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Did your Google traffic drop? Here’s why

Google shuffles their search results constantly and applies many different small changes to their algorithm.  However, in the past few months Google has released a few major updates to their search algorithm code-named “Penguin” and “Panda”.

Penguin was an update that works to decrease rankings of sites that are clearly trying to cheat the system.  These can be difficult for Google to detect, but this update hit millions of them and was quite effective.  Of course, on anything this large you’re bound to get a few “good” sites caught in the wash, which was the case here.

Panda was an attempt to reward high-quality sites and lower the ranking of low-quality sites; those with thin content, lots of ads, etc.  This affected the rankings of nearly 12 percent of all search results.

In the last few weeks, Google has pushed out a few more substantial updates.  One was an update to Panda that takes things further and the other one is the EMD (exact match domain) update.  In short, that means if your site was ranking well largely because of keywords in your domain name (like “chicago-auto-insurance.com”), you may see a significant drop in traffic.  It only affects roughly 0.6% of search results, but if you’re in that group it can really hurt. This update has been a long time coming.  Back in March 2011, Matt Cutts (Google’s head of webspam) said the following:

“Now if you’re still on the fence, let me just give you a bit of color, that we have looked at the rankings and the weights that we give to keyword domains, and some people have complained that we’re giving a little too much weight for keywords in domains,” Cutts said. “And so we have been thinking about adjusting that mix a little bit and sort of turning the knob down within the algorithm, so that given two different domains it wouldn’t necessarily help you as much to have a domain with a bunch of keywords in it.”

So how do you avoid losing traffic in updates like this?

The main things you need to do are play fair and generate solid content:

Play fair

There are lots of ways you can try to trick the search engines.  Some of them used to work, some of them never worked, but all should be avoided now.  These are things like link exchanges, buying links, spamming blogs with comments to try to gain links, etc.  Even things that were somewhat acceptable a few years ago, like directory submissions, can hurt you now.

Generate solid content and engage socially

Your best bet is to simply generate awesome content.  Update your site regularly, blog as frequently as possible, and engage with your customers on social media.  Google certainly looks more closely at Google+ than other networks, but they’re not exactly ignoring Facebook and Twitter.

If you have an opportunity to get a great link pointing to your site from a guest blogging opportunity or something, go for it.  However, don’t spend too much time chasing links when they can be so dangerous these days.  Instead, put that time into crafting new blog entries on your site to show potential customers (and Google) that you really know what you’re talking about.

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Mickey Mellen

Co-Founder and Technical Director

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