You’ve probably seen Google in the news a lot lately.
First, J.C. Penney was outed by the New York Times in mid-February for doing extremely well – too well – in organic search results for every phrase from bedding to skinny jeans. The Times enlisted an SEO expert to examine the site and found that thousands of unrelated web sites were linking to J.C. Penney (inbound links can help a site rank higher in search engine results). And each of these unrelated web sites were using descriptive anchor text to link back to the J.C. Penney web site. Tactics like these are known as black hat SEO. While not illegal, black hat SEO practices violate Google webmaster guidelines and the consequences can be devastating to your natural search rankings.
After the article was published, Google’s head of webspam, Matt Cutts, confirmed that the practices used by J.C. Penney violated Google webmaster guidelines. J.C. Penney went from the coveted number one spot to pages five, six, seven or beyond.
J.C. Penney denied knowledge of these practices and fired their SEO Firm, SearchDex.
A few weeks later, Overstock.com was exposed for a linking scheme involving college websites posting links to Overstock.com pages for discount shopping. Links from .edu and .gov sites carry a lot of weight with Google’s algorithm since they are considered trusted and authoritative. After Google became aware of the problem, Overstock.com went from ranking in the top three results to pages five, six, seven and beyond.
Then, Google announced the long awaited content farm algorithm on Feb. 24th. The algorithm is meant to target sites that scrap content from other sites and publish non-original content with little or no original content.
Google said the change would impact about 12% of its results. While Google makes changes regularly to its algorithm, it usually doesn’t affect such a large percentage of results.
A lot of sites have been hit hard with a large percentage of keyword rankings lost. Wired magazine looked at which sites were hit:
Many well-known sites that pop up in search results despite having little good information, including Associated Content and Mahalo, were downgraded, according to an analysis by independent SEO software firm Sistrix.
Wired also noted that some sites that produce original content also lost rankings:
Cult of Mac, an Apple-focused blog which took a beating — losing nearly all of its Google juice in the change, and causing traffic to the site to fall by one-third to one-half over the weekend.
To see a detailed list, view Search Engine Land’s article: “Number Crunchers: Who Lost in Google’s ‘Farmer’ Algorithm Change?”
Google has promised to fix the problem for good sites that were hurt by the recent update.