Google Penguin Update! Stahp Already!

Google Penguin Update - Stahp Already!

Here we are, another day, another client email asking my thoughts on whether Google might be rolling out Penguin…

Why did this, otherwise highly intelligent, quite capable client ask?

Because sites he generally trusts for information about SEO have once again recently posted nonsense about Google being ready or likely to be rolling out Penguin.

This is beyond pathetic now.  It’s come to a point where eventually SOMEBODY is going to have posted a “get ready” post and Penguin WILL roll out.  And that person/those people are going to be hoisted up on a pedestal for “having vision” or “knowing the insider scoop”, or some nonsense.

I mean, just look at a PARTIAL list of the various headlines to have come from our industry about Penguin since last October, a full year after the last actual, known Penguin rollout.

October 1, 2015
“Google Confirms – Real Time Penguin Coming Soon” — SearchEngineLand

October 19, 2015
“Penguin RealTime Confirmed by Google” — LinkResearchTools

October 29, 2015
“Google’s Next Penguin Update Should Be Within The Next Two Months” SearchEngineLand

November 17, 2015
“How to Prep for the Pending Penguin Update” — SearchEngineLand

December 3, 2015
“New Penguin Update Not Happening Until Next Year” – SearchEngineLand

December 11, 2015
“Confident Penguin 4.0 is Good Enough for a January Release” – SearchEngine Roundtable

December 15, 2015
“Is Penguin 4.0 Coming in March 2016?” — SearchEngineWatch

January 10, 2016
“Massive Google Fluctuations – Is it Penguin?” SearchEngine Roundtable

January 20, 2016
“Next Penguin Update to Happen Within Weeks” SearchEngineJournal

January 20, 2016
“News: Google Penguin Update Coming Soon” HotClickMarkting

January 25, 2016
“SEJ WrapUp – Google Penguin Coming Soon” SearchEngineJournal

February 1, 2016
“Googles Newest Penguin Update Coming Soon” LinkedIn

March 21, 2016
“5 Reasons to Believe Penguin is Just Around the Corner” — V9SEO

March 29, 2016
“Signs of Update – Not Sure if Penguin” SearchEngine Roundtable

April 6, 2016
“Is Google Testing the Penguin 4.0 Algorithm?” SearchEngine Roundtable

April 15, 2016
“Google: When Penguin Begins Rolling Out, We Will Post an Announcement” — SearchEngine Roundtable

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Do you notice a pattern here?  

Here are a few you may have observed:
1. Nobody has ANY actual knowledge on this.

Those people at Google who many in the industry have turned to for “insider” knowledge have NO CLUE. They do NOT work on the Penguin algorithm, and are also at the mercy of other people’s willingness, ability or capacity to provide knowledge.

They have done their best to help the industry when asked, except it got stupid fast with this one. (Note that at least one Google rep reached a point not long ago where he was TIRED OF BEING ASKED.

2. Everybody is beyond anxious to finally see a Penguin update.

We ALL want to see Penguin updated. Heck, in a recent interview, I was asked what I thought was among the most detrimental changes in our industry over the years, and I said, without hesitation, Penguin.  For all the good it has done (and it has done a LOT of good), the collateral damage has been too severe, to vast.  (And I believe Penguin is broken — thus the long delay in refreshing it. )

3. People want to sound like they know what they’re talking about.

Hey, we’re marketers. We all suffer from a desire to sound like we’re experts, like we have the inside scoop or forethought. Or at the very least, want to offer our readers some sense of hope, which is a genuine desire.

At this point though, it’s insane.

4. People who report, want to believe people who claim to know what they’re talking about.

We’re desperate for real information from people who know what they’re talking about. I often say that while SEO is not rocket science, it IS search science.  So if we as an industry, can get insight from people who actually work AT google, we as an industry, tend to feel a bit more confident in the chaos.

Except Matt Cutts is no longer our go-to source at Google on Penguin or ANY algorithm.  And most information comes from two people who the industry collectively hoisted onto the pedestal when Matt Cutts moved on to his next amazing life adventure.  Even though neither has direct knowledge and neither one is on the spam or quality algorithm teams.

So for all their desire to help, much of the time they are either getting half-information from others in Google and just passing that along, or they’re guessing. Or they’re offering their opinion.

Except half the industry takes their word as gold.  When we’re no longer on the Matt Cutts gold standard for insider knowledge.  We’ve moved to a paper currency with paper faces “representing” the gold that we no longer have access to.

5. It makes the search industry look pathetic.

Seriously. Some of you already hate me for being so harsh.  Some of you will, as you usually do when I rant about the vital need for disclaimers and caveats in “Google said this” stuff, just find me annoying.

I don’t care anymore. Honest.  Site owners / readers / clients deserve better than the rumor mill content.  They need professional help and guidance.

So please stop the bullshit.

I know many who write this stuff won’t stop.  However now I’ve said it.  And even if Penguin updates tomorrow or next summer, the next time some other nonsense reporting comes out, I can just point to this post and say — see my thoughts on that subject, over here…

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Penguin clipart courtesy GoGraph

 

My Top 40 Favorite SEO Audit Tools & Resources List

I've performed SEO audits on sites totalling more than one billion pages indexed.300 site audits. That’s a rough estimate of the total number of SEO audits I have performed over the past few years.  Comprising more than one billion indexed pages.

This list is designed as a reference to anyone wanting to improve their audit process.

While countless resources exist to help you do the work of or manage Search Engine Optimization, as a professional who specializes in forensic site audits I’ve come to learn some resources are better than others.  Some can become serious distractions and present you with massive volumes of data and information that might have value in certain situations, but where those are often as much shiny objects as they are useful.

This list is designed to help you become better focused on what really matters at the strategic level.

Resource Challenges
Even when a particular resource may be individually helpful to me, I find that I still need to limit the specific data or insights I make use of from most tools available. There’s so much information that can be obtained, so many individual and even micro-data points to evaluate, that time and resource management can become a real struggle to deal with.

As such, I encourage you to explore, experiment, and find what works best for your unique process.

Ever-Changing Tool and Resource Functionality
The last issue I need to mention before getting on with my resource list, is the unfortunate fact that even the best of them can be frustrating to work with at times. A primary reason for this is that even once you’ve become intimately familiarized with how something works, and where to find a specific individual piece of data, tool and resource providers will come along and change things. Usually the “how to get to this piece of data” aspect of their offering.

Site Auditing Tools

Google Analytics
A strong site requires strong analytics and data on actual user activity.  While other analytics programs exist, I’ve found GA to be the best at providing the most important data vital to SEO, presented in the most intuitive layout.

Google Search Console (formerly “Google Webmaster Tools)
A successful site is only as successful as it’s overall technical health.  GSC provides critical insights into potential flaws in structure, organization, reach and messaging.
Another reason GSC is vital is if Google imposes a manual penalty or finds critical flaws in your site, you’ll only be informed if you’ve got GSC set up.

Mobile Friendly Test
Google cares more about mobile usability than they ever have. Their mobile friendly testing tool is vital for checking whether your site is properly coded both for mobile friendliness and for allowing their systems to confirm that fact.

Page Speed Insights
Google’s tool for testing whether individual pages are efficient for overall page processing speed.  Another critical tool for SEO.

Bing Webmaster Tools
If you truly want to maximize brand visibility online, you’d be wise to set your site up with Bing’s webmaster tools system. It’s got its own insights, knowledge base and helpful reporting system that may just ensure your site gets to that next level. Especially if even a portion of your visitors search on Bing or Yahoo’s search platforms.

URIValet
URIValet.com is a quick resource for checking individual page functionality and performance tests. It’s 1.5 mbps speed test is a good general indicator of speeds similar to those that Google Analytics sees in the overall usage of sites.

WebPageTest
WebPageTest.org is critical to my audit work and can offer deeper understanding of where page processing bottleneck issues can come from.

Screaming Frog
Screaming Frog is THE go-to standard for performing sample crawls of a web site.  This robust tool offers many important reports that help site owners and managers identify patterns within a site’s technical implementation that might need to be corrected.  Ideally suited for smaller sites (up to 50,000 URLs), SF can also be used to get a sampling of pages on larger sites.

DeepCrawl
Like Screaming Frog on steroids, DC is for power users who want even more insights into a site’s overall health and is best for larger sites (into the millions of pages).

OpenSiteExplorer
Moz’s OSE is a great tool for evaluating inbound links, their anchor text, and the relevancy of pages that link into your site.  Works hand-in-hand with GSC’s inbound links report,  AHrefs and Majestic link data for a more complete understanding of that data.

AHrefs
AHrefs works hand-in-hand with other inbound link reports in providing a more complete view of inbound links pointing to your site.

Majestic
Offers even more insights into the overall health of a site’s inbound link profile and has its own unique data views.

SEMRush
SEMRush offers many different insights into a site’s overall health, and can provide quick hit competitive landscape data.

Authority Labs
Need to track ranking data? Need to check it at the geo-location level? Need a great tool to help manage your ongoing SEO work?  Authority Labs is a top tool for that work!

Algorithm Change History
Moz’s handy calendar base list of known Google algorithm changes with explanations and links for deeper understanding.  I like this resource because it gives me insights into and access to more info about each known update, and I can see where various updates were deployed sequentially in a handy to use calendar layout.

The Panguin Tool
When roaming Moz’s descriptive calendar of Google algorithm changes isn’t efficient (for more complex sites with many roller-coaster ups and downs organically, the Panguin Tool is the answer.  A great visual tool designed to show where specific, known Google algorithm changes line up with actual Google Analytics organic visitor data. Help quickly pinpoint where one or more known updates has caused drops in organic search traffic.

W3C Code Validation
While sites don’t have to validate to 100% perfect at the code level for SEO, each additional code error increases the potential for delayed crawl efficiency and subsequent confusion within search algorithms regarding quality, topical focus and trust signals. The W3C Code Validator is an important tool in any SEO’s arsenal.

W3C Mobile validation
Great tool for testing mobile code validation!

Structured Data Test
Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool can help quick-check individual pages to see how well the structured data has been implemented at the code level.  Whether it’s customer reviews, office location NAP information and store hours, event listings, recipes, or a host of other types of niche data important for maximized SEO, this tool can help confirm this important information’s implementation.

AdWords Keyword Planner
Not just for AdWords managers, the AdWords keyword planner is my go-to source when I want to find out whether a site’s existing keyword focus is maximizing opportunities based on real-world searcher intent and language.  And it’s a great tool for proper keyword planning for organic optimization work because it’s based on humans who actually spend money for visibility in search results.

My Analytics and Site Health How-To Guide
My own creation, this downloadable guide was created initially so that I could help my own audit clients in their need to figure out how to make use of the tools and resources I use and rely upon most often in my work.

It’s tailored to focus specifically on the most fundamental and most important data to track month to month, and though far from comprehensive, offers a clear way to help front-line team members the ability to dive into data and get to that most important information.

My SEO Audit Checklist & Scoring System Spreadsheet
Launched June 16, 2015! I took my original checklist (published in 2011) and have just updated it – it’s fully current, and more robust than the original.  This one is not only a straight-forward audit checklist – it’s also a fully functioning audit scoring spreadsheet!

Tenon.io — Web Accessibility Testing Tool
This tools is invaluable to my audits nowadays because of how ensuring sites at least attempt to match the needs of all visitor types, including those with visual impairments or limitations.  Tenon checks for WCAG 2.0 compliance and can be used to to determine whether a site might also be vulnerable to failing U.S. Federal Government requirements for accessibility as well under Section 508 of the United States Workforce Rehabilitation Act.

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Advanced SEO Articles

There’s a lot of information online regarding SEO. It’s difficult for most people to sort it all out, to know what to read and whether to trust the information provided.

This is a short list of some of the best of the best content out there, both from myself and other experts.  Far from comprehensive, it covers some of the most important aspects of SEO you’ll ever need to get a deeper understanding of.

QUART – the 5 Super Signals of SEO
My preeminent write-up on what I refer to as the five super-signals of SEO – Quality, Uniqueness, Authority, Relevance and Trust.  Every aspect of SEO needs to be filtered through the 5 Super-signal test.  If any single aspect of SEO fails to pass any three of these signals, it’s almost guaranteed that aspect is not sustainable.

Claim Your Local Business Listings
This handy “flash-card” designed post was created by Max Minzer, an expert in the topic of Local SEO.  Includes links to each step in the process of setting up and managing business listings on fifty-five different local directories that matter for SEO.

Local Listings – A Deeper Dive
This is the more extensive, detailed post Max wrote to help site owners and managers get properly listed across the most important local listing directories online. Includes more links and help resources for each.

Andrew Shotland’s Local SEO Resource List
Andrew is one of the top people in our industry when it comes to Local SEO and if you want to go down the rabbit hole of local, this resource list he’s put together will take you all the way…

Pagination Best Practices with Rel=Next & Rel=Prev
Google Webmaster Tools how-to for properly implementing the rel=next & rel=prev header tags critical to paginated content indexation and content relationship understanding.

Maile Ohye’s Video on Pagination
Maile Ohye is one of Google’s best kept secrets! She’s a product manager at Google who’s passion is helping site owners and webmasters maximize the ability their sites have to properly communicate at the code level so that Google’s systems can best understand what’s happening.  This video is a must-watch for pagination.

SEO Tips for eCommerce Sites
This post from Maile may be from 2012, however it’s still relevant today. Offers great tips on how to set up an eCommerce web site optimally for site visitors AND SEO.

Improving Magento Speed Performance
Magento is a widely used platform for web development.  Except it’s one of the most difficult platforms to get under control for SEO.  This post helps provide actionable guidance for improving speed performance within a Magento framework site.

Web Page Speed Performance Guidelines
Google’s own rules for how to optimize performance of web sites.  Can’t go wrong with this invaluable developer knowledge base.

21 High Performance Best Practices for Speeding Up Your Website
Jey Pandian is a technical wizard.  This amazing post covers a lot of territory in offering actionable steps to deal with speed issues.

Internationalization FAQ
Want to reach people around the globe? Have content unique to different countries, languages or regions?  Great resource you need to read!

Multi-Regional / Multilinqual Site Structure Recommendation Doc
Google offers different site need scenarios here and communicates the pros and cons of going with country specific domains vs. subdirectories vs. subdomains.

How to Crawl the Right Content
Google’s in-depth guide on how to set up a complex, multi-faceted navigation type site so search engines can more efficiently crawl it and understand what to index and what not to.  WARNING – even after you’ve taken my course, this is extreme advanced stuff – and only extremely advanced SEOs should be responsible for implementing this knowledge.  Making ANY mistakes along the way here will potentially cause CATASTROPHIC SEO problems that could take YEARS to deal with.  (No joke!)

Infinite Scroll Search Friendly Recommendations
Responsive design is all the rage. Implemented properly it can help users, and SEO. Unfortunately, too many sites I’ve audited that had responsive design at the presentation layer also had critical coding failures that came from add-on functionality, including infinite scroll.  This guide is critical to help avoid that scenario.

Can You Escape A Link Penalty By Simply Getting Good Links?
Important read written by one of the world’s preeminent link cleanup experts, Dr. Marie Haynes.

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Beginner Guides to SEO

While I happen to be experienced in this work, and though many of my readers are likely also at least intermediately skilled or advanced themselves, some of you reading this may be new or relatively new to the world of SEO and audits.

Because of that possibility, I felt it would be remiss of me to not offer suggestions on ways to get a leg up on the learning.

So to that end, and because the work of SEO is more complex, more intense, and requires more critically deep thinking now than ever before, if you or someone on your team wants to get SEO right, it’s really best to first start with learning the most fundamental concepts.

The Moz Beginners Guide to SEO
This is the starting point I encourage anyone new to SEO to begin with in the journey to becoming a professional in our industry.

My Guide to SEO for Content Writing
This guide, first published in 2011 and updated in 2014 (and yes, it’s recommendations still apply today!), offers forty-five actionable tasks for implementing SEO at the content level.

The Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors
This great resource from SearchEngineLand is just an all around handy quick reference for people needing to understand the core concepts of SEO.

Realistic Google Recovery Expectations

Given the fact that I specialize in forensic SEO audits, it’s not unusual for site owners and managers to come to me for help in recovering from a Google penalty or algorithmic losses.

The heaviest question to me in recovery audit work is “How long before we recover?”, and then after work has been started “How come we’re not seeing major improvements?”.

The hope they have is for an “overnight rebound”.

Overnight Google Penalty Recovery

I understand why these questions come up. And I do my best up front to set expectations, both in my proposal process as well as in my audit action plan documentation.

Yet inevitably some clients come back again with similar questions because they just haven’t seen any major improvements since they got my report and began the work to clean things up. Or they’ve invested months in clean up and are still waiting for the miracle.

No Google Penalty Recovery In Sight

So I thought it would be helpful to write this article. It’s a combination of the up-front expectation setting I communicate before I start and audit, as well as various responses I’ve provided to clients and after audits have been delivered when some clients don’t yet see real major results and get discouraged.

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Penalty Factor
Google assesses manual and algorithmic penalties as a way of “leveling the playing field”. There are typically two scenarios regarding the extent of the impact of a given penalty.

Remove the Artificial Boosts
When a site has been penalized, in most situations, its Google’s way of saying “This site was being propped up artificially until now”. The penalty is designed to manually or algorithmically reset the site’s rankings and visibility to what Google’s internal system determines that site “should have been” in regard to ranking and visibility without those artificial signals.

LinkPenalty

Google Leveled the Playing Field Twice

Social Engineering
In some situations, a penalty will go even further – taking a site even below “what it should have been all along”. This is done to “punish” those who created the artificial signals, and to elicit a response of changed behavior.

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Penalty Recovery Limitations
If a particular penalty was assessed to the point of not only removing artificial boosts, but to actually work on social engineering, once those issues specific to the penalty itself have been rectified, it is possible to see an immediate boost to at least some of that site’s rankings and visibility. That would come from Google’s believing the site no longer needs to suffer from both the “leveled playing field” and the “further artificial losses”.

Google Penalty Removed

Except it’s most often the case where gains that come at that point are ONLY a return of those  “further artificial losses” type and not a total recovery back to the “Glory days” of “artificial” scoring strength.

Penalty Removed Yet Problems Remain

The site at that point is still typically only going to be back to the “level playing field” level. Rarely would a site bounce back to his “glory days” highs at that point.

So in this scenario, even after a penalty has been lifted, if in fact a site gets back to “level playing field” status, and no longer has the boost from those “artificial” signals, its a long-haul process to only then be able to begin to build new, trustworthy signals to “earn” higher rankings.

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Algorithmic Factor
If a site was hit by Panda or any one or combination of several other algorithmic “quality” type changes and that site suffered significant losses in ranking and visibility as a result of those, the ability for the site to “recover” is going to depend on the complexity of those algorithmic factors as well as the extent to which the site can go to communicate a different combined signal set to address those issues.

One-Hit Issues
When a site has any single major “quality” problem, if ranking losses came from that solely or primarily, if that one issue can be addressed, then once Google has been able to identify the change across the site, the next time Google runs the algorithm involved, it is possible to see a return to previous high rankings and visibility.

Where this can be a problem is if it’s a Panda related issue, that means needing to wait for the next Panda update to take place after Google has recrawled and reindexed the site once those changes had been made. As of the date of this post, Panda has not been refreshed since October of last year.

Waiting on a Google Panda Refresh

That means that IF the issues that caused a site’s loss of rankings / visibility were solely or primarily Panda related, and if those were all addressed properly, significant gains from that work are not likely to be seen for an unknown length of time given that Google hasn’t, at the time of this writing, re-processed Panda.

Multi-faceted Issues
If a site has several issues, this is where everything becomes even more complex – are all the issues algorithmic? Are they all penalties? Is it a combination of penalties and algorithms? If it’s multiple algorithm types (Panda, “above the fold”, “over-optimization”, etc.), then it means potentially even longer delays from the time all of those are resolved until 1) Google has recrawled and reindexed the entirety of the site and 2) until Google refreshes through each of those algorithms.

Eventually, with enough leverage, recovery is possible even in these situations. Maybe not back to the height of the “glory days”, yet compared to the bottomed out tragedy “real” recovery that’s “sustainable” is possible.

 

Eventual Google Penalty Recovery is possible

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Waiting Isn’t An Option
Because recovery can be a long slow process, it is vital to not just sit around and wait.

First, if there was a manual or algorithmic penalty that took away artificial signals, it’s critical to get as much leverage going across multiple facets of a site’s online presence as can be afforded based on financial and human resource limits to show “This site now really does deserve stronger rankings and visibility”.

Even with steady effort, it can take several months to a year or more to build enough momentum to push a site over the threshold of “level playing field” to finally “deserving” much stronger rankings and visibility.

Incremental Google Recovery

If other sites in a given niche are simultaneously working on their own efforts, the ability to prove a site is “deserving” can be even more difficult.

Even if there was no manual or algorithmic penalty, and the site lost rankings only through algorithmic changes to the “quality” threshold, It’s dangerous to assume that new work and new signals don’t need to be generated, and that we can simply wait for algorithm refreshes. For true long-term sustainable growth and success, enough signals from enough signal points need to exist to overcome that new threshold and since none of us has access to Google’s proprietary algorithms, we can’t just assume “x” is enough.

We also cannot ignore the fact that the web is constantly growing, and most niches have competitors and “perceived” competitors that themselves are continually marching forward, if for no other reason than to maintain their visibility through other channels and marketing methods (which result in new content, new off-site citations and new links).

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Complexity of Fixes Factor
Even once we understand all of the factors on Google’s side of the equation, and regarding competitor considerations, we also need to deal with internal site considerations.

Not Enough Positive Force Applied
By the time someone comes to me for a site audit, especially when it’s not just a review but a full blown forensic SEO audit, a site is quite often so severely toxic from Google’s perspective for so many multifaceted reasons, that the volume of work needed to address the problem can be more than many site owners have the resources to apply in a short enough time frame as to make enough of a positive signal impact to move the needle in the growth direction in a sustainable way.

Pain Before Healing
In many situations I encounter the reality that things had gotten so ugly algorithmically as to render Google’s ability to “figure it all out” a pure crap-shoot of a mess. This is more often true for large to very large sites (hundreds of thousands to millions of pages), though it can also occur on mid-size sites as well to a certain degree.

When this is the case, not only do all the “typical” clean up issues need to be dealt with, but a site is likely to need a major to sometimes complete overhaul of site structure and content organization.

The Full Reevaluation Life Cycle
In those situations, recovery delays can be even longer due to the fact that even if a site were to be completely revamped overnight, Google isn’t going to see those changes overnight.

The Crawl Factor
Let’s say a site has 100,000 pages. And lets say Google crawls 10,000 pages a day on average. Well in that case, Google is NOT going to recrawl the entire site in 10 days. It’s going to take longer. Because each time Googlebot crawls the site, it repeats the crawl of at least some pages that were just crawled. Important pages get recrawled more often under the premise that they may have changed very recently. Conversely, very deep pages aren’t going to be recrawled as frequently.

The Reindexation vs. Algorithmic Update Factor
So in my example, it’s a 100,000 page site. Let’s say Google’s recrawled and reindexed 10% of that and then an algorithmic update takes place. Well heck — 10% of the site has the “new” signals, and 90% still shows “still the old signals”.

Or maybe its “30% shows the new signals” and “70% still shows the old signals”.

That can cause even more confusion, or at the very least, may show “some improvement but not enough to get past the “this site finally deserves higher ranking and visibility” threshold.

Throw in the fact that several algorithms exist, and each of THOSE needs to run, against some unknown portion of a revamped web site, and it may just remain suppressed, or could see a roller coaster until everything settles down and gets fully caught up.

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The Failed to Execute Factor

One last consideration I need to communicate is one that pains me more than all the others.  No matter how much time, effort, experience or skill into providing recommendations for various issues that need to be fixed from a priority perspective, all too often site owners, managers, developers or designers fail to do the work needed and called for.

One Year After Audit Issues Remain

I can’t tell you how many times in the life of my career site owners or their staff have come back to me six months or a year after an audit to say “why haven’t we seen improvements?” only for me to dig in and find that vast swaths of my recommendation plan were either barely surface scratched or not touched at all.

Since I only include issues and task recommendations I believe to be priority, high priority or very high priority in my action plans, if you’ve barely lifted a finger or haven’t lifted a finger to address one or more of those, I don’t even know what to say at that point.

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The Bottom Line

The length of time it can take for a site to see a real recovery from a Google penalty or a Google algorithm loss is going to be dramatically different site to site, situation to situation. If a site owner or management team is not prepared to or capable of riding out the storm, or applying enough leverage across enough signal points, there really can be no valid expectation of dramatic recovery, let alone a return to “glory days” living.

Google Panda & Killing Old Content — A Deeper Look

Google Panda Recovery Timeline

Since I do a lot of site audit work, I often have clients with extensive volumes of old content — typically blog posts, with some “news” articles in the mix.  With Google’s Panda algorithm focused in on quality considerations on-site, many client’s assume they have to kill all the old content, while many others who don’t stay up on SEO don’t know if its hurting them or not, and its up to me to inform them what to do with that content.

Earlier today, Barry Schwartz posted an article over on Search Engine Roundtable entitled “Google: Panda Victims Don’t Necessarily Need To Delete Old Blog Posts”.

In that article, Barry covered a discussion where Marie Haynes (one of the industry’s leading link cleanup experts) asked Google’s John Mueller whether thousands of old, rarely read blog posts might harm a site specifically because of Panda.

NO SINGLE ANSWER

John responded by essentially saying that it’s not an absolute one way or the other.   That’s an answer I give to clients way too often in response to questions across the entire spectrum of SEO. It’s just the nature of how complex the web is, how complex search algorithms and multidimensional considerations have become regarding quality.

What it comes down to is what I communicated in my most recent presentation on the Philosophy of SEO Audits at Pubcon in Las Vegas:

SEO is Google’s algorithmic attempt to emulate user experience

Summing up what John initially said about reasons not to kill off the old content:

There could be valid reasons to keep old content archives, and Google does their best to recognize where a site might have a lot of old content — but as long as the main focus of the site was high quality, they take that into consideration when they can as well.

He did however, clearly communicate at least one scenario where you need to not ignore that content:

But sometimes it might also be that these old blog posts are really low quality and kind of bad, then that’s something you would take action on.

NOT CLEAR ENOUGH FOR EVERYONE

To many people this still leaves the question wide open for interpretation. Since John didn’t say “always do this” or “Don’t take a risk — when in doubt delete it”, that leaves people guessing way too often. The “yeah but…” response kicks in. Or worse, they just clump that type of response in with all the other reasons out there why Google shouldn’t be trusted.

CRITICAL THINKING REQUIRED

Personally, I don’t see it as an insurmountable issue to figure out.

Yes, there are always at least some exceptions to the concept of a standard “best practices” approach here.  Yet most of the time, even with variables in place, it’s a straight forward decision making process.

THE QUALITY SCALE CONSIDERATION

Look at the signals that content is sending, and it’s scale compared to quality content.  If it’s old or new is less relevant than the quality signals, especially on scale.

Individual page quality scores also need to be considered in relation to the totality of scores within an individual section of the site.  If the overwhelming majority of content in a given section is strong, that can outweigh the negative signals from those pages within that section that are low quality.

The same applies to the entire site.  If enough quality exists on scale across the entire site, that low quality portion is less harmful overall.

BORDERLINE CONTENT

There are more often borderline cases that are the tough ones to decide about — mediocre content that may or may not be a problem overall, but where it’s “likely” to be weighing down the site.

WHAT MAKES IT LOW QUALITY

Google has done a lot over the past few years to try and communicate what makes something low quality.  Though to be honest, they have done so in very generic “what would a user think” terms.

From my audit work, several patterns have emerged though that fit that notion.

  • Page Speed
  • Topical Confusion / duplication
  • Topical association with your main message / goals
  • Usefulness to Users (intuitiveness of access, helpfulness)
  • Believability

Those are all part of my five super signals:

  • Quality
  • Uniqueness
  • Authority
  • Relevance
  • Trust

WHEN IN DOUBT — FOLLOW BEST PRACTICES
From a best practices perspective the answer is simple — set a single high standard for quality, uniqueness, and relevance. If you do so, authority and trust will be an outgrowth of that effort.

Anything below that standard gets killed off. That way you don’t have to guess about whether it may or may not be hurting your site.

CRAWL EFFICIENCY CONSIDERATION
One other reason to slash and burn it even if its borderline is if you have a big site — that old or low quality content doesn’t get crawled as frequently as newer or higher quality content, yet it gets crawled at some point.  And that works against you from a crawl efficiency perspective.

If at any point Google is crawling that mass volume of “borderline” content, their system may very well abandon the crawl. It’s a known fact that their systems do abandon crawl all the time, the bigger the site  being crawled. So why force them to crawl questionable content and as a result, have other content that might be newer, skipped? That’s crazy.

404 or 410 — WHICH IS BETTER?

One last recommendation — I’ve found that if you set those no-longer existing pages to a 410 “gone” server status, that sometimes helps speed up the pace at which Google removes those pages from their index.  It’s an unequivocal signal — 404s can sometimes be caused by unintentional mistakes, whereas 410 is a clear signal.

Google Rel Author is Dead — Now What?

If you haven’t heard yet, Google’s John Mueller communicated today that they’ve killed off use of the rel=“author” tag most of us in the SEO community have been advocating since it first came on the scene, along with their use of author data in search results.

If you want to learn more about it’s rise and demise, go check out the great post over on SearchEngineLand where they cover the history of Google authorship and how it came to be seen as not useful enough as a signal to maintain.

So how big a deal is this?

It’s a pretty big deal. Google has been pushing for better signal to noise ratios when it comes to identifying content worthy of visibility, and, when comparing apples to apples, which site among a group of sites, deserve higher rankings for author-driven content.

It’s also a big deal because the SEO community has been advocating its use as an important factor for SEO.

Many site owners over the past couple years have heard repeatedly “you need to implement  rel=author markup on your site”.

Some who took that advice could sometimes just add a couple lines of code to their site template, while others had to expend a lot of energy to get it working. Especially in regard to multi-author platforms, and even more especially for those not using a stock system like WordPress where a plug-in could be used, but instead had to develop custom code, modify custom content management systems, and so forth…

But really — how important was rel=author to SEO?

To be honest, there was definitely value, at least within some circles of use, across some industries.  Getting your authorship photo, along with a count to how many other articles you’d written, placed right there in search results did help some authors to get more clicks.

Except it was never adapted widely enough, nor implemented properly enough to benefit a big enough range of authors, publishers and sites to make it a “very important” signal for SEO.

Instead, it was “just one more signal, with some value when implemented properly”.

In a sea of signals. Many of which have always been more important, and many others of which were equally important.

Authority & Trust as Signals Aren’t Dead

The bigger consideration here though, one that is too often overlooked, is that rel=author and related Google authorship opportunities (a robust Google+ profile, for example), were only a small slice of the authority, trust and reputation pie.

Authority and trust are not going away. In fact, even without this specific channel to help reinforce them, they’re still two of the top five signals of SEO I refer to as “Super” signals — QUART.

They sit right up there, even now, in the aftermath of the Google author death, and even before that’s buried and its funeral has been conducted, with the other three super signals — Quality, Uniqueness, and Relevance.

If you don’t have enough authority signals, coming from a variety of sites and resources that themselves meet the QUART test, your content is going to be weak when it comes to maximum ranking and visibility consideration when other content on the web is otherwise equal.

And there are many ways to obtain authority and trust without relying on Google’s internal “prove you’re worthy” methods.

SKINNING THE AUTHORITY & TRUST SEO CAT

So how else can you obtain authority and trust signals?

Start With Your Own Content First

Well it needs to always begin with your own site, your own content.  It needs to pass the QUART test in as many ways as possible, regardless of off-site consideration, and regardless of the latest newest structured markup tagging.

When it does, more people who do come to your site are going to find you authoritative and trustworthy than they would by coming to a poorly created, disorganized, off-topic riddled site.

They’re going to spend more time on your site in many cases, tell others about your site, maybe even link to it. Naturally.

The more consistent you are with your content creation, the more consistently you provide real value in that content, the more authoritative and trustworthy it will become over time as well.

Customer Service — The Biggest Authority & Trust Source

By providing the best possible customer / client service imaginable, you are bound to establish authority and trust signals among the people who provide your revenue. And when enough reach that feeling/belief, they’re going to become your advocates online and offline.

When someone complains, don’t create a trust/authority nightmare. Own it. Take responsibility where it viably makes sense based on honest observer considerations.

Respond accordingly. In reasonable time-frames.  Do the right thing for the right reasons.

Off-Site Authority & Trust

Off-site, authority and trust can also come through establishing connections with others through quality, uniqueness and relevance in your off-site efforts.

Participation in relevant communities, where you offer unique insights or opinions, and where you offer real value will help.  At first just with citations. Then, over time, with people sharing your content.  Then beyond that, some will invite you to be interviewed, or contribute content to their sites.

Public Relations Also Matters

All of that is related to, but does not entirely encompass the notion of public relations. Yet PR is absolutely critical to the mix as well.  So outreach, and evangelism, and good-will initiatives are also a factor in reinforcing authority and trust.

Where Does Guest Blogging Fit Here?

Guest blogging is not dead.  Just like authority and trust not being dead just because Google’s internal authorship signals went away.  Bad guest blogging is toxic.  Guest blogging that fails the QUART test is toxic.  Guest blogging just for links is toxic.

Yet getting an opportunity to contribute content on a reputable site, where the primary focus is providing help, education, guidance, or emotional triggers to readers, for its own sake — THAT is not dead. It’s far from toxic.

In fact it’s a very big way to reinforce authority and trust based on proper, sustainable methods.

Like every other signal  and method specific to SEO however, it’s only one tool that needs to be part of an entire tool set.

So Do We Delete Rel Author & Google+?

Yes and no.  Given what we’ve heard from Google, it’s okay to kill off the rel=author tagging on your site.

However, I would NOT remove your Google+ profile just yet. Or links to it from your site’s sidebar, header or footer.

Because for now, at least, Google+ still provides value in limited ways.  Especially for local businesses, where that profile is connected to your Google Business profile.

Reviews are going to continue to matter. Having a proper presence in Google maps is going to continue to be vital to local businesses as well.

What About Schema? Is that Worthless Now Too?

Schema.org is absolutely valid to maintain, and if you haven’t begun using it yet, important to implement.  Schema is a much bigger fish than rel=author tagging.

And even if, for some crazy reason, Google decides to kill off it’s use in their search engine, it’s based on sound best practices structured markup concepts. They’re vital to proper information retrieval considerations that far outweigh one search engine’s ability or lack-thereof to make use of that.

And since Schema was adapted by Bing and Yahoo, that reinforces the notion that most things related to the technical aspects of SEO are much bigger than Google.