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How to Survive Google Algorithm Updates

by Jessica Lee, May 24, 2012

If you feel your site has been targeted in Google's efforts against over-optimization, time is critical. Contact us today to learn more about our penalty assessment services.

Is there such thing as an algorithmic-resistant SEO strategy? Does Google owe us rankings? Is SEO just a “reactive” discipline? These are some of the questions on the minds of marketers and site owners in light of the impact of Google’s recent Penguin update, and other impactful updates in the past year.

While the answers to those questions aren’t always black and white, the approach to a successful SEO strategy is. In this article, we sit down with Bruce Clay to talk about Google’s mission with these types of updates and how to approach SEO the safe way. While it may take a lot more work and investment, White Hat SEO proves to the only way to stay out of the line of fire of Google’s Web spam updates.

What Types of Sites Are Being Hit by Penguin?

“It’s no surprise,” says Bruce Clay, “that the types of sites that are being hit by Penguin are those that have for so long, been taking shortcuts.”

“Somehow these sites managed to be rewarded before because Google wasn’t penalizing as heavily,” he adds. “And now their world is rocked because Google is saying: hey, you guys have low quality, you’ve been buying links, you have inorganic inbound links, you’re linking out in the same network, you’ve built incestuous linking structures and we’ve been telling you not to, and telling you not to and telling you not to and yes, we never penalized you before so you got away with it, but now we are.”

As with many of the impactful algorithm updates that have come before Penguin, they are aimed at eradicating Web spam and ensuring sites are following Google’s guidelines and competing in a fair and balanced environment.

“As a White Hat SEO, you pay the price, you do it right, you earn it and then you will be able to retain it because Google will never fight against White Hat. They’re out there attacking the shortcuts, the deceptive acts and sites that aren’t worthy of visibility in the results,” says Clay.

In fact, Google itself on many occasions has stated it doesn’t consider SEO in general to be spam, and that there are many aspects of the discipline -- when done right -- that are great for the search engine and the end user.

Is There an Algorithm-Resistant SEO Strategy?

The answer is both yes and no, and lies in the approach, not the tactics. Some site owners take the route of doing what gets them rankings fast –even if it’s not abiding by Google’s guidelines – and then they must react to the enforcement of the rules.

“Had the sites that are being penalized invested properly in SEO from the beginning, they wouldn’t have to live in that type of reactive environment,” says Clay.

But, what about SEO as a whole? It seems like so much of the discipline is reactive on so many levels.

“Reactive is multifaceted,” says Clay. “As an SEO, I react all the time to moves made by competitors or new products or new website design. Often, reactions are related to business issues; but what we’re reacting to now is that the rules change.”

To a certain degree, site owners and SEOs will always be reacting to Google’s initiatives. For example, if Google changes its results-page layout to push organic results lower down the page in favor of ads, or to include local entries or feature more videos or social media aspects, then the tactics of the site owner to market the site will likely change.

“These types of things are formatting changes,” says Clay. “And while it doesn’t impact where I rank, it impacts where I’m seen. So the fact that the results page has different elements now, this is something I have to react to strategically in my SEO campaign.”

He adds, “There is no SEO strategy that is evergreen and successful at the same time with regards to tactics,” says Clay. “It’s all in the approach.”

The only strategy site owners can continue to count on time and time again is how they approach SEO.

Do you approach it by working within Google’s guidelines? Do you follow Google’s advice for SEO ? Do you provide value and quality to the index and the end user? If you can answer “yes” to all of those questions, it’s likely your site will remain safe from penalizing algorithm updates for years to come.

“The investment ultimately pays off if you can do it correctly,” says Clay.

Ask, Is Your Site Worthy of Ranking?

One fundamental concept to remember about Google is that its search engine is its product. If the quality of Google’s search results are not up top par for the end user, Google loses. Google doesn’t owe site owners anything; inclusion in the results is a privilege, not a right.


“Everybody is acting surprised that Google is penalizing sites without asking if those sites are worthy,” he says. “You have to ask yourself, is my site worthy of ranking? If it has been taking shortcuts, if it has spun content, if it hasn’t been updated in years, if it practices linking in violation of Google guidelines, the answer is no. You were never worthy of it; you cheated your way to the top.”

What about those who believe they’ve been unfairly hit? What about those who are suffering loss in rankings but still believe they have been practicing White Hat?

“You always have to look at the site as whole. If you are poor quality, Google is not obligated to reward you. Google cares that when they show the top 10 out of a million results, that they are worthy of being the top 10 out of a million. “Relevancy isn’t ‘I gamed the system.’ Relevancy is ‘I earned the rankings.’

I’ve Been Penalized by Penguin, Now What?

In a recent Search Engine Land article, Matt Cutts of Google is quoted as saying site owners can clean things up, and to resolve the issues as best as possible. Since Penguin is a filter that refreshes from time to time, the article infers that if the site is cleaned up, ideally it should start seeing more traffic from Google again once the filter is refreshed at a later date.

But Clay says don’t be surprised if the cleanup process takes some time. If your site was in the No. 1 position in the results prior and you were penalized by Penguin, fixing the problems isn’t automatically going to put your site back at its original placement.

“If you didn’t follow Google guidelines but you were at the top before penalization, fixing the problems isn’t necessarily going to move you back to that top ranking. If you didn’t deserve that ranking in the first place, you’re going to have to earn it back.”

Those who have been taking shortcuts for years and years, take note: “You need time to not just undo the shortcuts, but to come in and start doing SEO right and start contending against the competition whose been doing it right this whole time.”

If you think you’ve been penalized by Penguin or any other algorithm update, contact Bruce Clay, Inc. for a no-obligation consultation at (805) 517-1900. We have Penguin-specific programs such as link pruning and other methods to clean up sites and make them Google compliant. 

For permission to reprint or reuse any materials, please contact us. To learn more about our authors, please visit the Bruce Clay Authors page. Copyright © 2012 Bruce Clay, Inc.