Google Hummingbird

Google Hummingbird
Credit: Rocky John Tayaban

Google Algorithms - Friends or Enemies of Your Site?

If you have a blog, an online business or a website that promotes your services or products, you will certainly have heard of Google Algorithms.

They have cute names like Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird, but don’t be fooled, they are sudden and sneaky, unforgiving and sometimes fatal, but most of all, they can leave you broke, from one day to another.

From Google point of view, these changes to their formulas are necessary in order to make sure that, when users perform a search, they get good quality, relevant results, not spammy websites with little or no substance.

Spam sites try their hardest to gain the top search results using ‘dirty’ techniques like buying links, repeating keywords a gazillion time or even writing invisible content to users’ eyes, but visible to the search engines crawlers.

Until a few years ago spammers were able to get away with doing so, but the latest major algorithm updates seem to have tackled the bulk of these sites and demote them.

Unfortunately in the midst of these updates, some legitimate sites have also been penalised.

Google Algorithm
Credit: Craig R. Kirkby

Google changes its algorithm over 500 times per year. Most of the changes are small, except when they do some significant updates like in the case of Google Panda and Google Penguin which end up affecting most sites.

There are around 200 clues on those algorithms that help Google to determine the usefulness of your site. Some of these factors are:

  • Affiliates - too many affiliates links could signal your site as a thin affiliate site. It's best don't exaggerate with affiliates, maybe concentrate on just a few and build useful content around them.
  • Authority - Google is giving more importance to the site author. A good author is one that is a bit of an expert on a specific topic or subject and works hard to promote his good content across other sites. Those authors are helped by Google to rank better.
  • Cloaking - it is a misleading trick of displaying different content or URLs to users than to search engines. For instance, the web crawler sees a site as a standard text HTML, but the users will be shown a page with videos or images. Google considers this practice a violation of their guidelines.
  • Content Length - although there are no fixed rules on websites pages length, some SEO experts believe that good quality, longer content pages are more likely to rank higher than shorter superficial ones.
  • Contextual Links - relevant clickable links which are well embedded within the content of a site, may benefit your site ranking, by giving it more credibility.
  • Fresh Content - frequent updates and changes to the content of a site count as freshness, which helps to rank better.
  • Guest Blogging - should be used with caution, of course not all guest blogging  have been targeted, only the ones that are written with the purpose of redirecting users to websites that are irrelevant to the site they are posted on. The more optimised those spammy links are the more Google will penalise the site that allowed them to post it.
  • Keyword search function – crawlers (automated programs) look for keywords on websites that match what the user has entered in the search bar, giving priority to certain section of the site, such as on the domain, the title and headings. Keyword relevance increases especially if it is placed at the beginning of the tag or in the first hundred words of the page's content.
  • Keyword Stuffing – sites that have an excessive amount of keywords and/or these keywords are repeated many times are now being penalised.
  • Location – look at the geographic location to find local results, for example a highly ranked Australian site having an .au extension, may not rank globally, but only within Australia.
  • Long Tail Keywords - longer, more specific keywords seem to be standing to the search engine scrutiny and convert quite well.
  • Multimedia - videos and images seem to be helping to increase quality and importance of the site or article. In particular videos linking to YouTube, which is owned by Google, seem to be given more recognition.
  • PageRank - determines the site importance by calculating the number and quality of links to that page.
  • References and Sources - mentioning sources and references of your content, may indicate to Google the quality of the site.
  • Sneaky Redirects – when a page redirects from one domain to another one with the intent of selling something.
  • Social Network Sites - it seems that Google is keeping an eye on social approvals and interaction from sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google + and other networking sites. The more likes, thumbs up, vote, retweets your page has, the more your online reputation grows.
  • Thin content – these are low quality sites that provide little or no value to their readers.
  • Unnatural links – links created to manipulate the search engine ranking. Paid links are not a true editorial vote for a site, nor are excessive link exchanges between two or more sites. Harmful or no quality backlinks, can penalise your site. It is advisable to do a regular check up to remove them. Also broken links should be removed promptly.

So is there a way to escape from these ‘animals’ deadly bites?

Sure, at the end one must remember that search engines want to display webpages that are helpful to users, therefore if you have a legitimate site with good quality, fresh content, that is original and most important which main aim is to help its readers, you should not worry too much about being attacked by the latest Google updates. SEO strategy is still important, but has to be kept in balance with all other factors.

A word of advice is to keep on top of those algorithms changes and regularly check that your site, blog, article etc. is still designed to withstand the search engines scrutiny.

Watch Matt Cutts, the head of Google's Webspam team, answering the question about how to understand if the latest implemented algorithm has affected your site or if it's your content.

Matt Cutts - Head of Google's Webspam team

How can I tell if my site is affected by a particular algorithm?

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