Google Updates – Not So Black and White

Andrew Birkitt

Lead Technical Engineer
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Reading Time: 5 minutes

There have been many updates to Google over the last few months, including Penguin 2.1, which was rolled out on the 4th October. This update almost slipped in under the cover of the major Algorithm overhaul that is Hummingbird. As there have been many website owners contacting us in relation to seeing strange drops in traffic around that time, I thought it would be appropriate to have a look at this update and provide some more information in relation to its impact and what other updates may be coming, in order to help sites recover, prepare and possibly realign their strategy.

If you are wondering if you could have been a victim of one of Google’s updates, then I would recommend that you start by using this very useful tool produced by Barracuda digital.

It easily allows you to see your traffic against an overlay of all Google’s updates. One point that is also important to note is the fact that you can be hit by an algorithm update such as Penguin or Panda and you won’t receive a warning in webmaster tools. Warnings in webmaster tools happen when you have had a manual penalty. For more information on Panda and Penguin Updates click here.

The respected digital marketing company and leading online community and tool provider Moz has produced the following resource to help keep track of the different Google updates.

Penguin 2.1

As with previous incarnations, Penguin 2.1 goes after sites that have been spamming their search results through the use of tactics such as paid links and in particular those low quality, easily gained links with specific keyword anchor text.

Unnatural links that have caused sites to be victims:

  • Forum spam,
  • Followed links from certain low quality blogs,
  • Blogroll spam,
  • Low quality directories,
  • Blog comment and signature spam,

as well as other commonly used link building tactics, that many previously found successful in gaming the system. As with Penguin 2.0 it is believed that sites were analysed and hit at an evenpenguin deeper level, looking at more of a sites link profile and seeing what links were pointing at pages further down a sites hierarchy. One common type of link that has been seen with sites that have suffered an algorithm penalty is directory links pointing at deep pages. A common practice with some of the spam tactics above has been to use exact match anchor text that matches the search term that a site is trying to rank for.

Another point that is worth noting is the fact that many sites that had been hit by Penguin 2.0 earlier in the year and had taken action to clear up their profiles saw recovery after this update. Similarly those that hadn’t were hit even harder this time.

How to put this right

  • From experience the first thing to do is to look through your link profile and identify the types of links as outlined above.
  • Start by downloading your websites links using one of the many available tools, such as Google Webmaster tools (free) or Opensiteexplorer (Monthly Subscription from Moz).
  • Then I would highlight all the links that you believe are unnatural.
  • The next step is to systematically go through these links and attempt to contact the sites webmasters asking them to remove the links to your site. Sometimes sites will be happy to remove links and sometimes you won’t get any response at all. Be prepared to have a cost attached with this as many sites are making this request before removing the link.
  • If you reach the stage were you are being ignored, then this is when you need to look at using Google’s Disavow Tool, which can be found here, once you are logged into your sites Webmaster Tools as an owner. Many experts, including Google’s Matt Cutts have recommended taking a broad approach to this removal in order to ensure you fall below the required threshold for recovery.

However you need to be careful when you do this, as removing a large quantity of links from your site can damage a sites ranking ability, as reasonable links can be removed by mistake. Recovery is not a quick process or fix and you need to be strong when doing this. You also need to create a plan to start building quality content that will provide value to users and cause natural links to be gained.

Where Are Updates Heading

Well there hasn’t been any official announcements as to what Googles next update will be called or what exactly it will target, however there has been many rumours about a Zebra update, once again following the black and white animal trend. Now is a good time to look at what future updates may impact upon and what you can potentially do in order to help your site not only weather any impending storm but actually benefit from it. It is always best to follow the principles of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines but over and above the basics of creating great content and a great user experience what other actions can we take to help with this?

The Need for Speed

Make sure that your site is quick to load; this will not only help with conversion it will also be rewarded by Google. Google often lays a clear path that site owners should take and what will be rewarded going forward. Page speed is likely to take an even more significant role in terms of ranking going forward, especially after the big hint of Google incorporating page speed recommendations into Google Analytics!

Become an Author

Don’t forget authorship, as Google moves forward this factor gains more and more importance as they look to identify authors of excellent content and help them become an authority online. You may or may not be aware that Google recently announced the fact that they are moving away from the anonymous web and look to establish who is an authority within a niche. Help yourself now by making sure that you have set this up.

Enrich Your Results

Another hint, particularly relevant to webmasters is the use of schema markup on your site, which helps Google produce rich snippets for your website in their results. This is another hint as to the importance of this update as Google provides the data highlighter tool, which “is a webmaster tool for teaching Google about the pattern of structured data on your website.”

Certified Shop Pilot

After launching it in the US Google are now running a pilot for their trusted stores certification program, which can be found here. Becoming part of this will help increase the trust of customers, which is definitely a good thing. Google itself is always looking for trust signals when ranking a site.


These are just some of the elements that are likely to help your sites rankings, both now and in the future. Once again make sure you take advantage of the help and hints that Google is giving us and strengthen your site.

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