If you've recently lost rank in a Google search that is important to your business, you may suspect that you've been hit by a penalty. Google does in fact impose penalties in order to eliminate spam from its search results. To Google, spam is content it determines to be of low quality, and spammers are those who attempt to promote it by manipulating the results through a variety of activities. Like it or not, Google may see your content as spam, and you as a spammer!
Google imposes penalties in two ways:
Manual penalties are imposed by Google based on spammy content or spammy links. If you've been penalized manually, you will see a notice in your Webmaster Tools control panel. The "Unnatural Link Penalty" is a commonly seen penalty that gained prominence around the same time as a major algorithmic change (Google Penguin, see below) so some people initially confused the two. Just remember if you have been manually penalized, you'll see the message in Webmaster Tools.
Websites that are manually penalized are often flagged as spam by Google users, or are competing in a vertical that is very competitive and tends to see a lot of spam. Think "viagra," "payday loans" or "work from home."
If you get the unnatural link penalty warning, you or your SEO company were probably doing some link building that, until about a year ago, was pretty common. The types of links that are a problem are:
What you can do
In the last couple of years, Google has made some major algorithmic changes to get low quality sites out of its results, and to penalize those sites that are the focus of manipulative activities aimed at increasing rank.
Panda was rolled out about two years ago (Feb 2011), and was aimed at crushing sites such as low quality blogs and "scraper sites" (sites that copy content from other websites). It is an ongoing class of algorithmic changes that penalizes "content spam."
What you can do
Penguin was rolled out about a year ago (April 2012) and was aimed at penalizing sites for unnatural linking (thus the confusion with the manual unnatural linking penalty). The target of this penalty is non-varied keyword anchor text pointing to a website. Links from low quality websites are reported to be more of a contributing factor. Site wide links, whether internal to the website or external websites from an external website are a problem when they use the same keywords that the page is optimized for (based on the page title, meta description and page content).
What you can do
Blogs are a key component of any modern web promotion strategy. Blogs are a seamless way to help your website give search engines what they are looking for to rank your site well:
As small business person, you know your industry. You have to in order to survive the increasingly tough economic climate. You are the expert in your field, and sharing that expertise on the substantial forum of the Internet lets everyone else know that, including existing and potential clients.
The reasons that are usually given for why a company does not want to produce a blog are:
The response to the first reason is that if you are too busy to contribute time towards gaining new business, why are you looking into web promotion services? (Of course I don't say it like that!). Most small businesses just want to pay someone to promote their website, and have writing the check be their sole contribution. Well, you can do it that way, and many businesses do. The sad truth is that strategy is just a small step above throwing your check directly into the garbage.
As for the second two reasons, I guarantee there are a significant number of people in your vertical who are heavily involved in blogging and social media marketing, and they have the advantage over you. If not, then it shouldn't take too much effort for your business to become the industry leader.
There is a lot of BS around blogging and social media out there, and if anyone presents themselves as a "Guru" I recommend running the other way quickly. Do, please, however consider contributing some of your time and expertise in promoting your site through blogging. If you can't write yourself, hire a copywriter. You'll usually get a good bang for the buck, and they will take your ideas and knowledge and put them in the most effective form to market your business.
An important reason for redesigning your website on a regular basis is to keep up with the technology used by your visitors. The ever-increasing screen resolution of desktop and mobile devices will make a design that looked great a couple of years ago look small on the screens of today's visitors. That's why it is important to regularly monitor your traffic statistics to know how your current visitors are seeing your website.
Many business owners don't have a solid understanding of how screen resolution effects the way their website is seen. A common request is to make the website "fill the screen." The question is "which screen?" Given the variety of screen resolutions your website is being viewed at at any time, the best that can be done is to make it reasonably fill screens at the dominant resolutions and still look good at screen resolutions that are larger than normal.
Screen resolutions that are smaller than normal are usually part of older desktop or mobile systems. Depending on you traffic and your target audience, there is a point at which you'll need to make the viewing area larger than these low-tech visitors can see on their screens, requiring them to scroll to see all of the information. In my opinion it's best not to be on the cutting edge of screen resolution curve. Once your viewership at the older resolution drops to low single digits, those visitors are most likely used to viewing websites that are too large for their screens anyway, so they won't be too turned off if your's is too.
Here are the current screen resolutions being used to view this website:
As you can see, the old 1024 x 768 screen res is hanging in there, at the second more common viewing size, while much larger screen resolutions are also common. One important thing to realize though is that visitors using these huge monitors are not likely to have their browsers maximized. This is because most websites they visit are still optimized for 1024 x 768 or 1280 x 1024 viewing, and there is no point in having the window take up their full screen.
With the knowledge gained by monitoring the screen resolutions of your visitors, coupled with a review of the page widths of your competitors' websites and other commonly visited websites on the Internet, you can make the best decision about when it is time to redesign.
Unless you are a hermit, you're aware that access to the internet using mobile devices has exploded in the last few years. Your website IS being viewed on these mobile devices, and you should now only be aware of how it looks, but you should be thinking about creating a mobile version, if you haven't already. Jacob Nielsen has a good article to start you off on your venture into mobile design.
With so many devices out there, where do you start? First, I recommend installing Android Emulator, and hooking up with a good iPhone emulator.Some Online web emulators can get the job done for multiple platforms. These "smart phone" emulators will let you see how your site looks on the most widely used mobile devices, and allow you to make and test adjustments.
The difference in use of a mobile device and a desktop or laptop computer to access a website is really significantly different, and even if your site "looks ok" (albeit small) on a mobile phone, it still may not be usable. Here are some guidelines that will get you started in developing usable mobile websites:
Well, Google has done it again! Earlier this month, the 40 Search Quality Updates they announced in late February have been officially named as the Google Panda 3.3 update. As you many know, Google Panda was an update that hit many websites hard.
With 40 separate updates, it can be overwhelming to sort through the inconsequential tweaks to find the significant changes. Within these 40 changes, 3 stand out as being huge for Google SEO.
Two are related to local search results, which is where SMBs (small and medium businesses) are going to get their traffic:
26. Improvements to ranking for local search results. [launch codename “Venice”] This improvement improves the triggering of Local Universal results by relying more on the ranking of our main search results as a signal.
36. Improved local results. We launched a new system to find results from a user’s city more reliably. Now we’re better able to detect when both queries and documents are local to the user.
Until now, a local business would get traffic in two ways:
1) By optimizing for their website with geo-specific keywords (city, county, area) and trying to capture those searches that specifically used the geo-specific keyword in the query, e.g. "Oakland Chinese Restaurant."
2) By optimizing their Google Places listing and hoping that Google would serve up a map listing based on the searchers location.
The change brought about by the Venice update adds a third stream of traffic and is a synthesis of the other two. Google will now promote websites in the organic results for generic searches, where it detects the website is local to the searcher.
That's good news for local businesses, but not good news for directory sites that target multiple localities, as they get pushed down the page. With so many other changes slowly eating away at the above-the-fold Google organic results, that doesn't leave much room for that niche.
Another change that is potentially huge for a lot of people in the SEO world is related to link building:
33. Link evaluation. We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page. We have changed the way in which we evaluate links; in particular, we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years. We often rearchitect or turn off parts of our scoring in order to keep our system maintainable, clean and understandable.
The first Panda Update devalued a lot of low quality link sources. There has been speculation that this change actually devalues anchor text as a method for determining the topic of the linked page.
This speculation makes perfect sense, because anchor text is something used by SEOs and webmasters to tell Google what the content of the linked page is about. Just as with the old meta keyword tag, this signal is too open to manipulation, and not to be trusted.
So, some good news and some bad news, at least from the perspective of promoting local businesses. Time will tell how Panda 3.3 shakes out, and by that time, I'm sure there will be another update that shakes things up.
What is Google Panda?
Google Panda was an update of Google's search algorithm that was implemented in February or 2011. In case you don't know, a search algorithm is the formula with which Google, or any search engine ranks web pages in search query results. Google updates it's algorithm frequently, and names the larger updates.
You may have heard of Panda, because this major update was controversial, not only because it caused many highly trafficked websites to drop much lower in the results, but because the effect the update had on the overall search results seemed by many to be counterproductive, if indeed the update was aimed at improving their quality.
What Did Panda Do?
The Panda update was aimed at penalizing garbage websites with little or no original content, or with content deeply buried in affiliate links or Google Adsense ads. Although the idea was a good one, the execution ended up penalizing websites with good original content and promoting websites that were copying that same content and repackaging it.
Panda also reduced or negated the positive attributes of low quality backlinks.
Should You Care About Google Panda?
If you are a small business and have a user-friendly website with original content, and not a lot of affiliate links, banners or Google Adsense ads, there isn't anything you need to do with your on-page search engine optimization or content as a result of Panda. You may, however, need to build some higher quality backlinks to maintain the position you had before Panda, if you did see a drop in traffic starting in early 2011.