SEO in some ways is a moving target. Best practices and effective strategies seem to change quite rapidly. Not just with independent SEOs and agencies, but with industry leaders as well. Not that Rand Fishkin was ever spamming the internet with thousands of fiverr profile links, but he does notice and then report on what no longer works and what is around the corner and in many ways, is just as much in the dark as anyone else.
With that stated, obviously people in the SEO industry should have a better understanding then business owners and novice SEOs right? Well, you would think so, but this isn't always true. I recently read a piece in a major SEO publication about a client’s site being hit by a Penguin 2.0 penalty and what could be learned. While the piece was thorough and well written, to me it had a glaring error: The erroneous assumption that fluctuation or loss of rankings around a major Google update is a penalty.
This assumption is something I hear frequently, but mostly from clients and webmasters who "know SEO" and come to me asking for help recovering from a penalty. What I find is that they moved from the top of the first page to the bottom, or from the bottom of the first page to the somewhere on the second page. This isn't a penalty folks. But if it happened in the vicinity of a penguin algorithm change, it could be related. So what is it? Most likely negative link velocity and yes, it's correctable.
What Does A Google Algorithm Penalty Look Like?
I try to be informative and educational in my blog posts, but I always need to remind the reader (because I remind myself) that no one knows definitively how everything works with Google – including penalties. Well, except for Google. Because of this we can only talk about trends and patterns based on experience.
So here are the two main penalty types we see from Google. I'm not talking about exactly why these happen (is it Panda or Penguin), just the consequences:
Google Algorithmic Penalty
A negative adjustment down in the rankings for your website after Google has run an update. Based on the change to the algorithm, your website has less favorable indicators and metrics and consequently is lowered in ranking in the search results.
Consequence: Generally a drop of at least 3 pages (30 positions) in the search results and often times more like 10+
Google Manual Penalty
A negative adjustment down in the rankings for your website after a Google employee has reviewed your website and deemed it to be against Google's TOS. You may get an unnatural links warning message in your webmaster tools, you may not.
Consequence: Usually a drop of at least 10 pages (100 positions) in the search results and often times your site will drop out of the top 500 results. Additionally, a site can be de-indexed by a manual penalty. This results in a website not showing up in Google’s index, even by directly searching for it.
The image above is taken from Google Analytics and shows the impact on traffic from an algorithmic Google penalty. A manual penalty could look the same or worse.
Negative Link Velocity Impact On Rankings And SEO Health
It's a natural thing for sites to have loss of backlinks. Whether you built them yourself or others were linking to you, sites go down, pages get deleted, it happens all the time. The rate at which you build links is called link velocity and its theorized that Google takes into consideration both how fast you build links in general, as well as how fast you build them in relation to your competition. In other words, there are link velocity metrics for websites, keywords, and possibly even industry verticals.
So link building is not just about getting ahead of others in terms of quantity and quality, but also about maintaining what you have built to date. Both of the Google updates, penguin and panda, can directly affect your site without directly penalizing it.
Penguin and panda can and do de-index websites and backlinks as well as de-value them. This means that if you have a fairly large number of links coming from sites that all of a sudden become de-indexed or devalued after an algorithm update, you lose some of your foundation and consequently can see a drop in rankings.
If you go to Majestic SEO Site Explorer or any link analysis tool and check for lost backlinks after an algorithmic update, you will usually see a grouping of negative spikes. That is, a loss. Depending on the quality and quantity lost, this is most likely the reason you have seen a small drop in the rankings.
The sky is not falling, just your backlink count. None of this should be confused with negative SEO and trying to bomb another website with massive link velocity and spammy links by the way. That is a whole different topic and one I don't care to go into. Needless to say, link velocity and its impact on your rankings is important.
So when you were in the "A" position for Google Places and dropped to "D", you weren't hit by a penalty. When you were in position 7 and now dropped to 10, it's not Google Penguin, it's your links – or lack thereof.
So What Is A Healthy Link Velocity?
There is no magic number of links that you should aim for or stop building at. Many people talk about link "drip feeds", or the practice of gradually doling out links instead of building them all at one time. In reality, what is natural is what makes sense. A press release may gain you hundreds or even thousands of links in one week. Similarly, if you build websites and put a site-wide footer link on an ecommerce site with thousands of pages, you'll have thousands of links when the site goes live.
So my answer is always build them naturally – whether this is on your own or through an SEO link building service. You can't beat natural link building and Google isn't stupid. If you focus on quality, it won't matter if you build 10 per day or 10 per week. Of course, 10 guest blog posts in one day isn't natural, so use common sense.
If you really want a parameter for what you should be doing, look at your competitors. By scrutinizing the websites in the top 10 results for your targeted keywords, you can learn at what rate they acquire new backlinks.
A solid link building plan to acquire diverse, relevant, and authoritative backlinks is one key element of your online SEO plan. Understanding that you have not been hit by Penguin when you drop or fluctuate 3 – 5 places should help you to stick to that plan without deviation.