Everybody is buzzing all around now, how latest changes Google did affected their search traffic greatly! Chances are if you monitor your own properties on Google Analytics, you will see significant drop in your traffic in March!
1WD was seriously affected as well from March 20! Besides Google Panda release, there were 2 rounds of changes Google did, hurting almost every site search traffic:
• Panda 3.3 – Search quality highlights: 40 changes for February
• Panda 3.4 on March 23 – Search quality highlights: 50 changes for March
So what exactly do these changes mean? Do you need to be worried and what can you do to be prepared and be more likable in Google’s eyes?
In this Google SEO guide I will show you the behind the scenes on how 1WD was affected, explain how to monitor your traffic better and how to be more prepared in the future. A lot of websites were hit hard, even high authority websites. We always have been focusing on high quality content here, never used spammy link building techniques and we believe our social presence is very strong as well.
So what the hell is happening here?
Which sites were affected, which were not?
After asking around, I found out that mostly new websites ~1 year weren’t affected, but a lot of sites which had some very high-ranking keywords, felt a big decrease there.
It seems if you have average links, new website and haven’t done spammy SEO promotion, you are doing great. However if you have something to lose as old, stable top keyword rankings, you got hit.
I compared several top web design websites onand here are results for the last month March 15 to April 15:
- 1WD – 6% drop (it was more like 15% drop in reality for me, which means everybody was hit much harder as Alexa shows)
- SmashingMagazine – 6.5% drop
- Sixrevisions – 2% drop
- WebDesignerDepot – 5% drop
- Css-Tricks – 4% raise
- Designm.ag – 12% drop
- TutPlus sites – 3.7% drop
- SpeckyBoy – 4% drop
- SpyreStudios – 7% drop
- Hongkiat – 9% drop
- UxBooth – 5% drop
- WebDesignerWall – 3% drop
You can check Copyblogger with 15% drop and Quicksprout 16% drop in other niches! Crazy right? And those are just Alexa’s inaccurate stats, if I compare with 1WD Analytics, then I believe all of these sites in reality got 10-20% drop in traffic!
All of these blogs are very popular and always focus on high quality articles. This really doesn’t make sense and it shows how we need to rethink what we are doing online, what we are writing and how we need to promote our websites.
The most visible and buzzed topics about Google changes were:
- Big link networks taken down
- Duplicate page content
- Over Optimization
- Too many ads above the fold
- Social signal importance
What mistakes should you avoid doing? And how to fix them?
Its time to list down the most popular mistakes we all probably have done before, but should avoid now! Interesting that a lot of these mistakes aren’t new, but before all of those techniques were really working. Most mistakes are easily found because they do not look real and Google has raised his eyebrows to search everything unnatural.
1. Obsessing about exact-match anchor text
Everybody who has done link building anywhere has been working to target perfect term for their website. Wherever you could, you try to include your term, for example: web design blog.
You can include this term while:
- Commenting on other blogs
- Writing guest posts
- Getting paid links, advertising
- Writing your forum comment, Yahoo Answers, Quora, including term in signature
- Using link building tools, blog networks
Previously this technique was really working even if there were people warning about over working, but there weren’t so many drawbacks. Until now.
Such obsessing do not look natural for Google and it’s easy to spot it!
How to fix this mistake?
Do your keyword research again and choose 5-10 terms you would like to rank for and mix them in wherever you can. Change your signatures to be different. Instead of working for one term, when guest posting for example, include related article you have on your blog, not your home address anchor text.
While working on your brand awareness be as helpful as possible, don’t just link back to your site, link to others, link to very specific posts if you have, which are related. The same is about comments – if your comment is valuable and you have high quality article written about the same issue, include it, but don’t obsess about always mentioning your brand!
Good practice is also to check how others relate to your brand! Usually if they will want to share your website to others, they won’t tell – check out this web design blog. Instead they will tell to check out 1stWebDesigner (it helps to have related keywords in your domain, of course as we have – web designer).
2. Ads Above The Fold
Google has announced that pages with too many ads above the fold are now penalized by Google’s page layout algorithm. Strangely Google itself is not following their praised best practices.
These news completely make sense in order to ensure the best reading experience, however it’s hard for blogs who want to earn some income to remove those top ads, without loosing money.
We are doing bad work on 1WD ourselves, but we are working on removing those ads slowly and once our own Labzip product will be ready, we plan on having just one banner ad on sidebar for better experience.
How to fix this problem?
Easy answer – just remove those ads! Every blog owner knows it’s not so easy to do that, as it removes any income! What you can do instead is to move some of those ads below the first page, put them on the middle or bottom of sidebar or at the end of the blog post.
Great solution is responsive websites, where on smaller screens you remove those ads completely or leave just few of them. On Codrops website, you will see ads following to the bottom of page in that way cleaning up above the fold section (scale that site resolution down, to see effect in real life).
Very good example is SmashingMagazine website:
This is the screenshot from website on 1000px width:
This is the screenshot with 1024×768 resolution:
As you can see on the first image, you can see just 2 ads, while in second one there are 8 ads above the fold. Even then though SmashingMag also saw decrease in search traffic. My guess would be that too many people on 1024×768 still see those ads, but the trending is right. A lot more people are using tablet devices and mobile phones to browse internet and they will see little ads there.
The same is true about big resolutions, I have Macbook Pro with 1680×1050 resolution, and while browsing SmashingMag on full screen those sidebar ads do not seem to be hurting readability.
Suggestion – create a responsive website and remove as many ads as possible on smaller screen sizes. In dream world, people with 1024×768 and less shouldn’t need to see sidebar ads.
Summary: going responsive and removing some of the top ads and a lot of links from top could definitely help improve readers experience and also will make Google like you more. Removing clutter from top navigation is top recommended while planning your design.
3. Duplicate page content
This is a very popular technique used by spammers, who just copy other site content and publish it as unique. Don’t do that. Ok, I bet if you are reading this blog you aren’t doing it anyway, but also check your site for bad code, which makes your site content to be duplicated. For example I checked my SeoMoz pro and saw I have a lot of page duplicates, where on WordPress writers use images, but don’t remove default link from them. For my layout it created one more page with that image, which was taken as duplicated content for Google.
Be sure you don’t make such silly mistakes, which can hurt your rankings and make experience for your visitors worse.
If you want to read more about duplicated content and check if you aren’t making any mistakes visit those links:
- Virante – This tool diagnoses common causes and effects of duplicate content penalties;
- Check your Google Webmaster tools to improve your site;
- 7 Ways to Tame Duplicate Content – read this old, but still relevant post from SEOMoz.
Here you can check more common SEO mistakes from official Google Webmaster Central blog, check this video ( created on March 19,2012):
What should you do now to improve your search rankings?
Okay, you heard about a lot of mistakes, but what exactly do you need to do now to be friends with Google, to improve your traffic and brand?
A lot of fundamentals have never changed, Google’s changes just encourage you to work on best content, real relationships, best user reading experience and be quick to change and improve.
1. Don’t chase the algorithm, create content for users
You might be hearing top SEO advice all the time, people talking how to help you promote your content, get easy way to huge traffic and high-ranking. The truth is even if some of these spammy techniques work, they won’t work in short future. Blackhat SEO guys, make it their job to search for the holes and change all the time, but it’s a hell of the work and they must be very careful. Just very few guys are so smart, so experience that they can really work on gaming the system.
I would suggest to work on long-term white hat techniques, which will do a lot of good for you in long run. With online business it’s important to feel safe about it and know that you will earn approx the same or more money each month.
2. Track everything
Use Google Analytics, KissInsights, Kissmetrics, Seomoz Pro, Webmaster Tools to be able to keep up with trends, get information about your visitors and make sure your site follow the best techniques, check if links are working.
3. Be aggressive and quick on changes
- If you are interested on being friends with Google, you need to be friends with your visitors. If all the sites are going mobile and on tablets, you need to create your website to be accessible on those new devices.
- If everybody is implementing HTML5, CSS3 then use it so your code becomes cleaner and shorter.
- If browsers are stopping to support Flash, then you better start focusing on new techniques.
- Responsive designs help for site to be supported on all those different resolutions, use it!
4. Social network importance
Google is pushing its social network Google+, Facebook is working together with Bing search engine, Twitter search results appear real-time. The future is in social networks, Google are getting better and better on indexing such information very quickly, they listen to social signals.
Actually those are great news because before Twitter, Facebook was completely different traffic sources, now they complement each other by showing up in search results as priority. If you want to work on search engine optimization, work on social networks! We have quite a lot of them, I didn’t mention Pinterest and LinkedIn even yet!
5. Update Your Old Content
This can take a lot of time if you have a lot of articles, pages, like we have on 1WD, but encouraged to do. If you have old posts which rank very good, its worth updating them, checking for broken links, up to date information. You will get huge benefits from that like more social signals, new comments and your posts will be kept ranking very well.
If you have written very poor content in past, then consider editing it, don’t delete those posts, but invest in quality.
6. Implement SEO basics and good on-site strategies
The most important thing is to use very simple and clean code, validate HTML and CSS to prevent any crawl errors. If you will keep your code clean, pages will load faster – load speed also affects search rankings!
While working on your website design, remember to keep your top navigation simple and short ( something we are not doing!) We were thinking that detailed navigation will help users to browse around, but in fact it’s only creating clutter, as people just want to read the latest, then most popular posts and if they want to find something they use search anyway.
7. Work on good link building techniques
These include writing guest posts, working on real relationships with influencers, with your peers where you can help each other by linking on relevant posts, writing comments and leveraging from those relationships.
Actually the same way you need to work on social relationships with goal to get more social signals, the same way you work on link building indirectly just working together with people helping each other. For example, if you would own 1WD, you would connect with similar web design blogs, interact with blog owners, link to their sites – they will return the favor one way or another just because they will consider you friend.
Tools to use for better SEO on your own site:
In past I have always been using All In One SEO, but now transferring to Yoast plugin, because it is very complete, everything in one place, easily explained and once you setup it, you can forget about it, just add what’s required to new posts and enjoy the best SEO practices.
If you invest time in researching all of this plugin features, it will be enough for you on-site SEO efforts!
Some of the popular features include:
- Post titles and meta descriptions
- Robots Meta configuration
- Google webmaster tool verification, Bing webmaster tools
- XML sitemap
- RSS enhancements
- Edit your robots.txt
SEO Smart Links (79$ for 3 months)
SEO Smart Links – Premium Edition enhances your search engine rankings by automatically inter-linking your posts. In this way you are working on link building magically while writing new posts, which is very useful as each links also counts as vote for search engines. Start with your own site!
This is premium plugin created by Vladimir Prelovac, there are some free plugins around like, but I cannot vouch for them.
Some of the features:
- Enhanced content parsing algorithm
- Advanced automatic interlinking options
- Advanced custom keywords options
- Advanced control over number of created links
- Support for link redirection/link cloaking
SEO Friendly Images (free)
This plugin will come really handy for your image optimization, also created by Vladimir Prelovac.
SEO Friendly Images is a WordPress SEO plugin which automatically updates all images with proper ALT and TITLE attributes for SEO purposes. If your images do not have ALT and TITLE already set, SEO Friendly Images will add them according the options you set. Additionally this makes the post W3C/xHTML valid as well.
Comment section is where you should spend a lot of time as blog owner, if you work on regular content then you must encourage comments. Your visitors are actually helping you to add more good content to the post by leaving valuable comments. But in order for them to do that, you need to encourage them by rewarding your visitors. How about the link back to their recent post?
Some of the best features:
- 10 post incentives – if visitor share post on G+, Twitter or like, he can choose which post to include there
- Control over do follow, nofollow attributes
- Built in tracking system
- Beautiful anti spam plugin GASP built-in, to eliminate spam. Actually a lot of options to take care of spammers wanting to just get their links.
If you want to read more benefits of using this plugin, check this awesome plugin review made by Ana, her blog posts usually get from 20 to 100 comments. Only thing missing in this plugin is beautiful design, but planning to take care of that by manually redesigning it.
Must use tool where Google will directly inform and help you know what sections of your site needs to be improved, what problems it may get or is getting.
SEOMoz is a proven tool created by SEOMoz experts, their expertise and great blog leaves no doubt they know what they are talking about. I am using their software to get detailed analysis what kind of most common errors and warnings I have on my site, manage keywords, keep eye on search traffic where data is driven from your Google Analytics account ( ah, you should have Google Analytics installed of course).
It is quite expensive, but I really feel it is helping me to simplify SEO and social monitoring on my own website. If you take SEO seriously and want to make your life easier, consider getting this tool.
Remember they have a big team and they are regularly improving, crawling your site each week, notifying you about issues that might impact your performance.
This tool is helpful for checking web sites for broken links, analyze all of the SEO basics, store information locally and then if any problem arise you can check on history to help you diagnose which changes may have affected that problem.
Link verification is done on “normal” links, images, frames, plug-ins, backgrounds, local image maps, style sheets, scripts and java applets. You can download this software for Windows, Mac and Ubuntu.
- Simple, no-frills user-interface
- Can re-check broken links (useful for temporary network errors)
- Simple report format, can also be e-mailed
- Executable file smaller than 1MB
- Site map
Sites to read to check on further Google SEO changes and discoveries:
Here are the blogs, video channels and articles to read to check on what’s happening behind the scenes on Google and to find further proven explanations and solutions for problems you may have.
This is the official YouTube channel for Google Webmaster Central, your one-stop shop for webmaster resources that will help you with your crawling and indexing questions, introduce you to offerings that can enhance and increase traffic to your site, and connect you with your visitors.
Seomoz product founders happen to own one of the best SEO blogs out there. It is a great community where you can ask questions in Q&A forum, official blog and then user submitted post blog, where you can get even more great advice and practices.
Favorite posts on Google topics:
- How to Improve Your Rankings with Semantic Keyword Research
- What’s Better – On-page SEO or Link-building? – choose the right seo building type for yourself, different types outlined.
- How to Stop Over Optimizing and Start Creating for SEO – Whiteboard Friday – some basic, but very useful tips for your own site shown on whiteboard to help you understand everything easier in visual way.
- Show Keyword Position Using Filters And Advanced Segments – simple guide showing how set up your own filters and advanced segments for google analytics to let you track very specific results in your traffic.
- How Authorship (and Google+) Will Change Linkbuilding – read how G+ will change the way you do link building.
One more top SEO blog and while doing research on current SEO changes, I found a lot of relevant and up to date articles about this. That’s one big reason to remember checking out this site on regular basis.
Some valuable posts you should read there:
- Too Much SEO? Google’s Working On An “Over-Optimization” Penalty For That – over optimization, term you will hear a lot more from now on.
- 21 Types Of Social Content To Boost Your SEO – social presence is more important than before, know how to do it successfully.
- Google’s March Updates: Anchor Text, Image Search, Navigational Search & More – diving deep into Google latest updates.
This is an amazing website curating information about SEO, they work seriously on quality, so if you need one stop place about SEO, don’t go further.
Here is their own description about their site – MySEOCommunity isn’t a run of the mill online community. Because of the increasing popularity of search engine marketing and social media, there is a lot of content written about these subjects on a daily basis. Unfortunately, trying to manually keep up with the best content that’s being written is next to impossible to do.
Check which links can harm your site rankings:
If you did over optimize before on your site, you should be very worried, so here are some useful articles to read about how to recover from those bad links. Check also which links can be harming your site and remove them.
- How to Check Which Links Can Harm Your Site’s Rankings
- 6 Ways to Recover from Bad Links
- Link Profile Tool to Discover Paid Links or Other Anomalous Linking Activity
Is your site affected by Google algorithm changes and how you are solving them? Would love to hear your stories and solutions.