This Week in Google: Manual Actions for Spammy Rich Snippets and No-follow Google+ Links

Well, technically it’s only Wednesday so who knows what the rest of the week could hold but so far we’ve seen a couple of new changes from Google. Both have some interesting implications for SEO and already the world of internet marketing has been abuzz with accusations of mixed messages from Google. Manual Actions for Spammy Rich Snippets The first item I’ll address is manual actions for spammy rich snippets. Structured markup using rich snippets is a practice that was introduced and endorsed by Google as a way to enhance the data displayed in SERPs for products, local businesses, articles, software applications, movies, restaurants, and TV episodes. The one most of us are familiar with is Google Authorship, which links an author’s personal Google+ page with the content created on a website, making the author’s picture appear adjacent to the website listing in Google SERPs. Recently, some webmasters operating websites with structured data received the following message from Google: Spammy structured markup Markup on some pages on this site appears to use techniques such as marking up content that is invisible to users, marking up irrelevant or misleading content, and/or other manipulative behavior that violates Google’s Rich Snippet Quality guidelines. Basically, what this means is Google is issuing manual penalties for sites that are using spammy techniques or deceitful practices with their structured data. Although I was previously unaware that structured data could be used for black hat purposes, it’s apparent that there are marketers out there using this practice and Google is attempting to close the loophole. As many know, the phrase “manual penalty” sends shivers up any respectable SEO company’s spine. Google’s manual webspam penalties are notoriously hard to remove and have often times been issued to sites who were not engaged in black hat SEO activities but had spam backlinks as a result of malware or possibly even negative SEO. It will be interesting to see how easy structured markup penalties will be to remove. I would think that removing spammy markup data like fake reviews, hidden content, fake G+ profiles, etc. would be sufficient to reverse the penalty, or barring that, removing structured data all together. Of course, the mixed message being sent here is that this could potentially hit sites that are not engaging in black hat practices. Time will tell as Google sends out more of these messages and more webmasters chime-in. No-follow Google+ Links SEOs everywhere have long beat the drum that “you need to be on Google+.” While this remains true, as a healthy presence on G+ sends social signals that can benefit SEO, there’s no longer any value to links included in your profile. Recently it was discovered that any URL listed under the section marked “Links” on Google Plus profile pages is automatically marked as “nofollow” by Google. Some theorize (albeit somewhat tongue-in-cheek) that Google had initially set these up as “dofollow” links in a bid to get more people to join Google+, as they would get a decent link in return. I think it’s more of an attempt by Google to level the playing field a bit. However, it’s possibly sending a mixed message that Google+ may not be as important to SEO as it was previously. In closing, where there’s a loophole, there’s a way. Savvy black hat marketers will continue to find the chinks in Google’s armor and exploit them to the fullest and in turn, Google will crack down on them. Of course, the fear is that sites practicing white hat SEO could be penalized, too. Regardless, there are no shortcuts in SEO outside of good SEO practice, so spammy or shady activities should be avoided at all costs. Brian Carver is an Account Manager at SEOhaus. If you would like to stay up-to-date on all of the latest SEO industry news and tips, you can subscribe to our blog here.

World Wide Website Marketing War

Unwavering in the task at hand, the Head of Webspam studies the newest intelligence reports. Enemies approach from multiple directions. Some adversaries are bold, while others work in the shadows. Fearlessly, the leader of Google’s special operative forces employs new strategies to seek out and destroy enemy threats. Analyzing the data, he calculates his next counter strike. He must make an example of this website marketing fiend. Classic MADtv for Throwback Thursday. It’s the classic good versus bad, white hat against black hat. Google has established itself as the go-to search engine and just about all things web-related (even if it isn’t quite sentient yet as far as we know). It’s their turf, so you ought to play by their rules or you just might find yourself on the receiving end of Matt Cutts’ blade. Even though Cutts and company have repeatedly shut down black hat rings, spam sites just keep coming back and things are heating up.     Last Friday the 13 was an unlucky day for BackLinks.com. The Friday before, Cutts’ led his anti-spam forces to victory by destroying AngloRank whose leader escaped and is rebuilding his war machine. What might this Friday bring? We know Matt Cutts plays hardball with Google law breakers, and he’s made it clear he wants to “break their spirits” (skip ahead to the 1 hour 25 minute mark). Launch an attack, and he’ll strike right back twice as hard. It’s been a common trend over the last year or so, and don’t expect Google to go soft in 2014. The Head of Webspam is now hanging heads as trophies for everyone to see. So what’s a guy or gal to do? If you are a business owner or seeking website marketing services, take a moment to double check how legit your SEO company is because they may utilize black hat strategy without you knowing. It’s a rough-and-tumble, dog-eat-dog world out there, and plenty of people are looking for a quick buck – yours. Someone may promise you quick results to land on page one – and may even deliver – but black hat tactics could get your site banned. Don’t give into the temptation to go to the dark side because Cutts’ retribution will be swift and painful. Instead, choose a proven search engine marketing company that has a track record of success while adhering to the Google law. For those of us providing SEO services, it’s simple: stick to the rulebook. Google is clear about what they expect from SEO agencies and what the no-no techniques are. Although SEO best practices are fluid, your job is to keep on top of industry news. An acceptable method a few years ago might be frowned upon nowadays, so ensure that you and your team are up-to-date in knowledge and practice. Google’s goal is to provide the best user experience possible, so spam sites are dealt with seriously by Captain Cutts. Now, I’m especially fascinated by World War II, so perhaps my mental image of Matt Cutts wearing a formal military uniform (and a white hat, of course) may be a little strange, but let’s face it: a website marketing war is raging.

Matt Cutts Announces Yet Another Google Update: Dancing with Penguin 2.1

Back in May, Matt Cutts announced Penguin 2.0 and had this to say about the update: “So this one is a little more comprehensive than Penguin 1.0, and we expect it to go a little bit deeper, and have a little bit more of an impact than the original version of Penguin.” This past Friday, October 4, 2013, Penguin 2.1 was announced by Cutts on Twitter. This is the fifth installment of the Penguin updates. Although this latest version of Penguin isn’t as far reaching as its predecessor, Penguin 2.0, the 1% of affected queries is still a significant portion in comparison to past “minor” refreshes since Google answers more than one billion queries a day! For those unfamiliar with Penguin, these updates target external violations of Google’s guidelines. This latest update appears to be hitting sites with a sudden dramatic rise in referring domains and spammy anchor text. Those affected by the recent Penguin 2.1 update are most likely seeing a marked drop in traffic and keyword rankings. Many SEO forums have been flooded with complaints from webmasters and fellow SEO-ers about the update. Some are complaining about keywords dropping a number of pages in ranking, or all together not appearing; others have already seen a dramatic drops in traffic, especially toward the homepage. Although, it is difficult to tell what the effects may be just yet as the refresh was just activated this past Friday. In order to combat Penguin 2.1, it remains imperative to maintain a healthy backlink profile. Some key things to look at in order to determine any possible red flags is to take a look at Over-optimized keyword anchor text Search engines use anchor text to determine the relevance of a link in relation to the search query. But Google has become wise to overly optimized anchor text that is attempting to manipulate the search results. Exact matches to keywords should only make up a very small portion of a site’s anchor text. Sudden rise in referring domains Google pays attention to the rate at which backlinks are acquired. Going from 15 backlinks to 1500 in a matter of days does not look natural to Google and will definitely get you a red flag, or worse– a manual penalty. In order to avoid appearing spammy, slow and steady wins the race. Irrelevant or misleading anchor text As mentioned, search engines use anchor text to help determine relevancy of the link. If the backlink is a race car enthusiast site with “free car repair” as the anchor text, but is linking to a furniture store, that is not relevant– or providing a good user experience. Not enough variation on anchor text on multiple backlinks on the same referring domain Google does not like to see copy/paste content at all and the same applies to backlink profiles. Repeating anchor text should be avoided in excess. Looking at a backlink profile, one referring domain with 30 links going toward your site should have a variation of keywords, not “cheap couches for sale Tallahassee, FL” over and over again.   Penguin 2.1 is simply delving deeper into external malpractice and “black-hat” SEO. It is putting an emphasis on obtaining links from other reputable sites and linking in a natural way. Google sees this process as ensuring quality content presented in its SERPs. The bottom line is that and that Google is constantly updating their search algorithm and Penguin 2.1 is just that. Likewise, SEO is a constantly evolving industry so it is important to stay up to date with the most current SEO strategy and standards. Aaryn is one of the Account Managers at SEOhaus. If you would like to stay up-to-date on all of the latest SEO industry news and tips, you can subscribe to our blog here. Thanks for reading the SEOhaus blog!