A live blog of the Google Dance session at SMX West, San Jose CA, March 11, 2013

google-dance-panel-smxModerator: Danny Sullivan, Search Engine Land (@dannysullivan)


  • Rhea Drysdale, Outspoken Media Inc. (@Rhea)
  • Mitul Gandhi, seoClarity (@seoclarity)
  • Marcus Tober, Searchmetrics Inc. (@linkvendor)

Background: Post last year by Danny Sullivan: The Google Dance Is Back

Rhea Drysdale

Historical Context: In the early days it took a week for an update to roll out. Later they got quicker at it and so they could roll out updated more frequently. Now it’s more like the early days. Updates roll out differently across data centers. Once upon a time updates were major events.

Florida 2003 was one of the early major updates that went after things like keyword stuffing.

How do we track the new updates?

Mozcast is a “weather report” that tracks fluctuations in the SERPs.

How do you get out of a Google Dance? Important to understand difference between a manual penalty and an algoritmic update.

Manual penalty? Where Google has told you that they penalized you.

  • Fix things
  • Grovel (reconsideration request)

Algorithmic update?

  • Fix things
  • Wait

How do you avoid in the first place?

  • Don’t wait for something to happen. Create good content and ethical link building now.
  • Audit your SEO. If you’re an agency, audit your clients to make sure they aren’t doing something unethical that you will get blamed for.
  • Ensure your SEO supports real business objectives.

What is Panda?

Panda went after site quality. Is the content really what a searcher would want to find?

What is Penguin?

Penguin went after suspicious link schemes.

Exact Match Domain update went after over-optimization/low quality for EMD.

“Top Heavy” update went after sites like Answers.com that were serving up heavy ads above the fold.

If you are lying with dogs, you will probably pick up some fleas. Be careful about who and what your site is associated with. Danger signs:

  • dashes-in-domains: Can look questionable.
  • keyword stuffed domains
  • Too many ads above the fold
  • Lots of duplicate content
  • Content scraping
  • Low quality and/or quantity content (too many too-short posts)
  • Heavy exact-match link building
  • Low quality link building in general
  • Too many “we do link building” footprints.
  • Posting a lot of content just for the sake of having content.

Marcus Tober: How to Groove to the Google Dance

Updates are not penalties. Most sites affected by an update can find the correlation to why they got affected and can recover. But, you can’t make a reconsideration request or know specifically what knocked you down.

Exact Match Domain Update: Devaluation of a keyword domain misused by anchor text linking. Actually, 20% of the EMD domains gained after the update. KW in domain name or URL are no longer a bonus.

Penguin Update

  • April 2012
  • Devaluation of link networks
  • Removal of link juice transfer fo some individual landing pages that sold links
  • Devaluation for over-optimization for keywords

Drop could be on just a KW level or whole domain level, depending on how bad the back links were. Some sites have recovered; some never did.

Penguin was released in UK and Germany before the US. Google is now testing updates before rolling them out everywhere.

SearchMetrics conducted a backlink ranking study. Number of backlinks highest correlation; percentage of backlinks with keyword reduced in importance.

Panda Update

  • Affects low quality content on sites.
  • Eric Schmidt: “The Internet is fast becoming a cesspool of misinformation….brands are the answer”

Is recovery from Panda possible? Yes.

Example: Helpster.de

Took a year to recover. What did they do:

  • Removed some ads.
  • Went for more premium content.
  • Created more video content.
  • Became a brand doing real marketing.
  • Focused on user experience. 

Mitul Gandhi: Keeping in Step with the Google Dance

What does all this mean to me as a marketer and business person?

Some impacts: Google starts showing weather results, flight data, hotel searches. How would you feel if you were ranking for one of those before?

Knowledge Graph giving answers that sites used to give. “Things to do in San Jose” – now Google shows you before you click to Travelocity.

Product Searches driving sites down the page.

These things are scary because we have no control over them. Wait, there’s more!

Micro Updates.

  • Algorithm tweaks and testing. Thousands every year. A drop could come as result of a test, and go back up when Google abandons the test. For example: Google did a spelling correction test that caused some rankings to drop for a few days, then go right back where they were. 

Keeping in step with the dance

1. Segment

  • Take a big thing and break it down into smaller parts, then zoom in. Try to find exactly what was impacted so you don’t overreact.
  • Segment your pages into page types, type of pates, business categories. Do same for KWs: brand vs. non-brand, by services/brands/product lines. 
  • Then TRACK EVERYTHING as granularly as possible. Only way to spot the minor update effects. 
  • Monitor traffic, conversions, CTR, weighted average rankings.
  • Build alerts. 

2. Analyze

  • Dig deep into your segments. 

Solid Foundations: the boring but importants stuff!

Clickiness: Good ad copy, build your brand. Ask what engages you when you look at SERPs.

Stickiness: focus on the conversion. Relevant, worthwhile, actionable content!

Tips from the Q&A

  • For infographics and widgets, mix up the anchor text in the embed. Make sure the way they are spread is organic. Should probably be used more for branding than for links.
  • Overuse of any one linking tactic will get you in trouble. If you have a very successful infographic, you may need to do some other link building to cushion it.
  • Don’t be crazy over anchor text. Search engines are getting better at picking up the context of a link.
  • If someone in your company is going crazy over a certain “technique” and you want them to stop, show them metrics that show it isn’t meeting a business objective.
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