The past few years have seen wave after wave of Google algorithm updates; targeting aspects from dodgy link building, to low quality content. From start-ups to big brands, many have been hit and the cleanup has been messy; seeing SEOs removing links they previously built themselves.

The key to successful site optimisation now predominantly focuses on user experience. Below is a rundown of Google's biggest algorithm updates and what you can do to keep off of their 'black list'. (See also: 9 best web analytics tools; alternatives to Google Analytics.)

Avoid Google algorithm updates: Panda

Panda first hit in 2011, and has run several times since. The purpose is to unearth low-quality, 'shallow', content and stop it surfacing in search results.

SEOs have analysed sites that were hit to determine what constitutes 'shallow' content. The following were considered key issues: 

  • Poorly written content.
  • Short content.
  • Duplicate content.

If your website is riddled with the above, you could find your whole site penalised, so it's worth working to fix this.

How to avoid a Google Panda penalty

The best way to avoid a Panda penalty is to create unique, useful content. Duplicate content is a big no, so avoid lifting paragraphs of copy directly from the web.


Don't keyword stuff throughout your content; ensure phrases are only mentioned where appropriate and necessary. It's acceptable to use keywords multiple times on a page, as long as the sentence is coherent and not clunky.

Pages with little content are often penalised too, as they're deemed unhelpful, so copy should follow a clear structure - with headings - and answer users' questions.


Avoid Google algorithm updates: Penguin

Penguin first ran in 2012 and affected over 3 percent of queries.

Its focus is on your backlink profile, in particular:

  • Link quality: A mix of high and low quality links looks most natural.
  • Link velocity: Gaining a lot of links at once, rather than progressively over time, looks suspicious.
  • Link diversity: Legitimate sites have backlinks from various sources, including contextual, forums, comments and blogs.

Although not a site-wide penalty, if your most visited pages are hit, you could see traffic dropping massively.

It's also tough to recover from; not only do you need to fix the issue (which can be hard to locate), you must wait for the next update to tell if the fix was successful.

How to avoid a Google Penguin penalty

Put simply, earn natural links.

Avoid buying links. You'll only be penalised and there's a good chance the same site will bill you later for the link's removal. Link farming (the gathering of 'easy' links from low quality sites) isn't acceptable either. If you think you have links like this, it's best to remove them before another Google algorithm update.

Ensure your outreach is constant and you're not mass link building for a time, before stopping suddenly. This doesn't look natural.

Finally, ensure anchor text linking back to your website is varied. Avoid focusing on obvious, short tail keywords, focusing on longer tail keywords instead.

Avoid Google algorithm updates: Mobilegeddon

This first ran in April 2015 and, although less impactful than predicted, the growing use of mobile devices means it's worth ensuring your site is up to scratch.


How to make your mobile site user friendly

When Google target mobile sites they're predominantly looking for anything impacting user experience. Smaller smartphone screens mean there are some key things to consider when optimising, including:

  • Avoiding software most devices can't render, including Flash.
  • Building a responsive design, so text resizes to match screen size.
  • Ensuring text is easy to read on a smaller screen - around 16px is recommended.
  • Ensuring hyperlinked text isn't too close to each other. This makes it difficult for users to click the correct link.

How to avoid Google's manual penalties

Google regularly carries out manual checks on sites, predominantly looking for unnatural links, spam and thin content. By conforming to the best practice tips covered above, you should avoid any manual penalties. If hit with one, it will appear as a note in Search Console (Webmaster Tools) explaining the actions you need to take.
Largely, these penalties are better than the algorithmic kind, as you may apply for reconsideration when the problem is fixed. If sufficiently dealt with, the penalty will be lifted.

The best way to avoid an impending Google algorithm update is to get into good habits early.

With content, ask yourself if you've answered all of the reader's questions, and in a way that reads nicely; not a repetition of keywords.

Keep user experience in mind from the outset and you'll breeze through Google's next update. (See all software downloads.)

Yousaf Sekander is head of SEO at RocketMill.