NB: This is a viewpoint from Patrick Altoft, director of search at Branded3.
In the past 18 months Google has brought out a large number of updates designed to penalise sites that have used unnatural links to gain an advantage in the search results and lot of sites suffered from major penalties and ranking drops.
In the past six months our penalty recovery team has helped over 35 brands recover from manual unnatural link penalties and it’s clear that the impact from this sort of manual action, while pretty devastating when it happens, is recoverable within a few months if you take the right steps.
The big penalty that people need to worry about is Penguin because you can only recover when the algorithm runs again, which could be six to nine months based on the number of updates we’ve had recently.
Imagine losing 90% of your SEO visits for nine months?!?
Coming to a website near you soon
Google's high profile search evangelist Matt Cutts has announced that the next Penguin update is a big one and it’s coming sometime soon (we don’t know exactly when), so people really need to be aware and be taking action to prevent the penalty hitting because the recovery time is too long to take the risk.
As we’ve been working through all our penalty recovery projects, one thing has become clear to us – the travel industry is particularly at risk from the next Penguin update because there are more low quality spammy travel blogs than in any other sector.
We’ve manually reviewed and classified almost 100,000 unique domains recently and there are more travel blogs in the "bad site" category than in any other.
This isn’t the fault of the travel sector or the brands that are active in this space, but it just seems like lots of dodgy SEO people have decided to setup link networks of travel-related sites and give/sell links on them.
I’m sure you have all seen the sites I mean, they have a free Wordpress theme and talk about "holidays in spain" one day, "travel insurance" the next and have sidebar links about "payday loans" and "flights to New York".
The big problem that a lot of travel sites have is that historically doing SEO for a company targeting destinations around the world meant building links to hundreds of landing pages.
Imagine a flight comparison site wanting to rank for "flights to [city]" around the world or a holiday company targeting "holidays in [location]", there are hundreds of pages to build links to and even if an SEO company built just 20 links to each page that could be 2,000 links easily.
Creating those links on good sites is very time consuming, so in the past a lot of SEO agencies chose to take a short cut and just build on low quality travel blogs. This spawned a big industry of people selling these £10-a-time links and, subsequently, thousands more blogs sprung up.
Google will hit the baddies
Make no mistake, if you have links on these low quality sites, Google will wipe you out one day. We get dozens of enquiries every month from people who were wiped out by penalties and we see first-hand the reason behind the penalty as well as the impact this has on peoples businesses.
A lot of travel brands we speak to are in denial about the next Penguin update and are not taking action to prevent these penalties.
Most will probably be fine, but the way that Google works these days means that SEO isn’t about growth for most sites, it’s about defensive SEO to make sure that your site isn’t a penalty target for Google in the next 12 months.
There are a few key steps that all sites need to take ASAP to prevent future penalties:
- Download all your links from Webmaster Tools, Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO
- Carry out a full manual audit of all the links to your site
- Disavow any links you think are bad, ideally at the domain level
- Remove any bad links by contacting the sites
Remember that Google specifically doesn’t like keyword anchor text, links that look paid, links from dodgy sites that sell links or any other unnatural link patterns.
If a site looks bad then remove the link from it; if a site looks good then the link has to be natural.
Any questions please ask in the comments and I will make sure to answer them.
NB: This is a viewpoint from Patrick Altoft, director of search at Branded3. The UK-based company specialises in penalty recovery and offers free help and advice to businesses affected by SEO penalties.
NB2:Scared laptop image via Shutterstock.