As I check out many blogs and forums during my daily refresh of what’s hot and what’s not in the world of SEO, I happened across a lot of chatter about something called “Panda” which although I’ve known about for a bit, I’d really not taken much notice of, until now. You see, it appears Google is getting a bit more ‘picky’ with websites now and they’re going after people engaging in lazy SEO. Not only that, they’re telling you about it, too.
But there’s even more, you see, last year I was challenged by someone who was adamant that my way of link building was too slow and unnecessarily long winded. Turns out they’ve just lost all their Google ranking overnight – let me explain how…
Panda and what it does
First of all, let’s talk about “Panda”. This was a major update to Google that rolled out last year and affected a lot of sites. They essentially changed the way they rank websites in order to make the results far more natural and useful to end-users. That’s what we want from Google – good quality search so more power to them. They’re actually making changes all the time in an effort to beat those who would try to manipulate the search engine through spam or other nefarious means.
Anyway, Panda (named after someone within Google apparently) was a big update and it caused many sites to lose their ranking but it appears to have had a positive effect on many others and this is good because search got better, however they’ve now extended the changes to catch people doing things that they probably thought was OK in the eyes of the big G, turns out they weren’t.
You see, I always go on about how we must build links to gain reputation within Google, that is, we must have more links pointing to us than are pointing to our competition is we want to beat them. If more third-party sites link to us, then we’re obviously more popular but I also add the caveat “all things being equal” and in the world of the Internet, not all things are equal.
I always take time with my link-building, I spread it over time and I do it from multiple sources so that I can actually show that a website is gaining in popularity gradually. Of course, my customers want me to build them a million links by Thursday so they can start making a fortune, but I resist because I know that by doing this I could slow down the campaign.
We have actually lost potential customers because we refuse to be tempted to build links too quickly!
Also, even though I still see links as a good indicator to SEO competition, it appears that our links are far more valuable than those created by some of our competition as I’ve seen many SEO company’s rankings plummet in the last few weeks.
Anyway, to my story. Way back last year, the conversation went like this. The guy I’m talking to is an IT expert.
“So how do you build links?”
“We build them from a variety of sources, slowly and naturally using many different methods, it could take up to 18 months if it’s really competitive but the rewards are usually much better that way.”
“I don’t buy that, you can build links in a day, it doesn’t matter”
“Well you can, but you have to keep it up and if it doesn’t look natural, I’m not really sure that’s what Google wants”
“Well I did it, and my site is now number 5 for <search term>”
Note – this was a really competitive term with 50,000-100,000 searches per month
“Cool, you must be very proud”
So what happened?
Google sussed it, his site is now out of the top five pages for that search term – all benefit lost overnight.
Why Google penalises you
So what happened here then? Well it would normally be hard to tell, however in my investigations and chats with other people it has happened to, I’ve discovered that it’s simply a matter of people engaging in ‘lazy SEO’ and it’s just Google enforcing a rule they’ve had for years – don’t pay for links from networks.
Years ago there were places that we used to call ‘Link farms’ where you could pay for a certain amount of links from sites all over the world. Google saw this as unfair and began to trace and ignore any links found to be coming from such places. But in their place rose “article networks” which are essentially the same thing with a different name. You pay a (normally) fixed amount and you get to post a link to your site from a bunch of other websites owned by a group of people.
Some of them are also link exchanges – another type of link building frowned upon by Google.
But many people thought they were fair game until they got an email like this:
Dear site owner or webmaster of <website address>
We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.
We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results.
If you find unnatural links to your site that you are unable to control or remove, please provide the details in your reconsideration request.
If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.
Google Search Quality Team
So, let that be a warning to you. I’ve said for years that there are no short-cuts to good Google ranking, you need to be methodical, take the highs with the lows and be ready to work at it for a long time. If you’re not the sort of person who can do that, just do nothing – trying to fox Google could end up with a whole waste of money.