A big reason why many blogs, businesses and websites have suffered from Google's Penguin and Panda updates this year is due to inexperienced, Black Hat, or just plain bad SEOs. If you've paid for these inexperienced, Black Hat or bad SEOs, or are one yourself, you were waiting to be penalised. And now you may have a big mess to tidy up.
Perhaps the Panda and Penguin updates would never have existed if not for bad SEO work, or those "tricks" and techniques used to manipulate the rankings. But a clean-up of Google results was long overdue, even if these updates have provided a few strange results of their own.
Separating the experts from the amateurs in SEO comes down to you doing one thing. Research. Simple research. Of course, no Black Hat or amateur is going to admit they're one, but if you have the right questions to ask, see the results of previous work they have done, and maybe even getting a testimonial or two from the companies they have previously worked with will go a long way to making sure you're working with the right SEO for your site. And certainly avoiding any penalties that bad SEOs and Black Hat techniques are vulnerable to.
Finding A Good SEO
You probably expect the more reputable SEO agencies generally tend to appear on the first page of Google results:
Search Engine Optimisation is one of the most beneficial investments a business can make in today's world. And saying "one of" is probably understating its importance. The benefits SEO can do for your online promotion and ROI is significant. Whilst more and more High Street shops are closing down year-on-year, lots of businesses are flourishing online. If you're a website or business owner who hasn't properly implemented SEO on your site then I have to question the reason of having that site - no-one's going to see it.
SEO gives you the opportunity to drive plenty of free traffic to your website, depending on the success of your strategy and implementation. Bad SEO and no SEO takes away any opportunity of traffic reaching your site organically.
As an employee at a long-existing and successful internet marketing company myself, I am aware of the large number of enquiries we receive asking to get to the top of Google on a bootstrap budget, or to drive thousands of enquiries for pennies. It doesn't happen like that. Those who use to take on the budget clients and outsourced their link building overseas will now, no doubt be suffering due to their poor link building and SEO strategies. Budget SEO and cheap link building does not work. And in the long run, it's costing you a lot more.
When you come to hiring an SEO and/or link building company that's right for your business, try not to let your budget make the decision for you. If your budget is too small, it may be advised to hold off on hiring an SEO company until you can afford a professional, with some successful experience.
What We Believe We Know About The Penguin
Although specific details of Google's algorithm and updates never get revealed, here are a few things we believe the Penguin update is penalising sites for:
Unnatural Links - Google is having a crackdown on those purchasing links, building them on unrelated sites and generally just building low-quality links for the sake of building links.
Little Anchor Text Variation - There's nothing natural about building all of your links targeting the anchor text you're looking to rank for. This needs to be spread out and the majority of your links should be brand name-related.
Over Optimisation - Earlier this year, Matt Cutts said that Google are working on a penalty for "over-optimised" sites. So cut back on your keyword stuffing and other tactics now.
How To Recover From The Penguin
I've read a lot of guff on the internet about how to recover from a Penguin penalty. I've only worked on and fixed a few sites that have been hit by the penalty so it's hard for me to give a definitive answer on what exactly it is that fixed them. But here are a few suggestions:
Make Your Anchor Text Look Natural - You're putting yourself (or your website) at risk by purchasing or forcing unnatural anchor text links in posts or on blog rolls. The safer option will be to make them look natural. There's no harm in it being of low-value anchor text (such as http://yourdomain.com) because at least you're not penalising yourself then.
Dilute Your Anchor Text - Building 90% of your links to one keyword doesn't work anymore. Do that and expect to be penalised. Find variants of your anchor text, link to other parts of your website, and link to your brand name a lot.
Get Quality Links Pointing to Your Website - Don't just build any link these days. Go for the quality ones. If you have a great, genuine product or service to sell then this shouldn't be a problem. If you're an affiliate this will be tougher for you.
De-optimise Your Website - If it's obvious to a user that you're over-pushing a keyword on your website, then it's obvious to Google.
Scale down Internal Links - A problem we found with one of our client's sites was the number of links in their drop down menu which was in the header of every page. We removed this and shortly after their rankings started coming back. Simple changes like removing the large number of internal links on your site appears to make an impact.
Produce Better Content - "Content is King" is the old phrase and it's coming back into fashion again. Google, and no-doubt users alike want to read the best content out there. So make sure you're writing worthy content if you want it to be read.
Get Social - I'm still unsure of how big social is as a factor in Google's rankings just yet, but I've certainly experienced it having a positive effect in the short-term at least. And that's something worthwhile certainly. So add social buttons on your site, get active on Google+, Twitter etc.