In a rare show of candidness, Google’s head of Webspam, Matt Cutts, recently posted a Webmaster’s Video answering the question: ‘What should we expect in the next few months in terms of SEO for Google?’
Over the course of seven and a half minutes, anxious webmasters and SEO agencies listened as Cutts revealed 10 planned updates; some of which could prove to be a huge headache for those who are gaming Google’s algorithm with Black Hat tactics.
Fortunately, knowledge is power and all that – so if you have concerns over what is coming, take a look at the top 10 priorities for Google (at present) and how you can protect your site against the upcoming changes.
1. Penguin 2.0
Cutts confirmed that a “more comprehensive” Penguin update is coming to the Google algorithm, in what is internally referred to as ‘Penguin version 2.0′.
This update will have a much “deeper impact” against sites participating in black hat SEO techniques such as keyword stuffing, duplicate content, hidden links and link schemes.
Actions: If you’ve historically been involved in any of the above practices, then you should ensure that off-page links are ‘no-followed’ or the content and/or links removed completely. Use backlink monitoring tools like Majestic SEO and Ahrefs to detect these.
If all hope is lost and you find you are struggling to get these links/content removed, you could always implement the Disavow Tool against domains.
2. Tackling advertorial spam
Google will also look to clamp down on advertorials, as these are often paid-for pieces of content that violate Google’s quality guidelines.
As Cutts recently reminded webmasters in a recent blog update, paying to have content placed for the purposes of passing authoritative PageRank is a huge no-no. We saw this earlier in the year when the website of UK florist Interflora was famously penalised.
Actions: If you have participated in paid advertorial schemes previously, then ensure that there is “clear and conspicuous disclosure” that the placement of the content is paid-for.
Again, implementing a ‘no follow’ link is also recommended, as this communicates that the link should not pass authority.
What’s more, if you haven’t paid for advertorials, don’t – unless you disclose this in the ways mentioned above.
3. Spam phrases
Cutts suggested that Google is to refine its ability to detect spammy queries such as ‘pay day loans’ and pornographic phrases. As Search Engine Land notes, it appears that pressure from ”coming from outside of Google” is the reason for this renewed focus.
Action: Avoid placing content/links (or otherwise being affiliated) with sites that are associated with these spammy terms.
If your business genuinely relies on traffic generated by these kinds of phrases, then make sure you’ve optimised your whole site efficiently enough so as not to look like some kind of spam and link farm.
4. Going “upstream” against spammers
While this one is open to interpretation, prolific writers in the SEO industry – like Barry Swartz - believe Cutts is making reference to easy spam opportunities, such as link networks. This is likely true, as the company has recently taken action against these.
Actions: Simple. Don’t participate in link networks!
5. Improved link analysis
Google is continuing to improve its algorithms (no surprise there) to better understand links. Consequently, this means understanding the relationship between sites, their authority and the quality of the link.
Actions: Monitor your inbound links, taking actions (as above) to remove or diminish authority for those that could damage your reputation, or otherwise look spammy.
Always strive to get the best links you can when embarking in off-page activities (like guest posting) from authoritative and relevant sites. Vary your anchor text and make your backlink profile as natural as possible.
6. Improved detection (and support) of hacked sites
Hacked sites are a webmaster’s worst nightmare. They also impair the Google user experience when you have been served up a site you think is relevant to your search queries, only to find it has been hijacked by hackers or swarming with malware.
This is why Google is to make improvements; not only to better detect these sites, but also advise webmasters on how to get them back under their control.
Actions: Make sure your website security is top notch and update vulnerabilities accordingly. Don’t be afraid to reach out either to Google or another professional if you need help reclaiming your site. Keep up to date with security publications too.
7. Boost to authority for niche industries
Cutts explained that sites within certain niche industries, such as travel, could see themselves perform better over non-specialists when future algorithmic updates take place.
Actions: Optimise your site so that it’s clear what field you are in. Try not to detract too far from this field, nor produce content that’s designed to attract every man and his dog to your site for tenuous reasons.
8. Taming Panda
Google will soften the effects of Panda (an algorithm that rewards high-quality, original and well-researched content) and implement “additional signs of authority”.
Actions: Strive to produce unique (not copied or duplicated), high-quality content and attribute sources accordingly. Essentially, your content should be anything that provides real value to end-users. This applies to anything in the written word, whether this is your blog, news articles, product descriptions or page meta descriptions.
9. Same domain clusters on page one results
Cutts says that Google wants to lessen the number of same-domain ‘cluster’ results for users on page one of the search engine results pages (SERPs). Doing so will provide a greater variety of domain results to the end user.
Actions: Revise and optimise your existing site maps/navigation pages (if neccessary) so that you have a chance of appearing as a clustered result.
10. Communication in Webmaster Tools
Google wants to get better at communicating what’s good or bad about a site to webmasters through its popular Webmaster Tools platform.
Cutts promised “more details” and “more example URLs” that webmasters can refer to, should problems need to be diagnosed and addressed.
Actions: Keep an eye on Webmaster Tools. This fantastic resource can be used to help you set up the configuration of your site, identify its health, suggest optimisation opportunities and help diagnose crawling issues or malware risks.
As Cutts said in his video, while it’s important to take all these future updates with a “grain of salt” (as “plans change”), you still have the ability to rank highly if you follow Google’s rules.
Google wants to work with your site, not against it – providing you’re offering users “a great site that users love, that they want to tell their friends about, bookmark, come back to, visit over and over again – all the things that make a site compelling”.
If you can do this and heed some of the advice given in this post, then you should have a panic-free summer ahead of you.