Seo Strategy : How to Avoid 5 Major Google Penalties

Shaping Your SEO Strategy In-Tune with Google’s Algorithm Updates

Have you ever wondered whether there is an ultimate strategy that you can rely on to rank highly on Google’s search engine results page?

Well, the simple answer is: yes, there is. But the fact of the matter is that it’s not so easy. Let me try and explain why, before we can get to the strategy.

Google’s search engine ethos is mainly defined by the fact that they want search engine users to receive the most relevant results for searches submitted, in the fastest time possible. Websites that fulfill this need in the best possible way rank higher and are prioritized in search engine results.

This ethos is quintessentially captured through an algorithm that is used to determine which websites deserve to be ranked highest, according to the priority of relevance to a user’s search engine query.

Consequently, by ranking higher on Google’s search engine pages for particular search engine queries, a website is likely to thrive because it would experience more traffic and hence, more conversions.

Every webmaster’s ultimate vision is, therefore, to rank number one on a search engine page for a popular search engine query related to the content on their website, irrespective of whether the website is informational or e-commerce or business-related.

The key to ranking highly on the search engine hence, lies with developing a strategy to observe Google’s ethos (Read: algorithm) because understanding the factors that affect the algorithm determines how well your website will be ranked.

What’s The Catch?

Everything that I have mentioned so far sounds very straightforward and almost automatic, but the truth is that if it were as easy as it sounds, everybody would be number one on Google’s SERP (search engine results page), right? …and we all know that this is impossible because not everyone can be number one!

The fact of the matter is that webmasters, and most Google employees, for that matter, don’t know what factors are used to determine how high a website ranks. What is, however, clear is that some 200 ranking factors are used in the algorithm, and Google gives some guidelines of where their priorities lie with these ranking factors.

Whereas Google is continually refining its algorithm, there have been five major algorithm changes that have affected how webmasters and users experience the search engine. These algorithm updates have been named as follows:

  1. Panda
  2. Penguin
  3. Hummingbird
  4. Pigeon
  5. Mobilegeddon

As a whole, the main direction and benefits of Google’s algorithm refinements so far have been:

  • A growing commitment and focus on better user experience for search engine users,
  • A higher priority and preference for more productive and more in-depth content,
  • A focus and preference for websites that regularly update and refresh content,
  • A stronger emphasis on brand awareness,
  • An emphasis on search optimized for local ranking and
  • More and more prominence given to websites that adhere to a mobile SEO strategy

This article shall discuss what you need to know about the different algorithms and algorithm updates that Google releases, how the algorithms affect websites, either positively or negatively, and more specifically how you should shape your SEO strategy to conform with right SEO practice, good web design and suitable web development practice, so as to get the best online visibility and give your audience the best user experience.

Google Panda

The Panda update was the first major update to the Google algorithm since its inception. Its primary impetus was to fine-tune the quality of relevant search results by prioritizing high-quality search results and pushing further back lower quality search results.

In essence, this update was a move by Google to produce better, high-quality results with relevant content that the search engine user desires.

This was done by filtering out or giving much less prominence to lower quality content or spam content that the search engine user didn’t want to spend time looking at and giving more priority to websites that users prefer to look at.

Through this update, SEO’s job was elevated to become more robust than only producing good content, putting in keywords, and adding backlinks, to thinking more about the experience that the website offered.

Google forced webmasters to shift their focus to creating a website and brand that people will love, trust, reward, and share with others. Essentially, strategic thinking about the user’s experience became more important when creating websites.

Since the Panda Update was launched back in March of 2011, there has been a refresh or fine-tuning of the algorithm every one to two months, totaling approximately 26 changes up until now.

What's more, the Panda Update also precipitated the idea that paying attention to what Google had to say about fine-tuning your website for better search engine ranking is very important. This is because there is a continuous evolution of what good SEO practice is defined to be. In short, good SEO practice today could very quickly become bad SEO practice or outdated practice tomorrow.

Panda Update Quality Criteria and How to Avoid Panda Punishment/Penalties.

Below is a look at three main quality factors that the Panda Update introduced, including ways to avoid getting punished by the Panda update.

1. Duplicate Content

There is a lot of information online about duplicate content and how you should avoid doing it, but it is important also to highlight that it’s not necessarily duplicate content that gets you penalized by Google, but more the fact that spam-like content is frowned upon.

I would say that it is better to focus on producing unique, useful, and rich content that is helpful to the user.

With that said, two main issues need to be addressed when it comes to duplicate content on your website.

The first issue is for duplicate content that you have explicitly generated for your website.

To stem this issue, use a duplicate page finder to look for duplicate content on your web pages. If you find duplicate content on your website, you have two options:

  1. Add a no-index tag to the page so that the Google spider doesn’t use that particular page to penalize the rest of your website ranking or
  2. Revise the content and ensure that it is unique and original.

The second issue is about duplicate content on your website from other sources, including guest posts and sponsored articles.

To stem this issue, ensure that before you accept guest content, you first run it through plagiarism or duplicate checker like smallseotools.com to rest assured that the content you wish to use on your website is mostly unique.

You should target content that is more than 80% unique. Content that has less than 70% unique content rating should be taken down immediately or improved upon.

Other issues that can cause penalties due to duplicate content include:

  • Default information added by content management systems
  • Information automatically added to printer-friendly pages and
  • Web page addresses getting appended with session IDs.
  • The quality of inbound links

If you have unique, useful, and rich content on your website, but you still experience poor search engine ranking, you should turn your attention to the quality of inbound links.

Refer to the Google Penguin Update below for more information on this.

2. Bounce Rate

Your website's usability, design, and usefulness to the user are the main factors that determine the bounce rate of your website.

To be more specific, if users get to your website and leave your website without any interaction because they can’t find what they are looking for, or because your website is too complex to navigate through, then your bounce rate becomes high.

A bounce rate that is higher than 60% is too high and implies that you need to put in some work on your website to make it more user-friendly. To find out your website bounce rate, sign up for a Google Analytics account, and make use of informative guides on Google Analytics.

With that said, sometimes, your website's bounce rate can vary abnormally. For instance, if you happen to have redesigned your website to make it better for your audience, the bounce rate is likely to vary as your audience gets accustomed to the new layout of the website’s user interface.

There are several different solutions that you can use to reduce your website's bounce rate.

3. Repeat Site Visits

If your website retention is very low, meaning that visitors don’t come back to your website frequently enough, then Google assumes that your website is not very relevant or that you don’t frequently refresh the content on your website.

Some of the different ways to get visitors to come back to your website include:

  1. Using more guides and visual content to be more helpful to your audience,
  2. Using ‘Calls to Action,’
  3. Improving website load time,

How to Better Plan Your Website by Adhering to Panda Update Guidelines

To better plan your website, three important factors need to be addressed. These include:

  1. Improving the quality of, or optimizing ‘Static Elements’ including static pages like Privacy Policy, Contact, About Us, and TOS
  2. Consistent Quality Checks and improvements, e.g., improving your websites meta tags and upgrading to HTML5
  3. Improving the website’s User Experience.

Google Penguin Update

The Penguin Update’s primary motivation has been to limit and discourage the unethical use of links (both inbound and outward links).

The unethical use of links involves trying to gain favor with Google by tricking the search engine that the website is an authority website or that the website has rich content.

How to Steer Away from Penguin Punishment/Penalties

Through this algorithm update, issues not favorably looked upon, including the use of:

  1. Unnatural links including;
    1. Large numbers of links pointing to a website from low quality or irrelevant sources,
    2. Purchasing of links and
    3. The random use of links on a website while totally ignoring proper context.
  2. Link Schemes
  3. Keyword stuffing and
  4. Too much use of SEO; for example, if you have too many links to pages within your website or if you have too many H1 tags on a page,

How Your Panda and Penguin Strategy Will Lead to a More Impressive Site

When developing your website’s SEO strategy, keep in mind the following considerations:

  1. In addition to focusing on producing unique, useful, and productive content, you also need to pay close attention to the quality of links to and from your website. Hence, your SEO strategy should be to provide good user experience and quality link building.
  2. The Panda update is more about the quality of content, while the Penguin update is about controlling spammy and unethical use of links. The two updates are, therefore, quite inter-related and need to be planned concurrently to avoid any penalties from Google.
  3. A good strategy that takes into consideration Panda and Penguin updates will mean that your website is more trustworthy to users. Use the WOT tool to gauge how reliable your website is.

Google Hummingbird Update

The Hummingbird update has been one of Google’s most significant search engine algorithm updates so far. In September 2013, Google made substantial changes not only to the algorithm but also to indexing methods as well.

The main motivation behind the Hummingbird update is for Google to understand user queries better and therefore be able to return better and more useful results.

In essence, the search query intent by the user became more important than the mere use of the keyword itself. Therefore, content that best answers the intent of a user’s query is more likely to rank higher and more favorably than content, which includes the same keywords used by the user.

Search Techniques Difference

Source: Pre-Hummingbird and post-Hummingbird search techniques

How Hummingbird is a big game changer and how it should affect your strategy

  1. Long-tail keywords have become more important than head keywords simply because the focus shifted from merely ranking for a query to better understanding the meaning behind the query.
  2. Ensuring that a conversational style is used in website content is important because it is in line with the way a user makes a query while searching for information.
  3. 3. By and large, unless you have been bending and breaking the SEO rules, sticking to good keyword SEO practice should continue to be your strategy with just a few tweaks to your overall method. This means that you should continue to:
    • Optimize your websites for mobile devices because conversational style searches are still growing. For example, there is a consistent growth of voice searches through smartphones.
    • Build strong links both inbound and outward for better credibility and authority,
    • Use proper structured data markup

Your Hummingbird Strategy

In essence, your hummingbird strategy should focus on using tools like Google’s Keyword Planner, that will help you find relevant keywords used by users and then use the keywords in a conversational style within your website's relevant content.

Also, it is very important to focus on producing content with your reader's needs in mind, so that your audience can get hooked and engaged by the interesting content that addresses their needs, concerns, curiosities and general queries.

Google Pigeon Update

The Pigeon algorithm update was launched in July 2014, and its primary goal is to provide useful, relevant, and fast query results to web users looking for local search results.

The update has so far only been launched in the USA, Canada, UK, and Australia and not in the rest of the world, although this may take effect soon.

Your Pigeon Strategy

Based on this algorithm update, your strategy should incorporate the following ideas:

Source: Search radius has been refined

  • Cities have been sub-categorized into neighborhoods to provide more accurate search results, and this needs to reflect in your local optimization strategy.
  • As much as possible, keep a consistent Name, Phone, and Address
  • Different neighborhood names or synonyms may be used for the same area so that the same place may be called downtown, industrial area, etc. Use these synonyms in your local SEO strategy.
  • Seek to get listed and recognized by popular directory listings that are relevant to your website — for example, Yelp and Trip Advisor for hotels and restaurants.
  • Focus on getting good reviews for your website
  • Market your website content avidly and ensure that you employ good backlinking strategies.
  • Ensure that you employ a mobile SEO strategy because most local web searches are done through mobile devices.

Google Mobilegeddon Update

In February 2015, consistent with Google’s intention to make the user experience through the search engine a more pleasant one, the focus through this update was to give priority to websites that were optimized for mobile devices.

This focus on mobile devices comes from the fact that more and more people do searches through mobile devices than through the desktop computer.

In the USA, for example, 94% of searches conducted are on smartphones, with 77% of mobile searches surprisingly happening at home or work, places where you would easily find a desktop computer.

Website creators, anticipating massive changes that this algorithm update would bring, dubbed the launch update Mobilegeddon. Mobilegeddon happened on April 21, 2015, and with it came the changes as promised.

Source: Mobile SEO is appropriately done versus a normal webpage on a mobile device

The Issues, Challenges, and Concerns Arising from the ‘Mobilgeddon Update.’

Some of the considerations that you will need to keep in mind with this algorithm update are as follows:

  1. It is important to realize that search results registered through smartphones versus search results from desktops are very likely going to continue to diverge and become more different as opposed to becoming the same.
  2. If you have a well-established and dominant online business that is not reliant on a mobile-friendly website for direct traffic, then this algorithm update shouldn’t adversely affect your SEO strategy.
  3. The biggest impact of this algorithm update will mostly be on websites that;
    • Depend highly on people discovering the sites through Google search and
    • Rely on these Google Search queries made through mobile devices
  4. Converting a non-mobile friendly website into a mobile-friendly website can be quite costly to implement, in both time and money, depending on the size of the website.

Your Mobile-friendly SEO Strategy

If you are not sure about the impact of ‘Mobilegeddon’ on your website, there are several things that you can do.

Google Updates

Bringing It All Together

The influence of the Google algorithm updates can be quite impactful to webmasters and to businesses that rely solely on their website for online revenue.

For many website owners, proper SEO Training and following Google’s guidelines, can make the difference between a thriving online business and get lost in oblivion, never to be seen or heard from again.

If you want to have the least negative impact on your website and your business, mainly if you rely on Google searches, having a web strategy that aligns your website goals and your online business's vision to that of Google’s ethos, is critical.

Furthermore, being nimble enough to make quick changes that adhere to Google algorithm changes may be vital for you. Google usually forewarns all stakeholders about upcoming algorithm updates that it is about to implement, which means keeping an ear to the ground, with regards to what Google has to say, is important for all webmasters.

Alternatively, and maybe more importantly, if you feel that you are over-reliant on Google Searches, then it is time that you find different ways to diversify your marketing strategy, or else you may quite easily meet your doom in the online world.

Employing different strategies, including good PR and marketing for your online business, may be an important move to make for your online business or your website.

Ironically, the more you begin to use robust strategies including PR and marketing strategies to promote your business, the better your Google rank is likely to become because you will be focusing on brand recognition and on being an authority to be reckoned with, which is what Google is directing its search engine results towards.

About the Author

Maryanne GaithoMaryanne Gaitho

Maryanne Gaitho holds a degree in Sociology and writes on a wide range of topics Some of the topics she has written about include big data, project management, online Marketing and Salesforce.

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