Latest Observations From The Recent EMD, Penguin, Panda And Top Heavy Updates

What an exciting couple of weeks we’ve had. Four big Google updates in the space of two weeks is enough to make every webmaster have sleepless nights. Nobody is safe….

Just a quick recap, first Google launched the Panda and EMD (exact match domain) updates at pretty much the same time. Panda was weeding out “low quality” websites, whilst EMD was weeding out “low quality” websites where the domain name is the exact keyword it’s trying to rank for.

Then along came the Penguin and punished sites which seemed to have spammy link profiles, followed a couple of days ago by the Top Heavy update which likes to take down websites with too many ads above the fold.

If your website survived all of those then you can breathe a little sigh of relief and hope that it’ll sail through future updates, although as always, there’s no guarantee of that.

Getting My Head Around It

So many updates in such a short space of time can make it difficult to assess which update caused which drop in rankings for a specific websites.

Fortunately, from our more than 500 websites, many of which are running very different “ranking” tests, we have managed to get some ideas of what’s been going on.

So I thought I’d share some of these initial observations with you…although not all them 😉

1. Excessive on-page optimisation

What I normally like to class as a very well optimized website, it now seems that Google thinks these are a bit spammy. Very specific title tags for a given key phrase, highly optimized internal links, a few mentions of the key phrase in the text, all this seems to be a (negative) factor in ranking.

What I’ve noticed more than ever is that most of the highly ranked websites, mainly positions 1-9, they all tend to now have quite long title tags and usually not having the keywords in the domain.  They don’t look so optimised.

2. Brands on the up

I know this has been noticed before but following on from point one, many niches we monitor, and have a presence in, it seems that the brands are doing better than ever. By brand I mean an oldish website where the domain is not the keyword. They have all definitely benefited further over the past couple of weeks, even if sometimes their on-page optimization could be perceived as being a little on the OTT side of things.

3. EMD protection is gone

Many EMD test sites of ours have been blown out of the water because we always built links to them with very specific link texts, thinking that EMDs were immune to this sort of link profile. Up until two weeks ago this was the case. It seems what we are seeing now is that the protection afforded to EMDs in terms of over-optimisation is gone. So when the update hit, sites that were previously protected from so many same similar links pointing to them have suffered (some worse than others) as they seem to have lost the EMD protection shield.

4. Link text variation

Following on from point 3, link variation is a larger factor than ever, especially with our sites and those we monitor. The ones that have ended up ranking highly tend to have a very diverse set of links. Their link text is very varied, many are just the url, many with “click here” text, etc.  If you have too many links with the same anchor text I would suggest you try and get a major portion of those changes to something less specific.

5. Not too many links is good

Interestingly I’ve seen a lot of sites start to do well with very few links. They have older domains but have accumulated a handful of good links instead of going after hundreds of poor quality links. The days of mass link building and the “a link is a link” mentality is gone. Poor links hurt now, more than ever.  Quality over quantity seems to rule now, much more than previously acceptable.  Before, we could rank sites easily by throwing hundreds of not-so-great links at them, but it’s not quite so simple now.  Fewer but much better links seem to be the order of the day.

6. All together it’s a problem

An over-optimised website with many links pointing to it using the same key phrase too many times, all going to the home,  is a dead cert to be suffering now.  And I’ve not even touched on the subject of sites with low levels of content or spun style content, although I have noticed a few more blog networks start to be de-indexed from Google.

Time To Wind Things Back

The main outcome from all of this is that it’s time to wind things back a little. Less optimization, less mass link building, much more variation in the link profile and lots more good quality writing.

We’re going back to the early days of Google before people started to understand what made sites rank and sites literally were ranking more naturally back then than now….and that’s why we started shifting to Google, their results were better than the other search engines.  We may not think that Google’s results are the best now, and they probably know that at Google too, which means you can count on many more harsh updates coming along soon.  No website is safe…unless you’re a big brand 😉

To succeed now you just need one thing – CREATIVITY.  Think out of the box, keep it clean and plan for the long-term.  Don’t go for the early glory, it’s too risky.  It takes time to build a brand.

Think like Google and you should be just fine.

The old methods have died. It’s official (ish).