The past use of aggressive link building techniques is coming back to haunt many websites. Links that were generated without regard to quality or with actual users in mind may be triggering penalties that hurt a site's ranking in the search engines.
This post discusses my experience in attempting to erase Google penalties by completely rebuilding a website. Every page on the site was redesigned. The early returns for site revamp have been disappointing in terms of the impact on search engine rankings. The overwhelming majority of search traffic coming to the site continues to be from branded terms. The overhauled website continues to rank below a number of much smaller brands with lesser online footprints.
Wariness is obviously appropriate in extrapolating results from a single website overhaul and jumping to universal conclusions. Further, the overhauled site was only launched five weeks ago, so the ultimate impact is not clear. However, our experience so far has been that revamping a site does not serve to erase algorithmic search engine ranking penalties.
Google Reconsideration Request
Our hypothesis was that a website overhaul that produced better user experience metrics might lead to higher rankings. The overhaul also provided ammunition for a reconsideration request that we judged the Google spam team might find compelling due to:
- the upgraded version of the the website provides a significantly better user experience
- keyword stuffing and excessive links were eliminated from the the home page
- we admitted to and disavowed the spammy link building tactics that had used in the past (which of course I pointed out was the work of departed personal)
These enhancements provided the basis for the reconsideration request. This was perceived to be potentially beneficial, because past experience has shown that a successful reconsideration request can lead to an almost instant bump in search engine rankings.
Summary Of Site Overhaul Results
In the case of this site revamp, the above was accomplished:
- Improvement in user experience was achieved, as indicated by the average visit duration up 27% to 5:01 minutes versus 3:57. Pages per visit increased 97% to 12 pages/visit.
- Page download time was reduced by 33%
- Anchor text keyword stuffing and keyword cannibalization were eliminated from the home page. The number of hyperlinks on the home page was reduced to 16 from over 100 (including more than 20 that were long tail variations on the term "prom dress")
Google Reconsideration Request Feedback
Sadly, the result of the reconsideration request was a response indicating "no manual spam actions found". This inconclusive message from Google is problematic because it offers no indication of whether the site is being penalized for its messy backlink profile, which includes a legion of links from low quality directories and article repositories. Thus, the low ranking in the search engines for the brand's key terms may or may not be due to penalties for acquiring spammy links. It remains unclear if there is any sort of algorithmic penalty in place for having a spammy link profile.
Beyond the failure of the reconsideration request, the improved user experience metrics do not seem to be having much of an impact on search engine rankings.
The only definitive conclusion that can be reached is that overhauling this particular site did not result in a meaningful improvement in search engine traffic in the first 5 weeks since the revamp.
On a side note, while providing visitors with an improved user experience has not produced search engine ranking benefits, it has been beneficial for total site visitation. Both visits from referring sites and repeat visitors are up. So the website is getting more visitor traffic, even without the hoped for improvement in search engine rankings. The site overhaul is judged to to have been quite successful despite its failing to have an impact so far on search engine traffic.
If you liked this post, you might also enjoy Do Natural Links Exist? If So, What Would They Look Like?