Seldom does a month go past without Google making a significant change to their search algorithm, fine-tuning their system for ranking websites based upon their pertinence to search terms and the services/information they can offer visitors. Never one to rest on its laurels, Google knows if they do not continuously monitor their search results, top ranking pages may be spammers and users will become dissatisfied with the service and move on to other competitors.
In practice, this means that companies targeting organic search engine results as a part of their marketing may require adopting new techniques in tandem with the updates. As the ultimate goal for Google is to return only helpful results with relevant information, services and content: providing this is vital for companies targeting SEO success. However, other techniques and tactics have been utilised over the years. Many of these techniques have now been outlawed by Google and retroactive punishments are being thrown at the guilty parties.
The Demise of the Black Hat
In times gone by, SEO services were far more simplistic than they are now, taking advantage of less developed Google search parameters. This led to widespread unethical link-building anywhere and everywhere on the net and saw the birth of link farms. These unethical farms were born just to host SEO-boosting links with no benefit for human visitors.
As Google grew more sophisticated, these link farms have become obsolete and redundant, doing more harm than good to an SEO campaign. Think of the link farm as a teenage boy with a Vauxhall Nova – impressive to the underdeveloped, budding Google of yesteryear but worth only disdain from the mature, blossomed Google of today.
Google is now actively penalising websites that have utilised unethical link building services in the past, negatively affecting their search rankings and leaving the sites to clear the skeletons out of their own closets. This has led to large-scale clean-ups being undertaken, wherein website owners and SEO representatives now have to highlight and remove thousands upon thousands of unethical links.
The Clean Up Process
Websites hit with these penalties have two choices: dwindle in the lower reaches of Google with the other offenders and no-hopers or engage in a thorough spring clean. After performing an audit of your site and investigating the links that are directing to your website, it may be clearer what the offending material is and then cleaning can begin in earnest.
Unfortunately like cleaning the oven, this can be a laborious, drawn-out task that requires dedication and elbow grease. If the diagnosis determines the offending links (sometimes numbering in the thousands) it is now your SEO specialist’s job to isolate them and contact the relevant webmasters to remove the links. This sounds easier than it is in practice, with many webmasters less than receptive to removing links from their websites and with some webmasters demanding a price for the removal.
If a link removal impasse is reached, then it may be necessary to disavow the links, this in effect tells Google that your website does not approve of the link and does not want it to reflect on the site. It is akin to an embarrassed parent apologising on behalf of their naughty child.
On Your Knees
Once you are satisfied that you have solved the problem and remove the offending links/content, it is time to beg forgiveness. Google are strict but merciful masters. A detailed reconsideration request must be sent to Google to inform them of the problem that occurred and what steps were taken to solve this issue.
It is important that everything you say is truthful and evidence may be required. Google can see through your ruse, you scamps.
Stroking their wispy beards, the Google spam team will then move to either approve or reject your reconsideration requests dependant on whether or not you have done the required work.
If you are successful, the penalisation placed upon your website will be lifted and once again you can look forward rather than backwards. But this is not the end of the hard work. It is important to continue to be careful when continuing the future SEO work, knowing that Google has its Eye of Sauron on you and your activity.
If you are unsuccessful however, the hard work begins again in earnest and aspects of the clean-up process must be repeated. Google will explain why the reconsideration request has been unsuccessful and will point to the mitigating factors that have led to the failure. It could be something as simple as you overlooking certain offending links. Wipe away the tear from your cheek, sweet summer child, and address the new problem areas.
Google can be a cruel mistress, but its overall target is to ensure that its users get the best, most reliable results and as such will move to strike the less than worthy. It may seem unfair that your website may be punished for activities from years and years ago but Google is cleaning out their house and it may be time for you to do so as well.
Images sourced via Flickr Creative Commons. Credit: Ralph Repo, SuperFantastic, Finn Mac Ginty, Pascal