Google Penguin

Google Penguin Update

Its been more than a year since the last Google Penguin update – Google really knows how to merciless punish webmasters. During 2013 there was lots of talk emanating from Google on how this was designed to stop website owners from manipulating their algorithm, but how they could clean up and get back to normal trading.


Google Penguin

Through 2014, until very recently, Google has been quite silent. During the last month while we were coming up to the anniversary of the last update Google has started leaking and obscuring the information they decide to release.

A Penguin update is due – that much we know. They has said “it will be deployed during the next few weeks” – then “we might not after we run some tests”. My forecast is that it will run sometime between the 20th and the 25th of the month. However I don’t think it will be that simple.  If you need help with any Google penalties I can help.

Google Loves Multiple Changes

If they only ran a penguin update it would be too easy to interpret. Therefore I believe we will see a new P animal, (perhaps a parrot – and a parrot copies, that could throw in something else), which will affect links once again – perhaps grading links higher on co-citation or where it is within the code. This would allow them to start disallowing all those guest posts that they hate so much.

One thing is certain it won’t be easy to work out. One unlucky client decided to change their websites, structure, code and content during a week where Panda, Penguin and a phantom update happened – it was easy to decipher.

Can You Recover From Bank Links

Before Oct 2013 my answer was a certain yes. I had worked on websites that had notices in Google Webmaster Tools. We disavowed, removed links, added new better content and promoted the content to gain new higher quality links – and all but one recovered.

We even had one recovery from simply setting a temporary, (302), redirect. This no longer works, when I last tried it all the links and the notice in Webmaster Tools were transferred to the new site.

When the above sites recovered none of them jumped straight back to their previous rankings. The rankings came back over a four month period and new backlinks were added during that time.

However none of the sites I have worked on since Oct 2013 have shown any great recovery – none of them have started ranking for their main keywords again. They are getting some long tail traffic and it appears they can rank for new keywords that were not related to the original highly targeted anchors. All are limping along on life support.

How to Recover and Remove Bad Links

The recovery process is time intensive and fairly well understood now.   Down load all links from Webmaster Tools, if you have more than 1,000 domains you need to get creative. Use Majestic SEO, run a full report and include historic links. If you have AHRF and Moz add them also.

I run all the links through Advanced Links Manager or Scrapebox. At this point I am looking for two pieces of information: is the link still live, and what is the anchor text?

If the link is no longer live you can cross it off your list, (some would also take credit when submitting to Google the reconsideration request).

If the anchor is an exact match on one of your main search terms then it has to be removed. On all the website I have worked more than 50% of the links have been removed.

Then for me the time consuming parts of the process start. I manually check the rest of the links. The links is either good or bad, in this process there is no room for grey areas – this is detox and it can be hard to watch all those links you either paid for or worked for disappear – but if you want this process to work it will have to be thorough, partial or superficial work will not suffice.

Disavow them all. Yes, once I have the list of links that need to be removed I disavow all of them to get the process started. This on its own does not work, but it shows intent and Google want you to illustrate all your work.

I add all the links I want to remove to either Scrapebox again or to BuzzStream. Scrapebox can find email addresses from Whois and Buzzstream will crawl the website to find email address. I like to use both as BuzzStream will also find any social media accounts run by the website which is another way to reach out if I can’t find an email address.

The more “bad links” that are removed increases the chances of getting back to normal.

Now email them all. Again I use Buzzstream as mail merge can start to get very messy once I have to chase a website again after 4 days. I use very gentle emails to start with, pleading almost. The second asks again a bit stronger telling them I would rather not disavow their site. The last email is a notice that I have to disavow the site and I would still love to talk to them.

The responses vary, about 50% take the link down. Many of the older spam directories ask for payment, some clients’ pay others will not. It is interesting to see these old directories that were spam to start with and charged the usual $5 or $10 for the link have found a new source of income by charging the same or more to remove the link.

Preparing The Re-submission Request

If you add all the above information to a text file to include with the submission it is normally too large. It is best to use Google Docs and share with Google.

When submitting the file I will add screen shots from Buzzstream for all the websites that did not respond and I could not contact otherwise. The shows that I have mailed them at least three times – I have gone the extra mile that Google want to see.

Then submit adding a mea culpa note. Accept responsibility for your actions, by all means blame your SEO company and tell Google you fired them, but the buck stops with you the website owner. Promise not to do it again and always follow Google’s guidelines and terms of service. There is no point in ranting against them.

One Final Step

I discovered this some time back – after removing hundreds of links for a client the links were showing up in Webmaster Tools for months and I wanted them out of there. A lot of these links came from spam websites that Google was likely not indexing often. Therefore I use a ping engine for all the removed links to encourage Google to index again and discover the link no long exists. Dark?

At this point all of the hard work should be completed and pay off within a couple of week in the form of another note from Google telling you the penalty has been revoked.

Now it is time to start again. Once the next Penguin update happens you will see the beginning of your recovery. Bear in mind that you will need lots of new links from other websites to rank anywhere near your previous ranking – the links that have been taking down were links that were helping your rankings.

The Irony of Google’s Part in This Mess

Most of the websites and directories that are low quality will have been financed by Google’s own advertising program Adsense. Google could at any point have tightened up on its polices to remove a lot of spam from the net by cutting off the flow of money – but this would involve more work and less profit. I am sure this is not lost on them.



Travel SEO

Have you launched your travel site, but the visitor numbers are disappointing?  Or maybe your web site has been up for a while and you need to get more converting visitors. Travel SEO is no different from any other search optimisation and Google recommends SEO for all websites to help them understand the information on the site.

Travel SEO - Images Really Help

Travel SEO – Images Really Help

I have worked with many travel websites since 2006 and the following are some of the issues I find, addressing these are the first steps to higher Google rankings.

Many websites don’t have the basics of SEO on their site completed; it is not something that can be generally left to web designers – although many are getting way better than a few years ago with the SEO for new websites.

After the Basics

Once the onsite SEO has been completed for most websites next is the marketing.  There are a few options online for marketing:

  • Google Adwords
  • SEO Link Building
  • Travel Blog
  • Mail Lists
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+ and Local Business Places

Google Adwords

Adwords is Google’s advertising platform and when used correctly it is a great way to bring sales and traffic to any business immediately.  All Adwords budgets, I believe, should have a positive return within the first month.  Adwords campaigns need to be tracked and monitored closely otherwise they can eat your budget without the desired outcomes.

Bidding on phrases that are too broad can lead to a lot of waste and you will find that the main converting terms are more expensive; e.g. words that contain “book” or “tour” for example.  Making sure your quality score is high can help minimise the cost per click.

Use image adverts on placements.  Placement are websites that display Google adverts, known on those sites as Adsense.  You can chose which sites to advertise on or leave this option open and advertise on all of Google’s Display Network.

SEO Link Building

Travel SEO like any other niche require links; good quality and lots of links from other trusted sites is the main factor in ranking in Google still.  Google does take account of user metrics especially bounce rate – but attracting links is the number one influencer on ranking.

Most travel websites will allow travel companies to guest blog.  However keep the guest blogging to website that would send you traffic if Google did not exist.  I run a travel blog and I am generally happy to have companies write and publish blog posts – however my experience to date is that they often contract out this work and offer me posts that are of very low quality.  Writing on other websites should be as good as your own site.

Travel Blog

I see some great company travel blogs, though most fail due to lack of quality and over promotion of their own products.  Writing great helpful information or a travel log is a great way to attract links from other travel blogs.  Too many blog posts on company site are too short and recently I have asked companies to stop writing new posts and update the older evergreen content to more than 1,000 words and make them as helpful and knowledgeable as possible.

Mail Lists

I consider a visitor that joins my mail list as a goal achieved on the site, my first point of conversion with that visitor.  Mail lists convert better than any other medium online and lists need to be treated like the great source that they are.  Make sure that the join form is highly visible and maybe have a discount or offer for joining your list.  Keep the newsletters regular, I want people to know the company name and when they are interested in our product search directly for us and not a general search online.  Another problem with irregular newsletters is complaints, people just forget that they signed up to your list.


In the travel niche it is fairly easy to pick up likes on Facebook, however I am always looking to convert these likes to my mail list and then to customers.  The statistics on conversion directly from Facebook or any other social media platform is the lowest of the main traffic sources.  There are various plugins that can add a newsletter signup button directly on Facebook, like Mailchimp.  Mailchimp also helps you see what social media platforms your subscribers are active on.


I treat twitter much the same as Facebook, I would like the followers to be on my mail list as well as follow on twitter.  However I do use social media tools to feed all my social media platforms with good relevant information.

Google+ and Local Business Places

There are not many people using Google+ as yet compared to Twitter and Facebook, however having a Google+ account and or community is essential.

This is the one social media platform that can influence you rankings in the search results, that alone is a good enough reason to use it.  It is early for Google+ however Google is doing everything it can to push this platform and there are signs of it starting to be used more widely than just web professionals.

Google Local is helpful for endorsements and listings in micro local searches, therefore it works best if you have more than one office location or are located in a large city.

Links to Disavow and Remove after Warning in Google Webmaster Tools

bingwmtGoogle has been sending out hundreds of thousands of messages in webmaster tools to website owners.  Most of these are for spam and don’t concern me here, however a large proportion of the messages have been sent to companies that have over optimized anchor text, bought links, or just added too many spam links to their backlink profile.  Since last April link building is not as easy.

This guide will let you know which links you have to get rid of and which you may be able to disavow in order to submit a successful reconsideration request to Google.

Google Webmaster Tools Links

The first step in this process is to export all your links from Google webmaster tools.  In webmaster tools open Traffic in the left menu and then click on ‘Links to Your Site’. I export two lists, the first are the ‘All Domains’ list which shows the link count for each domain, the second is the third menu item along the top labeled ‘Download latest links’.

Bing Webmaster Tools

We also need to export the links from Bing.  The difference between Bing’s list and Google’s is that Bing gives you all the anchor text attached to each link – this makes finding over optimised links easier.

Links That Will Need to Be Removed

Check the first Google download, domain list, for domains that have multiple links back to your website.  Here you are looking for site wide links.  If you have any site wides the anchor text they contain must be your company name and that only.  If you have keyword anchor text for site wides these have to be removed.

I have not seen a reconsideration request work without removal of these, even when they have been included in a disavow file.

Over Optimised Links to Remove or Disavow

Sort the Bing sheet based on keywords. Look for specific keywords that you have been trying to rank for, if it was me for this site the keywords would be – SEO, SEO Ireland, etc.

Before moving on to specific websites look for free blogging platforms.  Quite often sites have links from pages and sites on Blogger,, and any other free platform – usually these links if owned by yourself need to be removed.  If they are natural links from someone you do not know they will be okay.

I would now be looking at the links from the Bing sheet and deciding whether they should be taken down or not.  There are a few of parameters to use when judging these:

  1. PageRank of website – not the page itself
  2. Relevance of website
  3. Relevance of page
  4. Is page indexed

PageRank of Website

If a website has been live for some time and it doesn’t have PageRank there are issues with that site.  Is the site a real site that is used by people?  Or is it there just for links and plastered with adverts?

Remember we are looking only at links that have your keywords as anchor text. If there is no PageRank for the whole site I try and get that link removed or add to my disavow file.

Relevance of Website

When I am building links to this website I prefer that they come from other websites that are about SEO, online marketing, social media, or the topic of the site is in some way related to my site.

This alone is not a reason to take down or disavow, the link will be on my secondary list.  My secondary list is use if the reconsideration request is refused.

Relevance of Page

If the page that I have the link from is about sewing machines and the link from that page to my site is ‘SEO’ – that in itself is a red flag.  I would want my link taken down or changed to an anchor text of ‘here’ or ‘website’ or ‘domain name’, but even then it must make sense to have that link from a user perspective.

Page not Indexed

You might think that Google does not find links on pages that are disallowed in the robots file or no-indexed or no-followed – but it does.  The evidence for this can be seen in the link list from Google webmaster tools.

If the page your link is on is not indexed and there is nothing in the code stopping it from being indexed, then Google has decided not to have that page in its index.  This again is a red flag and usually an indication of a website or web page that you do not want a link from.

Using Advanced Links Manager

I use Advanced Links Manager to speed up the above process and if your website has 100’s or 1,000’s of links it will save a lot of time to use their software.  It will find the links, note if they are indexed, get the PageRank, show the anchor text, and you can pull information from other sources.

The Disavow File

From my experience to date you will not be re-instated by Google unless you manage to remove some links and just adding all problem links to a disavow file has not worked for me so far.

If you are submitting a disavow file it is advised that you do so a few days before the reconsideration request.

The Reconsideration Request

If you have received the warning as the result of a SEO company working on your behalf, I suggest that you mention this and say that they are no longer working for you.  If this is the case I believe that the SEO Company has a responsibility to help you with the removal of links as they will / should know how the links were acquired. When working on behalf of clients I keep a list of all links, this makes it easy for me to report links to the client each month and if there is ever any problems to go back and have the links removed.

In the request to Google list all the links that you have removed and sites where you have sent an email to ask for removal and not had a response – these ones will be in the disavow file.

Expect a reply within about 10 working days and further responses within 5 to 7 working days.  Note that Google do expect to see results and will not accept reconsideration requests without some sign of action on your behalf.  Yes, there is a lot of work in this and I have seen some websites start a new site rather than works for months on this process.

Easy Link Building is Dead

hammockWell almost and pretty much for most websites.  During the last few years I have seen websites jump to the top of Google for their main keywords using spam link building.  Spam links are links like forum signatures, forum profiles, follow blogs, profiles on sites where profiles are indexed, article directories and blog networks.  There are services where they will build these links hundreds at a time for very low fees – many have been tempted and are now suffering.

Now that Google have got around to put these methods in their crosshairs and have sent out nearly a million warnings about un-natural link profiles it is time to have a look at what works and what is truly dead in the link building area.

But first a quick word about links.  Links from other websites to your website are important as Google uses these as the largest indicator of ranking your website in the search results.  Have you ever seen a website you thought was crap ranking above your site?  Usually when this happens it is down to the number of links that website has – not always but usually this is the main reason.

So What Still Works in Link Building?

All the rage at the moment is guest posting, it was always a great way to build links however people seem to be less reluctant now to have guest post on their site – as long as the content is very good.  So the big problem with guest posting is the cost or time.  Finding good sites that will accept a post takes time and then writing a good article even more time.

There is just one issue that could be a problem in the future though, that is almost all links on guest posts are at the bottom of the post.  This itself is quite easy to see and then discount links lower in the page.  There have been a couple of theories around for a while that Google already does this.

Directories – yes some do still work, but not free for all worldwide type.  There are a few good local directories that I still use in Ireland or the UK.

Citation websites are much the same as directories but on some of them you don’t even get a link and I believe they are worthwhile as search is becoming more granular. A lot of businesses would gain a great deal by paying attention to local search factors.

Sponsorship – there are quite a few events during each year in many different areas that a business can sponsor.  Often the price can be quite surprising that for only a few hundred Euro you can gain a link from a site that you never otherwise have a chance of.

Employee discount schemes – these always take work, but as well as getting a great link it is often a source of direct business.

There are many more places, but just to finish with a warning – whatever you do don’t over-do it, as that is a sure way to fall foul of Google.

Google SEO

How to Write Title Tags and Descriptions that Google will Love

If all the elements that make up a web page are listed we would see document title tags at the top of the list in importance.  In some ways it is fairly obvious why it is this way, title tags are the clickable link that appears in Google’s search results.  Google, who always want to show the most relevant results, don’t want a list of results that are not appealing or relevant to searchers. Therefore it is important that title tags contain the keywords or close variations of them that have been entered into Google’s search box.

title tag

Other signs that Google find title tag important are:

  • Duplicates listed in webmaster tools
  • Too long or short listed in webmaster tools
  • Position of words in tag can effect ranking

Old Ways of Writing Title Tags

Since February 2011 there have been major changes in the way Google ranks websites; first was down to a new additional algorithm called Panda and the second major update is called Penguin.  Panda has settled into a monthly update where sites are penalised or let out of the penalty.  Penguin has not yet settled into any rhythm.

The old ways of writing tags was to use keywords or phrases often separated by a dash – or a pipe| you can still see title tags with many dashes or pipes in them, this is to be avoided.

New Way to Write Titles

It is advisable to have only one dash or pipe in a title tag and I use it only when including the company name in the title like this:

  1. SEO Company in Dublin Ireland – Cube Online Marketing

Previously you would often have seen title tags like this:

  1. SEO Company | SEO Dublin| SEO Ireland – Cube Online Marketing

These are the types of title tags that throw a red flag to Google.  Google Panda is mainly about over optimisation of a website and these types of tags can be re-written to target the same keywords but in a more attractive way to users and a not so spam like way for Google.

It is also interesting to note that when users are presented with the option of clicking 1 or 2 above they much prefer 2 leading to a higher click through rate.

During the next few weeks I will have a post on Google recommended SEO which will reinforce the above by drawing on Google’s own documents.

What are Descriptions for?

Descriptions as you can see below are shown in the search results and are not visible on the web page.

meta description

The description, as far as possible, should also contain your key phrases in a sentence form.  The reason for including the keywords is that Google bolds any words in the title and description that are used by the searcher.

The best way to think about descriptions is as a marketing or sale item.  It says ‘look here – I am what you are searching for – click on me’.

Google says that descriptions are not part of the SEO for a page.  However if your descriptions are duplicated on pages, too long or too short Google will list this as something to be fixed in webmaster tools.  I believe if Google takes the time to build an interface where they let me know issues with my site, that I should take the time to correct these problems.