Google Panda Algorithm

how does google panda work and how to recover from google panda update, what is google panda algorithm
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Published Date:04-08-2017
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Panda, Penguin, and Penalties Search engines use many techniques for measuring search quality, including manual penalties, algorithmic penalties, and ranking algorithms. Sometimes these algorithms and penalties can have a major impact on your organic traffic. Significant decreases in the search engine traffic to your website can be devastating to a business. As shown in Figure 9-1, sometimes these drops in traffic can be quite large. Figure 9-1. Major loss in traffic If the business shown in Figure 9-1 generates all of its revenue from organic search traffic, this would represent a devastating blow. This type of loss of revenue can mean laying off employees, or even closing the business. For that reason, you need to have a working understanding of the potential causes of these traffic losses, and if you have already suffered such a loss, know how you can figure out what the cause is and what you need to do to recover. 595Diagnosing the Cause of a Traffic Loss The first step to identifying the cause of a traffic loss is to check your analytics data to see if the drop is in fact a loss of organic search engine traffic. If you have Google Analytics on your site, make sure you check your traffic sources, and then isolate just the Google traffic. If you confirm that it is a drop in Google organic search traffic, then the next step is to check if you have received a message in Google Search Console indicating that you have been penalized by Google. Figure 9-2 shows an example of a manual penalty message from Google. This is what Google refers to as a manual action. Figure 9-2. Penalty message in Google Search Console If you have received such a message, you now know what the problem is and you can get to work fixing it. It is not fun to have the problem, but knowing what you are dealing with is the first step in recovery. If you don’t have such a message, you will need to dig deeper to determine the source of your problem. The next step is to determine the exact date on which your traffic dropped. For example, if that date was April 24, 2012, take note of that. Then go to the Moz Google Algorithm Update Page and see if you can find the date of your traffic drop listed there. Using our example of April 24, 2012, Figure 9-3 shows that sites that suffered traffic losses on this date were probably hit by Google’s Penguin 1.0 algorithm release. CHAPTER NINE: PANDA, PENGUIN, AND PENALTIES 596 Figure 9-3. Moz Google algorithm update page showing Penguin 1.0 Barracuda Digital also offers a tool called the “Panguin Tool” that will overlay the Goo- gle algorithm updates on your Google Analytics data to make this date comparison analysis easier for you. If you haven’t gotten a message in Google Search Console, and the date of your traffic loss does not line up with a known Google algorithm update, the process of figuring out how to recover is much harder, as you don’t know the reason for the drop. Google does make smaller changes to its algorithms on a daily basis. From its perspec- tive, these are smaller changes and not major updates. Such tweaks may be much harder to recover from as well. The best strategy is to focus on the best practices out- lined in Chapter 6 and Chapter 7, or if you can afford SEO advice, bring in an expert to help you figure out what to do next. Summary of Major Google Algorithms The two most famous Google algorithms released since February 2011 are Panda and Penguin, but there are several others that Google has also released in that timeframe. Panda and Penguin are examined in detail later in this chapter. Here is a summary of some of the other major algorithms released by Google: Top Heavy Update Released on January 19, 2012, this update impacts sites that have too many ads above the fold. This is true even if the ads are AdSense ads (from Google’s own advertising programs). To avoid this penalty, avoid placing lots of ads near the top of your web pages. A banner ad is probably fine, as is something on the right rail SUMMARY OF MAJOR GOOGLE ALGORITHMS 597 of your site, but anything more than that starts to run into trouble with this algo- rithm. This algorithm was updated on October 9, 2012. DMCA Penalty (a.k.a. Pirate) Announced on August 10, 2012, this update applies penalties to sites that receive too many valid DMCA takedown requests. DMCA stands for Digital Millennium Copyright Act. You can file a DMCA takedown request if someone has stolen your content and published it as his own. Of course, to avoid this penalty, you should publish only your own original content. If you hire people to write for you, ensure that they are writing original content as well. Exact-Match Domain (EMD) With the release of this update on September 27, 2012, Google started to change the way it values exact-match domains. An example of an exact-match domain might be http://www.blue-widgets.com (note that this is not currently a real site, and is in fact a parked page), which historically would have had an advantage in rank- ing for the search phrase blue widgets. The purpose of this update was to reduce or eliminate that advantage. Payday Loan (spammy sites) Released on June 11, 2013, this algorithm targeted sites that it considered to be in particularly spammy market spaces. Google specical fi ly mentioned payday loans, casinos, and pornography as targeted markets. This algorithm was updated on May 16, 2014. Hummingbird Announced on September 26, 2013, Hummingbird was not really an algorithm update, but instead a rewrite of Google’s search platform, with a design goal of making the overall search engine more flexible and adaptable for the future. Part of the design of this rewrite included more support for natural language queries and semantic search. These are some of the major releases, but as we’ve noted, Google makes many smaller changes as well. In August 2014, the head of search quality for Google, Amit Singhal, 1 indicated that it had made 890 changes in the past year. Panda Google’s Panda algorithm shook up the search landscape when it came out on Febru- ary 24, 2012. In their announcement of the release, Google said the following: 1 Barry Schwartz, “Google Made 890 Improvements To Search Over The Past Year,” Search Engine Land, August 19, 2014, http://bit.ly/890_improvements. CHAPTER NINE: PANDA, PENGUIN, AND PENALTIES 598Many of the changes we make are so subtle that very few people notice them. But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking—a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries—and we wanted to let people know what’s going on. This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites, or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analy- sis, and so on. Other information also came out pretty quickly about this release, which Danny Sulli- 2 van of Search Engine Land initially called the Farmer update. Between this additional information and the initial announcement, several aspects of Panda quickly became clear: • This was a very large change. Very few algorithm updates by Google impact more than 10% of all search queries. • This algorithm is focused on analyzing content quality. • Scraper sites were targeted. • Sites lacking substantial unique information were also targeted. In particular, con- tent farms were part of what Google was looking to address—a move that Eric 3 Enge predicted would happen three weeks before this release. • Google clearly states a strong preference for new research, in-depth reports, and thoughtful analysis. • The Panda algorithm does not use the link graph as a ranking factor. The second release of Panda came out on April 11, 2011. What made this release par- ticularly interesting is that it incorporated data gathers from Google’s Chrome Blocklist Extension. This extension to Chrome allowed users to indicate that they wanted pages removed from the search results. Figure 9-4 illustrates what this looks like in action. 2 Danny Sullivan, “Google Forecloses On Content Farms With ‘Panda’ Algorithm Update,” Search Engine Land, February 24, 2011, http://bit.ly/panda_update. 3 Eric Enge, “The Rise And Fall Of Content Farms,” Search Engine Land, January 31, 2011, http:// bit.ly/content_farms. PANDA 599 Figure 9-4. Chrome Blocklist Extension This was the first time that Google ever publicly confirmed that it was using a form of direct user input as a ranking factor in any of its algorithms. Initially, Panda was focused only on the United States, but was rolled out internation- ally on August 12, 2011, to most of the rest of the world except Japan, China, and Korea. Google has done many releases for Panda since the initial one. Table 9-1 provides a full list of all known Panda releases. Table 9-1. List of Panda releases Panda release Date Notes Panda 1.0 February 23, 2011 Impacted 11.8% of search results. Panda 2.0 April 11, 2011 Added use of the Chrome Blocklist Extension. Panda 2.1 May 9, 2011 Panda 2.2 June 21, 2011 Panda 2.3 July 23, 2011 Panda 2.4 August 12, 2011 Rolled out internationally; impacted 6–9% of queries internationally. Panda 2.5 September 28, 2011 Panda “Flux” October 5, 2011 Called “Flux” as a result of a Matt Cutts tweet; impacted 2% of queries. Minor update October 11, 2011 Panda 3.1 November 18, 2011 Naming skipped an official 3.0 release. CHAPTER NINE: PANDA, PENGUIN, AND PENALTIES 600Panda release Date Notes Panda 3.2 January 18, 2012 Panda 3.3 February 27, 2012 Panda 3.4 March 23, 2012 Impacted 1.6% of results. Panda 3.5 April 19, 2012 Panda 3.6 April 27, 2012 Panda 3.7 June 8, 2012 Impacted less than 1% of queries. Panda 3.8 June 25, 2012 Panda 3.9 July 24, 2012 Impacted about 1% of queries. Panda 18 August 20, 2012 Industry agreed on nomenclature change to counting the release number. Panda 19 September 18, 2012 Panda 20 September 27, 2012 Impacted 2.4% of queries. Panda 21 November 5, 2012 Impacted 1.1% of queries. Panda 22 November 21, 2012 Panda 23 December 21, 2012 Impacted 1.3% of queries. Panda 24 January 22, 2012 Impacted 1.2% of queries. Panda 25 March 14, 2013 Date estimated by Moz. Google announced Panda would be made part of the core algorithm. As of this date, rolling updates are no longer announced, but happen monthly and roll out over 10 days or so. Panda 26 June 11, 2013 Panda 27 July 18, 2013 Rumored to soften Panda’s impact. Panda 4.0 May 20, 2014 Major update confirmed by Google. Also appeared to soften Panda’s impact on many sites, but new sites were also hit. As of March 14, 2013, Google announcements of Panda updates became relatively rare, and Table 9-1 shows only the announced updates. However, these updates appear periodically as unannounced data refreshes and roll out over a period of more than a week. Since that time, Google has confirmed only three Panda updates, with the most recent one being Panda 4.0 on May 20, 2014. To track all Google updates over time, you can check the Google algorithm change his- tory page on the Moz website. Target Areas of Panda Google has historically offered relatively vague information on how the Panda algo- rithm works to determine the quality of a site. For example, on May 6, 2011, Amit PANDA 601 Singhal offered his advice on building high-quality sites. In it, he suggested a list of questions that you could use to determine if you were on such a site: • Would you trust the information presented in this article? • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature? • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations? • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site? • Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors? • Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines? • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, origi- nal research, or original analysis? • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results? • How much quality control is done on content? • Does the article describe both sides of a story? • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic? • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care? • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced? • For a health-related query, would you trust information from this site? • Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name? • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic? • Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious? • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend? • Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content? • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia, or book? • Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specics? fi CHAPTER NINE: PANDA, PENGUIN, AND PENALTIES 602 • Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail versus less atten- tion to detail? • Would users complain when they see pages from this site? There are a few key points that can be extracted from this advice, and the industry has been able to determine and clarify a number of Panda’s target areas. These include: Thin content As you might expect, this is defined as pages with very little content. Examples might be user profile pages on forum sites with very little information filled in, or an ecommerce site with millions of products, but very little information provided about each one. Unoriginal content These may be scraped pages, or pages that are only slightly rewritten, and Google can detect them relatively easily. Sites with even a small number of these types of pages can be impacted by Panda. Nondifferentiated content Even if you create all original articles, this may not be enough. If every page on your site covers topics that have been written about by others hundreds or thou- sands of times before, then you really have nothing new to add to the Web with your site. Consider, for example, the number of articles in the Google index about making French toast, as shown in Figure 9-5. There are over 30,000 pages on the Web that include the phrase how to make french toast in their title. From Google’s perspective, it don’t need another web page on that topic. Figure 9-5. There are tens of thousands of pages on “how to make french toast” Poor-quality content This is content that is inaccurate or poorly assembled. In many cases, this may be hard to detect, but as mentioned in Amit Singhal’s article, one indicator is content that includes poor grammar or a lot of spelling mistakes. Google could also poten- tially use fact checking as another way to determine poor-quality content. PANDA 603Curated content Sites that have large numbers of pages with lists of curated links do get hit by Panda. Content curation is not inherently bad, but if you are going to do it, it’s important to incorporate a significant amount of thoughtful commentary and analysis. Pages that simply include lots of links will not do well, nor will pages that include links and only a small amount of unique text. Content curation is explored in depth in “Content Curation & SEO: A Bad Match?”. Thin slicing This was believed to be one of the original triggers for the Panda algorithm, as it was a popular tactic for content farms. Imagine you wanted to publish content on the topic of schools with nursing programs. Content farm sites would publish many articles on the same topic, with titles such as: “nursing schools,” “nursing school,” “nursing colleges,” “nursing universities,” “nursing education,” and so forth. There is no need for all of those different articles, which prompted Google to target this practice with Panda. Database-generated content The practice of using a database to generate web pages is not inherently bad, but many companies were doing it to an excessive scale. This led to lots of thin- content pages or poor-quality pages, so many of these types of sites were hit by Panda. Importance of Diversity in Rankings Diversity is important to overall search quality for Google. One simple way to illustrate this is with the search query Jaguar. This word can refer to an animal, a car, a guitar, an operating system, or even an NFL team. Normal ranking signals might suggest the results shown in Figure 9-6. CHAPTER NINE: PANDA, PENGUIN, AND PENALTIES 604 Figure 9-6. Normal ranking signals may show these results for “Jaguar” Note that the search results at the top all focus on the car, which may be what the basic ranking signals suggest the searcher is looking for. However, if the searcher is looking for information on the animal, those results are pushed down a bit. As a result, Google may use other signals to decide to alter the results to look more like those shown in Figure 9-7. Figure 9-7. “Query Deserves Diversity” may alter the results for “Jaguar” PANDA 605 In this version of the results, one of the animal-related results has been pushed into the second position. Google makes these types of adjustments to the SERPs using a concept known as Query Deserves Diversity. Google makes these adjustments by measuring user interaction with the search results to determine what ordering of the results provides the highest levels of user satisfac- tion. For example, even if traditional ranking signals would put another page for the car next, it might make sense for the next result to be about the animal. Role of Authority in Rankings Consider again the search query how to make French toast we showed in Figure 9-5. While Google has plenty of results on the topic, there are, of course, some sites that rank highly for this search query. How is their rank determined? Very high-authority sites are likely to do fine when publishing content on a topic that is already well covered on the Internet. There are a few possible reasons why this is the case: • Reputation and authority is a big factor. For example, if the New York Times Life- style section posted a new article on how to make French toast, even though it is not particularly unique, readers might respond well to it anyway. User interaction signals with the search result for that content would probably be quite strong, simply because of the site’s reputation. • High-authority sites probably got to be that way because they don’t engage in much of the behavior that Google does not like. Chances are that you won’t find a lot of thin content, “me too” content, thin slicing, or any of the issues that are Panda triggers. • Google may simply be applying looser criteria to a high-authority site than it does to other sites. Exactly what factors allow higher-authority sites to have more leeway is not clear. Is it that Google is measuring user interaction with the content, the quality of the content itself, the authority of the publisher, or some combination of these factors? There are probably elements of all three in what Google does. Impact of Any Weak Content on Rankings Weak content on even one single section of a larger site can cause Panda to lower the rankings for the whole site. This is true even if the content in question makes up less than 20% of the pages for the site. When you are putting together a plan to recover from Panda, it is important to take this into account. CHAPTER NINE: PANDA, PENGUIN, AND PENALTIES 606Path to Recovery The road to recovery from a Panda penalty may be a long one. Oftentimes it requires a substantial reevaluation of your site’s business model. You need to be prepared to look at your site with a highly critical eye, and this is often very hard to do with your own site. Thus, it’s a good idea to consider bringing in an external perspective to evaluate your site. You need someone who is willing to look you in the eye and tell you that your baby is ugly. Once you go through this reevaluation process, you may realize that even the basic premise of your site is broken, and that you need to substantially restructure it. Mak- ing these types of decisions is quite hard, but you need to be prepared to do it. As you consider these tough choices, it can be helpful to look at your competition that did not get hit. Understand, however, that you may see instances of thin content, weak content, “me too” content, and other poor-quality pages on competitors’ sites that look just as bad as the content penalized on your site, and they may not appear to have been impacted by Panda. Don’t let this type of analysis deter you from making the hard choices. There are so many factors that Google uses in its ranking algorithms that you will never really know why your site was hit by Panda and your competitor’s site was not. What you do know is that Google’s Panda algorithm does not like something about your site. This may include complex signals based on how users interact with your list- ings in the search results, which is data you don’t have access to. To rebuild your traffic, it’s best to dig deep and take on hard questions about how you can build a site full of fantastic content that gets lots of user interaction and engage- ment. While it is not believed that social media engagement is a factor in Panda, there is likely a strong correlation between high numbers of social shares and what Google considers to be good content. Highly differentiated content that people really want, enjoy, share, and link to is what you want to create on your site (the article “After Google Panda, Standout Content Is Essential” expands on this concept). There is a science to creating content that people will engage with. We know that picking engaging titles for the content is important, and that including compelling images matters too. Make a point of studying how to create engaging content that people will love, and apply those principles to every page you create. In addition, measure the engagement you get, test different methods, and improve your ability to produce great content over time. Ways to address weak pages As you examine your site, a big part of your focus should be addressing its weak pages. They may come in the form of an entire section of weak content, or a number of pages PANDA 607 interspersed among the higher-quality content on your site. Once you have identied fi those pages, there are a few different paths you can take to address the problems you find: • Improve the content. This may involve rewriting the content on the page, and making it more compelling to users who visit. • Add the noindex meta tag to the page (you can read about how to do this in Chap- ter 6). This will tell Google to not include these pages in its index, and thus will take them out of the Panda equation. • Delete the pages altogether, and 301-redirect visitors to other pages on your site. Use this option only if there are quality pages that are relevant to the deleted ones. • Delete the pages and return a 410 HTTP status code when someone tries to visit the deleted page. This tells the search engine that the pages have been removed from your site. • Use the URL removal tool to take the page out of Google’s index. This should be done with great care. You don’t want to accidentally delete other quality pages from the Google index Expected timeline to recovery Even though they are no longer announced, Panda releases come out roughly once per month. However, once you have made the necessary changes, you will still need to wait. Google has to recrawl your site to see what changes you have made. It may take Google several months before it has seen enough of the changed or deleted pages to tilt the balance in your favor. What if you don’t recover? Sadly, if your results don’t change, this usually means that you have not done enough to please the Panda algorithm. It may be that you were not strict enough in deleting poorer-quality content from your site. Or, it may mean that Google is not getting enough signals that people really care about what they find on your site. Either way, this means that you have to keep working to make your site more inter- esting to users. Go beyond viewing this process as a way to deal with Panda, and instead see it as a mission to make your site one of the best on the Web. This requires substantial vision and creativity. Frankly, it’s not something that every- body can accomplish without making significant investments of time and money. One thing is clear: you can’t afford to cut corners when trying to address the impact of the Panda algorithm. CHAPTER NINE: PANDA, PENGUIN, AND PENALTIES 608 If you have invested a lot of time and made many improvements, but you still have content that you know is not so great, chances are pretty good that you haven’t done enough. You will likely find yourself four months later wishing that you had kept at the recovery process. In addition, the Panda algorithm is constantly evolving. Even if you have not been hit by this algorithm, the message from Google is clear: it is going to give the greatest rewards to sites that provide fantastic content and great user experiences. Thus, your best path forward is to be passionate about creating a site that offers both. This is how you maximize your chances of recovering from Panda, and from being impacted by future releases. Successful Panda recovery example In Figure 9-1, we showed an example of a site suffering a major traffic loss. The site in question, called The Riley Guide, is dedicated to providing information on jobs and careers. A thorough examination of the site showed that it had two major problems: • The content on careers was too similar to the type of content you can find on a major government website, http://www.bls.gov. Even though The Riley Guide’s con- tent was not copied from that location, it did not offer any unique differentiation or value to the Web. • The content on the rest of the site mainly consisted of links to resources for job information elsewhere on the Web. This content was structured like a librarian’s index, with links and short commentaries on each. In some cases, the commen- tary was copied from the target website. In short, the original site structure did not offer a lot of value. The publishers of The Riley Guide took the site through a complete overhaul. This was a lengthy process, as about 140 pages had to be rewritten from scratch, and another 60 or so pages had the noindex tag applied. Figure 9-8 shows the results of this effort. Not only did the site recover from Panda, but it is now hitting new highs for traffic. PANDA 609 Figure 9-8. Panda traffic recovery Penguin Google’s Penguin algorithm was first released to the world on April 24, 2012. It was the first major algorithm implemented by Google to address bad links. Like Panda before it, the Penguin release shook up the search landscape. Since the initial release of this algorithm, there have been several incremental releases, and an expansion of the scope of the types of links addressed. Penguin algorithm hits are generally reasonably easy to detect, as there have only been five total releases of Penguin. These are the only dates on which you may have been hit by the alogrithm, and unfortunately, also appear to be the only dates on which you can recover from it. Table 9-2 lists all of the releases of Penguin as of June 2015. Table 9-2. List of Penguin releases Penguin release Date Notes Penguin 3.0 October 17, 2014 Impacted 1.0% of queries Penguin 2.1 October 4, 2013 Penguin 2.0 May 22, 2013 Began targeting links more at the page level. Penguin 1.2 October 5, 2012 Impacted about 0.3% of queries. Penguin 1.1 May 25, 2012 Penguin 1.0 April 24, 2012 Impacted 3.1% of U.S. search queries. As you can see, the releases are quite rare, and this is one of the more jarring aspects of Penguin. Once you have been hit by it, you have to wait until the next release to have a chance to recover. That could be as long as one full year For purposes of diagnosis, if your traffic experiences a significant drop on one of the dates listed in Table 9-2, it’s likely that you have been hit by Penguin. CHAPTER NINE: PANDA, PENGUIN, AND PENALTIES 610Target Areas of Penguin As you will see in the section “Links Google Does Not Like” on page 620, there are many different types of links that are considered bad links. However, Penguin appears to focus on a more limited set of link types. These are: Article directories From the very first release of Penguin, Google targeted sites that obtained links from article directories. While these links may not always reflect manipulative intent by the publisher, Google found that people who leveraged article directories tended to operate lower-quality sites. Cheap directories These were also targeted in the very first release of Penguin. There are a few directories that are genuinely high quality, such as the Yahoo Directory, DMOZ, Business.com, Best of the Web, and perhaps a few others specicfi to your industry vertical. Stay away from the rest. Excessive rich anchor text Excessive use of rich anchor text was also a part of the initial release of Penguin. Specifically, Penguin targeted too many instances of the same anchor text point- ing to any of the URLs on your site. Google does not expect, or want, all links to say, “click here,” but it sees it as a signal of spammy behavior when the exact same keyword-rich anchor text is used repeatedly. Low-relevance international links While it is not confirmed that this target area is a part of any Penguin release, anecdotal evidence suggests it might be. Consider any links from countries where you don’t sell your products or services as a potential problem, unless they come from truly high-quality sites. Comment spam Excessively implementing links in comments on other people’s blog posts and forums is also a problem for Penguin. PENGUIN 611There may be more types of links that are a part of the Penguin algorithm or that could be included in future releases. A complete summary of problem links is dis- cussed in “Links Google Does Not Like” on page 620. Path to Recovery The first step on the road to recovery from a Penguin hit is to realize that Penguin releases are rare. As they happen roughly twice per year, you don’t want to get cute and try to save some of your questionable links. Be aggressive and clean up every pos- sible problem. Certainly, address the types of links listed in “Target Areas of Penguin” on page 611, but you should also seriously consider dealing with all of the link prob- lems listed in “Links Google Does Not Like” on page 620. Do not file a reconsideration request, as it is a waste of time. In fact, you can’t file one unless you have a manual penalty on your site. Google does not have the mechanisms in place to adjust how the Penguin algorithm impacts you. After you have addressed the bad links to your site, you must wait. Once the next Penguin release arrives, you will know whether you have done enough. If you are not successful in recovering during that release, you have no choice but to figure out which links you failed to clean up and try again for the next release. If you are suc- cessful, congratulations Penalties There are two types of penalties, algorithmic and manual. Algorithmic penalties do not involve any human component, whereas manual penalties do. While the details of what prompts Google to perform a manual review of a website are not always evident, there appear to be several ways that manual reviews can be triggered. Figure 9-9 illus- trates how a manual review might be triggered in the case of a site that has problems with its link profile. CHAPTER NINE: PANDA, PENGUIN, AND PENALTIES 612 Figure 9-9. Possible ways that Google manual reviews may be triggered Note that in some cases an algorithm may trigger an algorithmic ranking adjustment (as shown in Figure 9-9, algorithmic adjustments are made only when Google’s confi- dence in the signals is very high; if the confidence level is not high but there are indi- cations of a problem, a manual review might be initiated). Here is a summary of the major potential triggers: Spam report Any user (including your competitor) can file a spam report in Google. Google receives large volumes of these reports every day. Google evaluates each report, PENALTIES 613 and if it finds one credible (it may run some type of algorithmic verifier to deter- mine that), then it conducts a manual review. Algorithmically triggered review While this approach has never been veried fi by Google, it’s likely that Google uses algorithms to trigger a manual review of a website. The premise is that Google uses algorithms like Panda, Penguin, and others that identify large quantities of sites whose behavior is bad, but not bad enough for Google to algorithmically penalize them, so these sites would be queued for manual review. Google could also implement custom algorithms designed to flag sites for review. Regular search results reviews Google maintains a large team of people who perform manual reviews of search 4 results to evaluate their quality. This effort is primarily intended to provide input to the search quality team at Google that they can use to help them improve their algorithms. However, it is quite possible that this process could also be used to identify individual sites for further scrutiny. Once a review is triggered, the human reviewer uses a set of criteria to determine if a penalty is merited. Whatever the outcome of that review, it is likely that Google keeps the notes from the review in a database for later use. Google most likely keeps a rap sheet on all webmasters and their previous infractions, whether they result in a pen- alty or not. NOTE Google Search Console Messages As of April 2012, Google has maintained a policy of sending all publishers that receive a manual penalty a message in their Search Console describing the nature of the penalty. These messages describe the penalty in general terms, and it is up to the publisher to figure out how to resolve it. Generally, the only resource that Google provides to help with this is its Webmaster Guidelines. If you receive such a message, then the reconsideration request option in Google Search Console becomes available. Types of Manual Penalties Manual penalties come in many forms. The most well-known types of penalties are link related, but you can also get a variety of other penalties. Some of the most com- mon types of manual penalties are discussed in the following sections. 4 Danny Goodwin, “Google’s Rating Guidelines Adds Page Quality to Human Reviews,” Search Engine Watch, September 6, 2012, http://bit.ly/rating_guidelines. CHAPTER NINE: PANDA, PENGUIN, AND PENALTIES 614

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