Before You Begin…
Panda and Penguin are two of the latest updates to Google’s algorithm to make sure that websites are naturally integrating SEO.
Google has described the Penguin Update as a “web spam” update. Therefore it is critical that your site follow Google’s recommendations in regard to making sure your site avoids any of the practices that Google may perceive as being used by search engine spammers. This starts with making sure you have good, relevant On-Page optimization.
Google’s advice is the same: it’s always been – create higher quality pages and focus on an enjoyable user experience instead of aggressive web spam tactics. Matt Cutts reinforces the importance of creating sites for the users:
“Create a site that will stand the test of time. A site that people will tell their friends about and bookmark. That’s the site Google wants people to build and the site your clients want to use.”
Remember, the Penguin Update targets web spam, over-optimization and specific linking issues. Panda, on the other hand, is more focused on a site’s content including its relevance, originality and freshness. If you’ve been hit by Google’s dreaded Penguin Update, or want to make sure you don’t get penalized in the future, then this checklist will help you to safely optimize your website, maximize your rankings, and gradually reclaim your traffic, sales and income.
Step 1: Analyze Your Link Network
Conduct an Off-Site Link Audit
More than ever before it is important to understand where your backlinks are coming from and what keywords are used in the anchor text of these links. To help you with this analysis, here’s a FREE tool that will help you to conduct a 5-minute link network check-up. Click here to access the FREE Backlink Health-Check Tool tool and analyze your link network now. (http://marketsamurai.com/c/linkhealthcheck)
This analysis will show you the current state of your backlink network and help you see either why the Penguin update hit your site or how close you might be to activating a Penguin penalty in the future.
Now just to be clear, a single link can’t affect your rankings, however, a particular pattern of links definitely can.
To understand what kind of link patterns can cause you to lose your rankings and traffic; we need to look at the 3 different categories of links that point to your site:
1) Brand Links – links wherein the anchor text are:
Your website URL (address)
Your product name
Your company name
2) Target Links – These are links that contain specific keyword phrases that you are trying to target for search engine result pages
NOTE: Before the Penguin update, these ‘target links’ could help you to improve your rankings in search engines. However, After the Penguin update, too many ‘target links’ can cause your site to be kicked out of Google’s ranking index completely!
3) Generic Links – These are links that contain random words and phrases as anchor text
Examples: Click here, check this out
Now, while every site may have a mixture of Brand, Target and Generic links, one of the most important factors that appear to trigger the Penguin penalty is the RATIO of these three link types.
If over 50% of your link network is made up of ‘target links’ then there’s a good chance you have been – OR will be hit by the Penguin penalty.
On the other hand, if ‘target links’ make up less than 30% of your link network then you are probably going to be safe for now.
You can quickly and easily perform a Link Network Health Check in Less Than 5 Minutes - http://www.marketsamurai.com/anchor-text-analyzer.php
Based on Market Samurai’s analysis, they recommend that you should now be aiming for:
A target keyword anchor text percentage of around 20%
A brand anchor text percentage of around 40%
A generic anchor text percentage of around 40%
Start Link Pruning
Most of the sites that were hit had a HIGH percentage of target keywords as anchor text. Once you have conducted your off-site link audit through http://www.marketsamurai.com/anchor-text-analyzer.php AND have identified a large number of links that don’t appear natural, as a rule of thumb, aim for 40% brand links, 40% generic links and 20% target links.
For example, for their product “market samurai” we would want to create links where:
Around 40% of links contained brand related keywords such as “Market Samurai”, as well as Branded URLs, such as “http://www.marketsamurai.com”.
Around 40% of links contained natural organic “generic” keywords such as “click here”, “check this out”, etc.
And only around 20% of links actually contain keywords that you are trying to target to improve your rankings for, for example “keyword research software”, “keyword research tool”, etc.
For a more detailed explanation of link ratios, watch this video.
This will greatly “smooth out” your backlink profile and help overcome the Penguin filter faster.
Conduct an On-Site Link Pruning by:
Removing [over optimized] sitewide links (especially footers)
Sitewide links are NOT inherently bad…if they are used correctly. They should be placed higher on the page, serve a clear benefit for your audience, not be used for cross-domain linking and be relatively “nofollowed” throughout your site (except for perhaps your home page). This is especially important if you have a “weak” site (PR 3 or below) and thus have limited authority flowing down from your home page through all these excessive links.
Basically, when talking about internal navigation and sitewide links, less is more. However, you do not need to remove ALL sitewide links on your site. But there should be attention to remove duplicated sitewide links. For example, if you provide sidebar and header navigation, having that same navigation on the footer (which historically isn’t going to be used) is just a waste of time and not a sound design practice.
Ask yourself: is my navigation beneficial to my site audience? That’s how you can determine whether you want to use sidebar or header-based navigation. Both are fine. Do you need both though? Probably not. Most sites usually have either sidebar or header graphical navigation that they back up with text-based navigation on the page. That’s fine. Problems with Google, however, arise when you replicate the same keyword-rich anchor text navigation multiple times on the page, across hundreds of pages, or even worse, between multiple sites.
So what’s the best practice here?
We always recommend shooting for less than 150 internal links on each of your site pages; preferably less than 100. This helps keep crawler activity down and speeds up your site. Further, Google specifically details in their Webmaster Guidelines to keep links on a page to a reasonable number. In our minds, that’s less than 150. But that’s our opinion.
Reducing cross-links between blogs and affiliate properties
Making sure that you are using the canonical tag if you are on a dynamic system like .asp or run a large e-commerce site with hundreds of products
Step 2: Check the List of Keywords Google Thinks Your Site is Authoritative For
You can do this by checking the Website’s “Content Keywords” in Google Webmaster Tools.
The “Content Keywords” section will show you a list of keywords Google has found that it thinks your site is authoritative for. The further you delve into the list, the less relevant the keywords get so taking a look at the top 10-20 keywords will give you a good idea of what Google thinks your site is about.
The Content Keywords page lists the most significant keywords and their variants Google found when crawling your site. When reviewed along with the Search Queries report and your site’s listing in actual search results for your targeted keywords, it provides insight into how Google is interpreting the content of your site.
The significance of each keyword reflects how often it’s found on your site’s pages. Click each keyword to see a sampling of pages on which it appears. Both keywords and their variants are listed in order of frequency of appearance.
If unexpected keywords, such as “Viagra”, appear on this page, this could be a sign that your site has been hacked.
So how can this report help you? Well using this information you can see the words that are repeated most on your website, and how this correlates with the terms you are targeting for SEO. If your most important keywords are hard to find on your site, then you might wish to think about rewriting your website content to make them more prevalent (without keyword stuffing). http://www.verticalmeasures.com/keyword-research/keyword-research-in-google-webmaster-tools-2011/
However, more important from this list is what isn’t listed, for example if your main target keywords don’t crack the top 20, you could rewrite your important pages accordingly.
You can then drill down this information to see which pages are using these keywords the most, and check that these pages are those you are targeting with that keyword, and again rewrite your content accordingly if it isn’t.
This tool could also prove useful for ensuring that you are using other related terms suitably throughout your website. By checking that other related terms, such as synonyms or related products, are also being used various times on your pages you can ensure that you can rank for other searches and long tail queries.
To check and see what are some of the most content-relevant keywords on the site, go to your Google Webmasters Tool menu, click Your site on the web, and then click Content Keywords.
Download the data by clicking on the Download this table button located below the page.
Save the file to the following file name format: “[CampaignName] Content Keywords [Date Generated].csv“
Step 3: Optimize Your Site’s Download Speed
Google tends to favor sites that smoothly load its pages. This is because if your site takes too long to load, users will go elsewhere and Google will notice that visitors don’t spend much time on your site. This is a strong indicator that your site is poor quality and of poor relevance for the search terms that you’re trying to rank for.
Check the performance of the website and see if the site is loading at just the right speed by doing the following in Google Webmaster Tools:
Click Labs on the left menu, and then click Site performance.
Read the Performance overview in the shown report and see if it updated. Continue with the analysis if it is current.
The ideal loading time is below 5 seconds. Google will tell if the site loads slower or faster than most sites.
If Google’s site performance report is updated and is indicating a high loading time, then this is clearly affecting users and crawlers. The site can be sped up by compressing content, switching to better servers or optimizing the content of the pages usually by cutting down file sizes.
You can copy the report or take a screenshot should there be any issues with regards to performance.
Step 4: Check your pages’ Bounce Rate & Average Site Visits in Google Analytics
Review your current bounce rate (higher than 40%, lower it) and average site visits (3+ minutes is good).
Step 5: Eliminate Over-Optimization of All Your Content
Revisit the following Content Optimization to make sure they all need naturally while still mentioning the target keywords (as is and variations of those):
Step 6: Create a Blog and Post Content Regularly
Build Links with a Blog: Another shared deficiency of Penguin affected sites has been their lack of a blog. Most sites didn’t have a blog on their main domain and instead used an articles page to add new content. These article pages were almost uniformly stripped of value when Penguin hit the site. Why? Because Google’s Freshness Update doesn’t work on this type of content. It’s the dynamic nature of a blog with its ability to ping Google & Bing when content is published, and pull in social media signals and incoming links more easily, that gives them a CLEAR advantage as the content generation model of choice post-Penguin.
Regular Blogging can provide huge benefits for you. Better results from search, more leads, more opportunities to convert leads to sales. Blog content is an infusion of regular fresh content for your Web site (great for SEO), establishing a voice for your brand in the online space and creating content that is valuable for customers and prospects, creating content that’s sharable on social networks… all of these things are the benefits of blogging. Oh, and Google’s latest algorithm update? It’s all about rewarding sites that produce and contain relevant and meaningful content.
Step 7: Engage and Use Your Existing Social Media Profiles
Review your social presence. Are you generating both on-page and off-page social signals, shares and community interactions with your customers/fans? If not, why not?
According to SearchEngineWatch:
“In all our May and June Penguin-related consultations there was not ONE client who had generated more than a handful of social signals into their site (use Shared Count to check these stats). Further, most sites had failed to engage and use their existing social media profiles, failing to update them in months or linking them from their home pages or blogs. Next, e-commerce-focused sites shared the failure to provide actual sharing options on their product pages. In other words, visitors to Penguin-afflicted shopping carts were left without a way to Google Plus, Facebook Like, Twitter Tweet or even share the product with their circles of social users. Finally, most sites had not embraced the power of the blog as both a content creation and social signal generation tool.”
Link Your Site to Your Google+ Page
As Google advised:
If you’ve created a Google+ page, we strongly recommend linking from that page to your website and vice versa. Linking your Google+ page and your site like this not only helps you build relationships with friends and followers, but also gives Google information we can use to determine the relevancy of your site to a user query in Google Web Search.
Link your blog as well to your Google+ Profile If your website has a blog.
From all of this it seems that Google is ramping up author integration into local organic SERPs. This tells us that Google+ profiles are becoming more relevant for exposure and, whether you like it or not, it will become more important to have a presence within Google+ in order to help expose your organic exposure.
The wait to merge your Google+ Business Page with your Google+ Local page (formerly Google Places Page) is now over – well for those with a little patience and determination at least.
Jade Wang announced within that the official verification process is in place and can be accessed from within your Google+ Business page. Once you’re logged in click Verify now on the right side of the page and request a postcard be sent with a pin to your location.