for search terms to (in some cases) down around page 50. The impact of this will force some operators out of business – including quite a number of shonky SEO providers. It’s that serious!

So what is it and how could you be affected?

Penguin 4.0 origins

The first release of Penguin occurred in 2012 and was designed to crackdown on website owners buying links pointing back to their site in order to achieve better Google rankings. Basically, people were buying a whole stack of links from link farms to artificially inflate the popularity of their site. The initial Penguin update took aim directly at these obvious websites and followed those links (courtesy of Googlebot) through the web – applying penalties as they identified associated domains.

If your website has recently experienced what in your opinion is a massive drop you can pretty much assume you’ve got some dodgy sites linking back to yours. A lot of people got away with it the first time, but at version 4.0 you can assume that Google are getting a lot better at sniffing out sites attempting to ‘game’ the system.

The quest for higher PageRank

The whole ‘buying links’ frenzy started when SEO operators thought they could outsmart the Google PageRank algorithm. In short, the higher the number of high quality links from web pages with higher PageRank resulted in higher rankings on Google search results. The first release of Penguin put a stop to that – plugging a hole basically.

But SEO operators continued to devise sneaky tactics to get around Penguin. The link farms / networks morphed into low quality publishing platforms, but Google started to work this out too. So here we are today – Penguin 4.0.

You are probably reading this because your site has tanked, or you know sites that have tanked and hoping you aren’t next.

What to do now? Disavow, disavow, disavow!

There is a way out of this mess:

  • Locate websites linking to yours
  • Determine which ones are link farms / networks
  • Let Google know you aren’t responsible for the dodgy inbound links.

Let me know if you need a hand with this, otherwise you can Google all of the information you need to know about disavowing links.

Follow best practice

If you want a website to be found on Google it’s pretty simple:

  • Create ‘sharable’ content for your website people will want to see
  • Make sure your content is structured and nested under the appropriate titles and headings
  • Reach out to other websites that complement what you are doing and hopefully get them to link from their website to yours
  • Share your content on social media

If you have great content you may not even need to reach out for links – that’s the ideal!

Just DON’T try gaming Google, because in the end you WILL lose. Penguin 4.0 should have taught you that by now.

Ranking factors

Publish or perish – oops I lost my ranking!

My last blog post on this site was way back on 11 May 2015 (it’s now 2 Sep). The thing is I’ve been busy working with clients, too busy to work on my own site. So I thought it was time to give this blog some much needed TLC. As part of general maintenance I went into Google Console and truth was looking straight back at me – publish or perish!

Because I hadn’t added anything to this blog for four months my rankings had really tanked. For key terms where I did rank on page one I was down on page three. For some they had disappeared completely. But it really didn’t surprise me. You see, I know the value Google places on producing fresh, quality content. And because I hadn’t posted anything recently I KNEW my rankings would take a hit. So to breathe life back into this site I need a plan – one that my readers can also use to maintain website rankings.

Publish or perish action plan

Many years ago I learnt first aid. My most vivid recollection of this training was when we were being taught about Actions to  Preserve Life. Check pulse. If no pulse perform CPR. Maintain external cardiac compressions until help arrives. A website is much the same as any living breathing organism and requires the same intensive care if left for dead. So how to triage a dying website?

Actions to Preserve Websites

  • Check that search engines can crawl the site
  • Check your site for low-quality back links
  • Update framework themes and plugins to the latest versions (especially if you are using WordPress)
  • Write some content – like I’m doing right now. Be sure that it’s detailed and not too thin (Google likes at least three hundred words of content
  • Use the keyword you want to rank for in the title, headings and body content (but avoid keyword stuffing)
  • Share that content  – via social media but also ask other websites to link to your content
  • Write some more content – and repeat.

It’s not rocket science. It’s not even SEO. It’s about providing users with great, up-to-date content, and maintaining a healthy website. If you view it this way you won’t be trying to optimise your website for the wrong reasons. You will actually be providing value (in this case what I hope you find helpful advice) to user who want want you have, be it a product or service.

So publish or perish – it really comes down to putting in the effort. Content is King. And great content trumps average content. Keep that in mind at all times when thinking about your website. Ask yourself daily, what information can I share today that nobody else can. That’s how you set yourself apart. So do it now!

Ranking factors

Google sends mobility warning to Webmasters

Make your website mobile friendly or suffer the consequences. That’s the latest signal from Google as rumour circulates within the SEO community of an impending algorithm update to tackle website mobility issues.

In mid January 2015 it was reported that Google had commenced sending mobility warnings to Web masters. We in the SEO community believe this is a shot across the bow for the Google war on non-responsive, or mobile unfriendly websites.

What is mobility?

Mobility, as it relates to websites, refers to whether a website can be viewed effectively on a mobile device.

Look at any website on your smartphone. If you can see all the content easily then it’s probably mobile friendly. It will appear to render uniquely on mobile phones and tablets. But if you have to pinch or use the tactile functionality to view the page it’s most definitely not built for mobile devices. Back in December 2014 we posted an article about user engagement as an SEO ranking factor, and it seems as though Google is now ready to pull the trigger. A recent news report from Search Engine Land supports this view.

Mobile Friendly User Experience
SERP showing mobile friendly User Experience

If you haven’t done so already you need to make your website responsive, so that it renders across all digital devices in order to give the best user experience.

As we reported in our last post, mobile search is about to overtake searches from a desktop computer. If you do a search on your mobile you will also see that Google labels each appropriate search result “mobile-friendly”. The next step will be to actually apply a penalty to non-mobile-friendly websites, and that will impact negatively on where these sites rank in (SERPs) search engine results pages.

The impact of this update could be devastating for Webmasters if they don’t act fast. Some of the most recent algorithm updates have essentially wiped entire websites from the Google index.

We don’t know how much of an impact the mobility update will have, but if your website is mobile friendly (or responsive) you have nothing to fear and everything to gain!

This is a great opportunity to update the look and feel of your website – especially if it appears dated.

Update: Jan 2017

It’s clear that this update has had a considerable affect on rankings. Websites that are not responsive have all but disappeared from the top rankings. The ‘mobile first’ philosophy is something all businesses must now embrace to achieve successful outcomes from the Internet.

Ranking factors

User Experience a key SEO ranking factor in 2015

Website owners take note. User Experience (or UX) will be one of THE key ranking factor throughout 2015. So what is it and why should we worry about it? To understand what user experience is we first need to know what it’s not.

The best way to do this is to talk about “bounce rate”. Bounce rate is the percentage of users who visit your website but don’t proceed past the landing page. This tells us that the user hasn’t found the information to engage deeper into the site. The exception to this would be if your website was designed specifically to provide all the information a user would need – for instance a directory listing. If you use a web analytics product like Google Analytics you can find out what your bounce rate is at site and page level. If your bounce rate is over 85% you’ve got problems, and need to focus your efforts on User Experience design.

What is User Experience?

User Experience (also known as UX) design is the practice of creating a website that is easy to use, and encourages the user to consume content in such a way that it achieves a desired outcome for the website owner.

Why UX is important for SEO

Mobile Friendly User Experience
SERP showing mobile friendly UX

Historically, UX has been used for conversion rate optimisation (CRO) – the process of converting website visitors to customers. But most recently there has been a lot of chatter in the SEO community about User Experience – and with good reason. If you’ve recently used your mobile to to a Google search you would have noticed that some results show if a site is “mobile friendly”.

Before 2015 comes to an end mobile will overtake desktop as the preferred device to search from. It is for this reason alone your SEO and website strategy should be focused on a mobile first philosophy.

Here’s a great blog post on Moz that gives even more insight.

There is another reason User Experience is so important from an SEO perspective.

Post search engagement

Now let’s say your webpage has managed to make it onto page one. Congratulations, great job! But you’re not finished yet. Now you have to consolidate your position to move up the rankings. But how?

We covered bounce rate earlier in this post. If a user clicks on your listing and either clicks “back” on their browser, or visits another URL immediately after, what signal do you suppose that sends to Google? Not a good one because the assumption is the user did not find what they were looking for on that webpage.

Alternatively a user may click on a search result listing and spend some time browsing the content on that page. A short time later the user then clicks deeper into the website and again spends time on that link. This signals to Google the user was satisfied with the content on the landing page.

Given these levels of engagement, which page do you think Google will favour in search position consideration?

What’s the key takeout?

High bounce rate reduces the chances on maintaining page one ranking. If your bounce rate is high you MUST focus on UX design. If you are on page two and wracking your brain to get on page one the answer is simple. Create a compelling call to action in the search listing snippet (for higher click-through), and encourage the user to engage further by providing more information beyond the landing page.