What were the major Google updates in SEO?
SEO is such an unpredictable domain, constantly changing and putting the website owners’ patience to the test. The optimisation techniques that worked perfectly until yesterday can be considered history today after yet another algorithm update from Google.
This year, the Google Zoo has grown after the endless series of 2012 Google Panda updates and the algorithm change called Penguin. With so many changes, one question remains unanswered: white hat, black hat… or elephant hat link building?
To help answer this question, we’re going to go through all the major 2012 Google updates. This 2012 SEO overview will hopefully bring some light into what has changed in the way that Google evaluates a website for ranking.
Google rolled out several Panda updates around easter but most of them were fairly routine updates with minimum impact. However, the Panda 3.4 update that was rolled out at the end of March 2012 coincided with a number of notifications sent to webmasters worldwide warning them about unnatural linking to their sites.
So, even though some site owners might have thought that they had the best kind of links, one of the Google Panda updates had a surprise in store for them. They received an important notice informing them that Google Webmaster Tools detected unnatural links to their site. Obviously, most site owners panicked until Google’s Matt Cutts explained they had nothing to worry about:
“If you received a message yesterday about unnatural links to your site, don’t panic. […] While it’s possible for this to indicate potential spammy activity by the site, it can also have innocent reasons. For example, we may take this kind of targeted action to distrust hacked links pointing to an innocent site. The innocent site will get the message as we move towards more transparency, but it’s not necessarily something that you automatically need to worry about.”
The Penguin updates are a group of the 2012 Google updates whose purpose is to stop webspam. Here is Google’s official explanation of Penguin: “a decrease in rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google existing quality guidelines”.
This year’s Penguin updates focused on site owners who abused Google’s quality guidelines by either stuffing their content with keywords or exchanging too many links. In other words, the Penguin updates penalised people who went beyond what is natural, such as:
Using white text on white background or hiding text behind an image with the sole purpose of getting a few more keywords in are violations of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Penguin has improved its detection of content for search engine optimisation that has been hidden using CSS.
This is probably one of the most significant changes that has come with the Penguin update. Google has improved its algorithm for detecting websites that are stuffing their content with keywords in order to rank higher.
Unnatural external links
One of the major Penguin updates focused on penalising websites with unnatural external links as a result of excessive link building. Another important Penguin update was over-optimisation. This refers to having too many sitewide links from other sites, which could indicate a much too aggressive link building that includes but is not limited to excessive link acquisition, links exchange or over-optimised anchor texts.
As a result of these Penguin updates, in July 2012, many webmasters have received notifications from Google through Google’s Webmaster Tool warning them about having unnatural links linking to their websites.
Domain diversity update
A few months later, in September, Google rolled out yet another update, this time to improve domain diversity. The purpose of this update was to show search results from different domains and not just from one or two. This way, users can get a more diverse set of results.
Exact match domain crackdown
Domain names with exact keywords have been a commodity since the internet became a commercial marketplace. However, many have argued that Google gives too much weight to keywords included domain names. You have probably seen plenty of three, four or five keywords included in a single domain name and these are clear cases of abuse of keywords. So, at the end of September, Google rolled out another update disputing the relevance of certain EMDs.
So, which are the EMD most likely to be considered spam? The most important ones are multiple dash domains and domains with too many words.
Link Disavow tool
In October 2012, Google announced a new tool to disavow links. This can be useful if you’ve been notified by Google about having too many spammy, unnatural or low-quality links pointing to your site and if you believe that these may cause issues for your site. Find out more about this tool and how to use it for your site.