Google has been working to clean up its indexes for many years, but it’s only recently that their efforts have had a significant impact on the way that SEO works. For many years, “black hat” techniques such as comment spam and link farms were an effective way of boosting one’s rankings in the main search engines. Even some legitimate businesses would resort to grey SEO practices simply because they were easy to automate and, at the time, undeniably effective.
You Can’t Cheat The System
Google’s Penguin and Panda updates changed the face of SEO by heavily penalizing popular black and grey hat SEO tactics. Among the SEO practices that suffered as a result of the algorithm updates were:
- Exact match domains: having a key phrase as your domain is no longer a virtual guarantee of high rankings.
- Paid links: If Google identifies a site as selling links, all the links on that site will no longer pass page-rank juice.
- Un-natural link profiles: If all your links come from site wide footer links on blog themes, or they all point to your home page or have the same anchor text, this is considered un-natural and is likely to get you penalized.
- Duplicate content: Sites that have a high percentage of duplicate content (e.g. copy-pasted press releases) will suffer in the rankings.
- Low quality content: Don’t try to use spinners to get around duplicate content penalties. Spun content is easy to spot and you’ll still get penalized.
Using black hat SEO tactics has never been a safe bet, but the pace with which Google has been improving its algorithm to spot spam, low quality sites and bad practice SEO has greatly increased. If you used black hat SEO practices in the past, there’s a high chance that you suffered a major drop-off in traffic as a result of the Panda and Penguin updates. According to Search Engine Land, many content mills, including Squidoo, Suite 101 and Hub Pages, suffered heavily after the Panda update. If those websites are not immune to penalties, then what hope does a smaller, independent webmaster have?
Recovering From A Google Penalty
Most of the content mills and “user generated content” websites managed to recover from the Panda and Penguin hits. They did so by cleaning up their sites and improving the quality of their content, but it took several months for them to recover. As an independent webmaster, you don’t have that luxury.
The best thing to do is avoid black hat SEO tactics completely because they simply aren’t worth the risk. If you get hit with a penalty for buying links, or acquiring lots of links from low quality directories and link farms, it will cost you a lot of time and effort to clean up your link profile and improve your rankings. If you get a reputation for having low quality, duplicate content, then you will face an uphill battle to persuade both search engines and human users that your site is worth looking at. Don’t put yourself in that position.