Make no mistake: All SEO experts are gunning for Google. There are other search engines, of course, most prominently Bing and Yahoo. However, "We look at Bing, etc., but 99% of our effort is for Google," says Kyle Sanders, head of Complete Web Resources in Austin. "If you are ranking well there, you will rank well with the others."
But if Google's algorithm cannot be precisely dissected, sources agree that it has two major concentrations: It looks for incoming links, which give a page the presumption of authoritativeness, and it looks for content that matches the user's query.
There are likewise two major types among SEO experts and their clients: Those who labor to build sites with compelling content that other sites would find it worthwhile to link to (popularly known as "white hats") and those who aren't concerned with content but seek only to manipulate the algorithm to suck in traffic (sometimes called "black hats").
Early on, the black-hat approach led to the creation of content farms, with superficial or copied text crammed with selected keywords; and link farms, sites that existed solely to link to other sites. That led to attempts by Google to suppress value-free content and link farms, using algorithm updates with names such as Penguin and Panda.
Penguins and penalties
At StairSupplies, previous management had used some overseas firms for SEO, recalls Morris. "They realised they were getting a huge boost in traffic, so they did not look too closely at how it was done, but it was largely black-hat," he says. Because Penguin set out to lower rankings for companies that used link farms, StairSupplies got hit with an algorithmic penalty.
There are two kinds of Google penalties for trying to game the system, explains Fox: manual and algorithmic. Manual penalties are levied against sites that have been flagged by a human employee of Google. They can range from reduced search rankings to complete deletion from the Google database, and are accompanied by notices placed in the site owner's Google Search Console. The owner can apply for reconsideration after fixing the problem. Figures released by Google in 2014 showed 400,000 manual penalties per month, of which fewer than 5% triggered a reconsideration application. The rest were presumably black hats who abandoned the penalised URLs.
Algorithmic penalties are the cumulative negative page rankings that sites experience when a refresh of Google's search algorithm flags their SEO practices as unsavory, Fox says. There is no notification or reconsideration. The owners must notice the problem, diagnose it and fix it on their own.
After being burned because it hadn't been paying attention to how its SEO was being doctored, StairSupplies switched to another SEO firm that migrated the company from a dot-com to a dot-net address, Morris recalls. But the junk links followed them and the penalty remained in force.
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