A Review of Google Search

Here’s a quick review of some (obviously not all) important events over the last couple of years, and the odd link with advice. If there’s anything you think I should have covered then please add them in the comments section.

2011 & 2012 – Google Strikes Back

Following on from 2011 and the release of Panda, 2012 was certainly a turbulent year in search. The Penguin & Top Heavy updates caused mayhem and caused huge traffic drops to those affected sites.

April 2012 saw Google release Penguin that targeted over optimised websites with a heavy reliance on the similar keyword anchor text links, an over optimised structure and poor quality links.

The Top Heavy Alorigthm update of Jan 2012 affected sites with too many banner ads above the fold and little content. Monetizing websites with banner ads just got riskier.

Panda (that first surfaced in Feb 2011) continued to undermine content farms and low quality sites with little original and thin content.

Negative SEO was the talk of the forums and blogs. Did it work or didn’t it work? I’ve no doubt it worked.

The Knowledge graph made an appearance.

Google launched the Disavow Tool to allow site owners to vouch for which links to your site should not be counted.

Google started sending out Unnatural Link Warnings in Webmaster Tools.

2013 – Google Continues the Fightback

2013 was another big year, amongst some of the highlights were;

1) Google effectively killing keywords in Analytics, and their external PPC keyword tool
2) Penguin reaking havoc
3) Hummingbird was released to improve conversational search & voice search on mobile phones

Penguin 2.0

May 22nd 2013 was a memorable day in search. Boom! many sites spared by Penguin 1, were hit by a more comprehensive update. According to Matt Cutts Penguin 2 went deeper and looked at link profiles that boosted inner pages on websites. Again sites and businesses were crippled with drops of up to 50%.

Many sites that had been propelled to the top of Google with forum profile blasts and nefarious links were wiped out.

Penguin & Unnatural Links Penalties in GWT

Depending on which one you have, will determine the strategy you have to use to clean them up. You may have both!

Reconsideration Requests and How to Clean Sites Up

Many articles including this one tried to explain the difference between an algorithm penalty and an unnatural links penalty in Google Webmaster Tools.

A reconsideration request is only meant for sites that have a manual warning. If you have a manual warning then you will have a message in your Webmaster Tools.

If you have an Unnatural Links Warning in Webmaster Tools, you’ll have to make a concerted & sustained effort to clean up your link profile.

Videos from Matt Cutts

Matt Cutts released a series of videos that went through different links penalties and what was expected of you.

Unnatural links that have resulted in a partial action on certain pages
Unnatural links that affect an entire site

Here is a list of Manual Actions that you might see.

It’s hard work, Google are looking for evidence of a concerted and sustained effort.

The mess of clearing up a poor link profile created by mass submissions such as forum profiles and sometimes created years ago, has created a growing link detox industry. There now seems to be a plethora of tools on the market such as Link Risk, and Link Detox to help pinpoint your bad links.

Filing a Reconsideration Request

If you have manual penalty and need to file a reconsideration request, then below are a couple of tutorials on how to document your work with Google Docs.

Ultimate Guide to Removing a Google Penalty
Emerging from a Manual Penalty

If you can’t remove all the links then Cutts recommends the disavow tool.

Humming Bird

Google rolls out a new algorithm in August this year. It goes largely unnoticed, and there’s no mad uproar or significant changes to traffic.

Google is moving it’s search to deal with natural search queries, and conversational search. More and more people are using and are anticipated to use Voice Search, and you’ll no doubt use natural language when you speak into your phone, rather than just typing 3 or 4 keywords slowly. Hummingbird will help to give search context, and try and understand the intent of the user.

In the previous article Danny Sullivan uses the example of the search phrase ‘What’s the closest place to buy the iPhone 5s to my home?’, a pure keyword based search return on this might find a page with those keywords placed exactly in the title or keywords throughout the page structure, but the users intent can’t be captured by just relying on keywords. Hummingbird is out to address this, what’s the intent behind the query.

Below are a couple more commentaries on Hummingbird.

Having tested voice search and voice recognition on my smart phone, it’s poor and has a long way to go.

Google’s Guidelines

Google quietly updated it’s guidelines.

Among the additional link schemes to avoid include;

Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank. Interflora was smacked for running advertorials, though received a very short penalty.

Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.
Relying on Press Releases to use heavy use of anchor text has now been expressly forbidden.

Forum comments with optimized links in the post or signature.
Using anchor text links in forum signatures became a no no.

Widely distributed links in the footers of various sites.
This still seems to work for a lot of web design companies that link from their client websites.

Matt Cutts also commented on the growing popularity of using Guest Blog posts to get links. Matt Cutts went on to clarify this, sharing knowledge and building up your reputation within your industry should be the goal, not just building links for the sake of it.

Big Brands

Big brands continue to dominate organic search. Ebay and Amazon also continue to thrive, with more of their listings seemlingly appearing in searches. I’ve seen some pages with poor content suddenly coming from no where and appearing above ‘better’ webpages.


I love both, I use PPC a lot. Which is better? If your site is a commercial site then use both, they go hand in hand.

What comes first SEO or PPC?

On site SEO is the first thing you should do (so yes SEO comes before) PPC.


Judging by the amount of newsletters wishing me luck over Christmas, 2013 must have been the year that everyone and his dog started email marketing.

In a world where SEO is at best uncertain and unreliable, PPC costs continue to escalate, Email marketing is a booming. MailChimp and Campaign monitor make creating a mailing list campaign fairly simple.

Segmenting email no doubt brings the most success. If you have a client list, you may wish to segment your newsletters into those that aren’t using certain services. So if you offer PPC services, you may just wish to send a particular email with PPC offers to those that don’t use PPC. Same with your other services.

What other things to do if you’ve been hit in Organic Traffic

– First thing to do is try and improve the conversion rate of the site. There are plenty of ways to do this, first stop is too look at the big sites in your industry or other industries. Some of these will have worked on improving the conversion optimisation on their own sites. Take from these sites simple obvious things that you can implement.

– If you’re not running Adwords then you need to build out a campaign and replace some of the traffic that you’ve lost.

– Run newsletters.

– Outreach, create some content and get worthy placements on the welcoming sites that matter within your industry.

– Look for other sources of traffic. Ebay, Amazon, forums, blogs.

Drops happen for a lot of different reasons. Google does change it’s algo, not everything stays the same. You can be top one day, and without any changes drop.

Create your own strategy. Follow the flock, the latest trend and you’ll be susceptible to tactics that don’t have any longevity. Anyone remember when some of the top SEO’s advocated building lots of spam links to camouflage their clients link profile?

Myths of the Year

‘Keyword rankings don’t matter, conversions are what is important’. Guess what, the higher up on Google you are the more opportunities you will have to make conversions.

Keywords might fluctuate from region to region, personalised and search history might also have an effect, but your rankings from place to place won’t show that big of a difference. Keyword rankings do still matter. Your rankings may have a limit (other sites within your industry may simply have bigger budgets and followings and able to generate more links naturally), so be realistic rather than forcing them with some quick and risky tactics. There are plenty of other ways to get more traffic than just targetting the top trophy terms.

Tool of the Year

ScreamingFrog is a versatile piece of software. It can quickly and easily crawl all the pages on your site and identify errors, show page titles, meta descriptions, 404’s etc and allow you to export these easily into CSV files.

Set to ‘List’ Mode, it quickly searched through 7,000 URLS of dodgey links, and checked which links still existed returning 200s, and then checked whether the pages still had the links on them. In minutes I had the few hundred links that were still active, and needed investigated. It does costs, but worth the investment.

SEO Training

Companies should think about adding an SEO skill set or an understanding to their marketing. Marketing departments need to work in tandem with SEO’s to get the most out of Google. This for me is the key to building a successful campaign. The guidance and knowledge of an SEO, with the knowledge and expertise of someone in the field is a win win.


I’ll continue to live by the standard that Google is just one source, and not to put all eggs in one basket. Google owes nobody a living. There are plenty of other sources of traffic to compensate for any natural drops. Sites with clean link profiles even drop naturally, and may be affected by changes in algorithms and continued PPC expansion.

Identify keywords, build a site around keywords and or a theme, write content articles, answer the questions your users have, link within your site, and concentrate on good on site SEO.

Sounds boring, but site structure, content marketing and attempting to earn links has always been the way to go.

No doubt I’ve left out loads of important events and issues, here’s a few more. If you’ve an article that covers 2013 then send it to me and I’ll add the link.

Comments are closed.

Michael Wall

Michael Wall is an experienced SEO based in Belfast N.Ireland currently running his own SEO Agency.

Michael Wall is available for Internet Marketing, Google Adwords PPC and SEO work. Please call Belfast 02890 923383 or use the contact form.

Google Partner

Popular Posts

SEO training in Belfast