The Answers to Google’s 2014 First Algorithm Update

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On the 8th of January when the first 2014 update came along, it hit one of my blog sites like a freight train. I dropped from Page 1 into the abyss (Page 13 – Spot 131 to be exact). There was absolutely no doubt that an update had occurred. Fortunately after some testing, I successfully took it back all the way from rank 131 to rank 6. Check out the image below:

SERP - main_small

Background

Before we get into exactly what I did, let’s give some background to anyone who hasn’t been paying attention.

On the 8th and 9th of January, we started seeing some irregular shifts in the SERPs. SERoundTable covered this when they noticed lots of chatter amongst the WebmasterWorld community. A week later, more people were noticing these changes and the fluctuations reached it’s peak on January 17th, which according to DejanSEO, this was the 6th largest fluctuation we’ve seen in a year.

The search engines fluctuate all the time, and has become more of a regularity over the last 2 years. Most of the time, you just can’t worry about it and you’ll have to move on because it’ll end up sucking all your time. This one was different though – I had skin in the game and so it mattered. Hence I started testing.

Quick Rant

Whenever an update like this comes along, people start asking why. The worst answer I always hear is:

“I can tell you that you should spend less time worrying about penguin and links, and more time focusing on giving people good reasons to link to your sites.”

What he’s implying is to work on your content quality, but as you’ll see, you can have the best content in the world and you’ll still get hit. That could be thousands of dollars for some businesses, and a response like that just doesn’t cut it. The devils in the details and they do matter.

(Note: I’m not saying it’s not important to have high quality content).

What got hit

Without giving away the exact keyword, I can give you some metrics that might be just as useful to you.

Keyword: product + “reviews”

Average Monthly Searches: 27,100 in the United States

For the sake of this post, let’s say the keyword was “Lagostina Skillet Reviews”. I should also mention that the whole site was not affected, but rather just that specific review page. This makes a huge difference.

Test 1 – Penguin Test

We all know that the penguin update was all about anchor texts. Perhaps this was just another penguin refresh – so I hopped into Ahrefs and checked out my anchor text profile. I had 1 out of 8 (12.5%) of anchor texts being an exact match, so naturally I checked out that one site first.

I checked out it’s Moz metrics and they looked decent. The majestic metrics weren’t so great though. Here they are for you in case you’re interested.

moz-metrics

Decent Moz metrics

majestic-metrics

Terrible Majestic metrics

The Trust and Citation flow are low by anyone’s standards. Not impressed.

I took a look at the site itself and noticed that it wasn’t the highest quality of sites, and that it was a PR0. Since there was a recent PR update – the fact that it was a PR0 made me feel like Google didn’t value this site very much.

This was it, it had all the signs – poor metrics + exact match anchor text. If I were Google looking into this, I’d definitely consider this a junk link. Maybe junk enough for it to even deserve a penalty?

So I contacted the webmaster and had the link removed thinking this was surely it.

SERP - Penguin Test_small

The link was removed on January 19th, and as you can see – no dice. At one point I drop back another 70 or so spots. Yikes.

Test 2 – Panda Test

I’m going to start off by saying that my affected page was definitely not featuring low quality content. It was a high quality written article (done by myself), with beautiful and unique images. There was no keyword stuffing (in fact, my keyword density is only about 0.53% for this page) or any of that junk from 2008. This page was definitely written with the audience in mind, and because of that, I had nothing to change – except one thing.

My header tags. Were they over-optimized? I’m calling my header tags the Title, H1, description and URL.

This is what I had prior to making any changes (Note: I’ve altered the image below using our sample keyword for this post).

Pre-change rendition

I’ve got the exact keyword in the Title, H1 tag and URL. It’s also partially in the description. Perhaps this is too much? Perhaps it’s too obvious that I’m targeting the keyword “Lagostina Skillet Reviews” – even though it reads perfectly well.

I decided to switch it up. I changed the URL, and did a redirect from the old URL to the new one so all my backlinks would flow over.

This is what it looked like now:

Post-change rendition

Not a big difference right?

The results are huge though.

SERP - panda test_small

Wow!

What does this mean?

The obvious: keep your header tags from being over-optimized.

The less-obvious: This change shows us where Google is heading. They want to reward the sites with the best content, and those in their mind happen to be those that are natural and aren’t trying to game the system.

We want to make our sites look like they aren’t doing any SEO or have even the slightest clue of what it means. None of this should be a surprise, since Google has been saying this since the beginning of time, but at least now we have a better indication of what they’re looking for.

Have you been hit by this penalty as well? Let me know your experience with it below!

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Comments

  1. Chetan says

    Greetings Hin,

    Thanks for the insights on the recovery. I just wanted to ask if both tests are done for the same page or different ones. You mentioned case 1 as penguin and other as panda…. If it’s the same page, then I am assuming we need to remove both anchor text link (off page) & de-optimize Headers (on page), correct?

    • Hin L says

      Hi Chetan,

      It was for the same page. I had initially removed the off-page link but as you can see, there was little benefit. It’s possible this could have just taken longer to kick-in, but I honestly think it had zero effect. I think the header tags did it all.

      Let me know how yours goes!

  2. Adam says

    Hi Hin,

    Thanks for the clear explanation. I have hundreds of sites that are progressively losing traffic over the past two years. It looks like you need to be an expert in SEO to have websites that look like they have no SEO. :)

    • Hin L says

      Glad you liked it, Adam! Definitely true, I think the balance of optimizing enough so Google knows what your page is about but not enough to be over-optimizing is becoming a very fine line

  3. says

    my blog is drop on 8-9 january 2014. i did everything to get recover. i just did the disavow links today. Hopefully, i got positive result. if nothing happen, i will try this technique. :D

  4. says

    Thankfully, I have not been hit so far but if I ever do, which I am hoping never happens, I will come back to this post. As you said, it is high time to stop over optimizing everything on our website and just what feels right and natural.
    Thanks for sharing Hin!

  5. Samiur says

    This report is just amazing and surely help thousand other site owners. And also agree with Adam. We have to read and learn a lot about SEO and then don’t do those things to rank high. That’s ridiculous. ;-)

      • says

        Hi Hin,

        I am also having trouble with a de-indexing issue, we have a eccomerce site where one language is used in multiple countries. We are in the process of implementing the correct href lang attributes. However, having made a comeback in Dec we also saw a big drop on the 16 th Jan.
        I was wondering, you traced your problem back to a link issue. Did you receive any manual actions notification in google webmaster tools ?

        • Hin L says

          Hi Andrew,

          I thought that the link was the issue, but it actually turned out to have no effect at all on my rankings after removing it. I also had nothing in my WMT.

          I’m quite confident in saying that the main reason for my recovery was changing the URL tag.

          Hope that helps!

  6. says

    Oh wow. I should be trying this. Most of my review posts were dropped in ranking like crazy (like from the 1st page to 13th page). Back in the old days, I was told to do on-page SEO with 2-3% keywords on the header tags and the body. As a result, I may have 5 H2 tags with the keywords (like Product X review – Design, Product X review – Features, etc), URL, and the title (plus some of the texts).

    I should give this a go as there is nothing else that can hurt the rankings anyway now. Do you really have to go drastically to change the URL? Or the Title of the post is good enough?

    • Hin L says

      Hey Michael, I think the key is to just keep it natural, so it might be enough to just change the Title. Let me know how it goes!

      • says

        Hi Hin, I also did this trick. I have more than 400 post at the moment. It will be a lot of hard work to change all of its URL. So i experiment delete all my keywords on post tittle. And also i delete some of my adsense unit and place them in various position. During this recovery, i think it took me 2 days, i dont listed my blog on search engine. I haven’t post new stuff since then.

        And now, i see some of my old keywords is back again. I will start publish new post tomorrow. Maybe just 1 post at a time. Don’t want to “spam” google in the in 1 attempt. :D

  7. says

    My site drops on Jan 10th 2014. I could not find the real reason for it. I think ” iam also facinf the same problem what u r facing”. Plz check one and give the solution for me.

    Thanks in advance.

    Ravi Kumar

  8. says

    This is a good article about how to recover from SERP drops and different ways to check and make actionable decisions. I like this article thank you.

  9. says

    Great and gaint step you took here Hin, i would try it out, but since it’s only a page it affects and not the whole site, it might be much easier. What is your recommendation if these kind of issue happens, not just to a page, but the whole blog?

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