Domain Level Penalty, Part II
In Part I, we talked about how to determine if your site has been banned or penalized by Google and what to do about it. This part delves more into Google penalty folklore, and how the search engine is constantly changing and evolving to counter nefarious work-arounds that people develop to game the search engine world.
In August and September 2009, Google made changes that demote a site by 50 places in the rankings if you are penalized. At this time, variation of anchor texts grew in importance even more than it had in previous years. The “rules” of building natural anchor text change a lot. Not that you should stop using natural anchor text. More on that later.
Here are five things you probably shouldn’t spend much, if any, time worrying about anymore:
- Alexa Rank is tilted enough toward online marketers that it does not tell nearly enough of your web traffic story to be worth much.
- Google back link data can be dicey. Suppose a random sample is returned with your most spam-laden link? Don’t make major decisions based on Google back link data. You want the kind of links that come along with good content. You’ll find them with little page widgets like the one in the screen shot.
- Google cache date is overused to where great pages can be returned with no cache set. Therefore cache date is irrelevant too.
- Google PageRank can be randomized to throw SEO experts off. Apparently Matt Cutts has confirmed this, as can be seen here.
- Precise anchor texts are officially “out” since anchor text filters have been in effect for quite some time now.
The so-called “minus 50 penalty,” a filter in Google operates on the domain, page, and keyword level. In other words, pages drop by 50 positions in the ranking because of over-optimization of keywords the page has been linked to, either internally or externally.
What does this mean? Un-optimize your keywords?
Since the moods of Google change fairly rapidly, the things that worked last year may not work now. If you’re hit with a penalty, all you can do is fix the problem, suck it up, and move on starting today. Various webmasters have said that it takes 60 days to get rid of the penalty, so the sooner you deal with it the better.
Something else you must do is change up your anchor texts. Don’t just use one hot keyword to link all your links. And you can’t just vary them singular and plural. You have to use everything from natural language phrases to pieces of keyword phrases to misspellings and typos. What you don’t want is to overdo the linking with the hot keywords and phrases. Write your anchor texts as if you don’t care about squeezing every last bit of juice out of a particular keyword or phrase.
When it comes to anchor text variety, your best bet for figuring it out is to check out what your best competitors are doing because there’s no exact number of times a keyword text can be used to anchor links. The key is not to be too far out of line when compared to your competition.
Page level penalties are becoming more common, whereas before, penalties were usually applied at the domain level. In many cases the page level penalties are hitting home pages of sites. Key phrase specific penalties are becoming more common too. This happens when there are easily detected paid links pointing to a page with exact anchor text for one key phrase. The problem is, the page can continue to get search traffic for some phrases, but not the one you want.
Apparently the reason Google does it this way is that sometimes Google susses out paid links, and sometimes it doesn’t. If the algorithm is going to hand out penalties for paid links, it needs to prevent itself from messing things up for a site too badly if the algorithm thinks there are paid links when there aren’t. Therefore, they limit the penalty to one specific page and one specific key phrase so that an entire site isn’t penalized in the even to of a mistakenly applied penalty. Of course, the best thing to do if you have paid links is get rid of them and wait for your site to be crawled again.
These page level and key phrase specific penalties are sometimes hard to detect, but there are some things you can do that might give you clues that your site is on the receiving end of a page level key phrase specific penalty.
- If you have paid links from a link network that it would be easy for Google to pick up. Get rid of them. If you haven’t been penalized yet, you will. It’s just a matter of time.
- Paid links use identical anchor text and point to the exact same page. Again, get rid of them.
- If the page linked to doesn’t have a good ranking for the target key phrase, you can be hit with a “minus 30” penalty or worse.
- If the page ranks OK for similar key phrases, then you could be the target of a key phrase level penalty. Test your ranking across several similar key phrases.
In the long term you’re always better off using above board link practices, such as the following:
- Don’t purchase links for Page Rank. Seriously, why would you do this? Google uses PageRank mostly as a signal that it has been banned. The ego-stroking that a high PageRank gets you isn’t what gets you traffic, search engine ranking, or conversions. Make yourself not care about it.
- Don’t have links on duplicate content pages such as article sites and article directories. And don’t add links into ancient pages without changing their content.
- Put in some no-follow links on relevant pages. If you add a no-follow tag, it still passes along relevancy and trust, even if PageRank juice isn’t passed along. Not that you would care, because you know not to care about PageRank, right?
- Links on relevant pages and in appropriate context are what you need. Simple, but true.
- Domain trust is very important, both from your domain and from domains linking to you. Domain trust has to do with domain age, and that site’s links. If your page has a link from a page that links to bad neighborhood sites, then by the mysterious Google transitive property, you may look sleazy by association.
- Conversely, “juicy” pages pass value to you if you put a link on it. Juicy pages are ones that rank for a keyword or phrase that is important to you, regardless of PageRank or other metrics.
The moral of this long story is that while domain level penalties appear to have peaked, you have to watch out for page level and keyword specific penalties. While Google’s intentions in doing this were probably honorable, these penalties can be a little harder to figure out than domain level problems, particularly keyword and key phrase level penalties. If you have paid links, shady links, or happen to link to a nice looking site that itself has questionable link issues, you need to fix these things now. It isn’t always easy finding out which of the sites you link to themselves link to porn or other dodgy sites, but it’s worth checking out. The bottom line is that if you shun all questionable practices, build links organically, and continue to provide fresh, relevant content with natural sounding anchor text for links, your site will bubble upward and is almost certain to resist getting penalized.