Your business is on the field of one of the most competitive games of all: organic search rankings. If you play by the rules, you have a chance of making your website visible to searchers and winning site visitors. If you don’t follow the rules, you have no chance of scoring those goals if there’s a referee on the field.
Search engines play the role of referee in the search engine optimization game. For business owners, this means that ethical SEO conduct can pay off. Google has a manual actions team whose job is to help keep the search results clean. They back up the algorithms (which do most of the work filtering out webspam) and review individual cases by hand. These people have the power to blow a whistle to stop misbehavior and even to bench a player who refuses to play by the rules. I like to picture them in black and white striped shirts (though I’m sure jeans and t-shirts would be closer to the truth).
While referees can be very unpopular, their words carry a lot of weight. This week Google published a report titled “How we fought webspam in 2015” chronicling what they discovered and accomplished last year. Impressively, the manual actions team sent more than 4.3 million messages to webmasters last year. That means webmasters were notified personally not only of a yellow flag being thrown, but also about what caused the penalty action.
Google referees may not be popular, but they help keep sites playing by the rules of SEO conduct.
From a searcher’s perspective, all of this refereeing is fantastic news. It means that if I search for “referee clothing,” I will actually see striped shirts and not spammy, unwanted junk. Touchdown!
From a business’s perspective, however, Google penalties can be livelihood-threatening realities. Since the introduction of the Panda Update in 2011 and the subsequent waves of algorithmic and manual action Google penalties, we’ve seen a rise in SEO services clients requiring penalty assessments and removals. This latest report from Google is important for online businesses to be aware of because it points to trends in webspam and identifies red-flag digital marketing tactics to avoid.
In BCI’s 20-year history, our digital marketing company has been a pioneering voice for ethical search engine optimization. Due to our methodology founded on SEO ethics, we’ve helped countless clients recover from manual and algorithmic penalties, and now eagerly await the next Penguin update to see additional penalty recovery resolutions. (Read a testimonial.)
To partner with a top-tier technical SEO agency and grow your website’s revenue-driving potential, fill out our request form or call us today.
Below I’ll explain more about how webmasters can deal with Google penalty situations. But first, here is the state of webspam, according to Google’s report.
It bears repeating that Google’s manual actions team sent more than 4.3 million messages to webmasters last year. Many “penalties” occur algorithmically and can blindside webmasters with a sudden, unexplained loss of search traffic to their sites. You’ve got to appreciate the fact that the search engine takes the time to notify this many people directly to communicate that a problem and/or penalty has occurred.
SEO Tip: You’ll find any messages sent by the manual actions team if you look in your Google Search Console account messages. So if you haven’t set up Google Search Console yet, do it now!
Hacked Sites Up by 180 Percent
Compared to the previous year, the number of sites being hacked was up by 180 percent! Google’s report identified site hacking as a top webspam trend of 2015. Here’s what being hacked means: One day, you wake up to find your nice, clean website covered with the graffiti of someone else’s spammy content. (Jump down for what to do about hacked sites.)
Thin Content Is Trending Up
Google’s manual actions team reports that “sites with thin, low quality content” are the second most commonly increasing form of webspam.
“We saw an increase in the number of sites with thin, low quality content. Such content contains little or no added value and is often scraped from other sites.”
Businesses should know that we’ve been living in the age of Google’s Panda algorithm update for several years now. What is Google Panda? Panda eats low-quality content for lunch. And Google told us earlier this year that Panda is now part of its core ranking algorithm.
SEO Advice for Businesses Facing Google Penalties
A Google manual action notice is usually terrible news for business owners. A penalized site drops in the search engine rankings, losing untold revenue from website traffic that’s no longer coming from search.
If this happens, site owners may not understand how to recover. Sometimes the issues are straightforward and, after a bit of housecleaning, the site owner can submit a Reconsideration Request to Google and be restored to good standing.
However, many sites have long-standing issues or layered penalties that require more expertise. We’ve had a number of clients come to us after struggling for a year or more to fix their own sites without regaining much ground in the SERPs. (If that’s your situation, read about our SEO penalty assessment service and let’s talk.)
But can a notification by the manual actions team be GOOD NEWS? It can be if it alerts you to a problem.
If you receive a manual action message, stay calm. It might be a penalty, but it might just be a warning. When you read the notification, here’s what you’re going to want to understand ASAP:
- What problem caused the manual action?
- What will it mean for my site (i.e., in terms of ranking and revenue)?
- How can I fix the problem as fast as possible?
Recognizing a Hacked Site
If your website is hacked, Google’s manual actions team may be the first to notice it. Google’s webspam fighters have gotten pretty good at identifying when a site is the victim of hacking, rather than purposely trying to spam through deceptive SEO conduct. And that’s great news for webmasters.
Juan Felipe Rincon, a lead of Google’s Webmaster Outreach team, spoke on manual actions at SMX West. He explained: “Content that wasn’t put there by the legitimate site owner and website hacks account for 45 percent of manual actions.” Forty-five percent of 4.3 million manual action notices represents a HUGE number of sites victimized by hacked content.
SEO tip: If your site has been hacked and you get the news directly from Google, be thankful. It’s a diagnosis you need to hear so you can work on curing the problem. For all webmasters, Google’s recommended preventative measures can help you protect your content and keep your site safe from hackers.
Solving for Thin Content
Sites scraping content from other sites to fill their own pages is apparently happening more and more.
This is a bad practice from an ethical perspective (because it’s stealing) and also from a business perspective. The search engines can identify where content comes from, including its original source, because they know the date and location they first discovered that content. So the reward just isn’t there for the crime of scraping! But since I’m pretty sure scrapers are not reading the Bruce Clay, Inc. Blog, I’ll end my rant.