If a sudden decrease in traffic is occurring on your website, do not necessarily assume it is from the Farmer/Panda update; Google has been cracking down on websites with many inbound paid links with renewed vigor.

The Incredible Hulk transformsIn some cases, Google has been manually punishing sites. Two high profile cases where Google hulked out are JC Penney and Overstock.com.

In both cases, JC Penney and Overstock had SEO firms who’s strategy revolved so heavily on “link building” that inbound links were being paid for, which is against Google’s guidelines – which makes Google angry. And you wouldn’t like Google when it’s angry.

With these two high profile cases coming on the heels of each other, there is evidence that aside from the “Farmer” algorithm update, Google may also be cracking down on sites with paid and/or irrelevant inbound links.

Am I Being Penalized for Paid Links?

If you think you have been affected by Google’s paid link penalty, here’s how to verify in Google Analytics:

  • Sign into Google Analytics
  • Under the website profile, click on Traffic Sources
  • Click on Referring Sites
  • Change the date range to the week before you noticed a decrease in traffic
  • Take note of your highest referrers
  • Change the Date Range to the week you noticed a decrease in traffic
  • Take note of your highest referrers
  • Look for any drastic changes, or some sites suddenly disappearing from the list

To verify that Google traffic in particular has taken a hit:

  • Click on Search Engines
  • Under the graph, where it says “Show” click on “non-paid”
    If you use another analytics program (Coremetrics, Omniture) look in organic referrals by Search Engine.
  • Check to see if you have seen a dramatic decrease in traffic
  • Compare that to the previous week and the previous month
    Saturday and Sunday may be normal low traffic periods.

If your referrers have seen a change, and Google traffic has dropped significantly, you may have been penalized by Google

If you are running a rank checking program, you should wait at least a week after you’ve noticed these fluctuations and then look to see if your rankings in Google have dropped.

Why wait?

  • Because the rank checking program may not have updated accurately
  • Depending on real time search, and which servers are hit when the program runs, you may initially get inaccurate results. A week will give the results time to normalize

I’m Hit! Now What?

Next steps are request reconsideration from Google. Remember to be very detailed when writing out the case for reconsideration.

Avoid Being Penalized in the Future
Many site owners have little to nothing to do with link building, but that doesn’t mean they’re off the hook. If you own the site, you’re responsible for SEO tactics. Be sure you stay informed. Discuss link building tactics with your SEO Department/Firm and ask questions like:

  • What is our linking strategy?
  • What websites are we linking to?
  • How do we know these websites?
  • Who runs the website?
  • Why are they linking to us?
  • Are they affiliate links?

When considering link building, keep these things in mind:

  • Link building is about building relationships online and offline
  • Make sure the links you are receiving are from trusted sources
  • If it’s ambiguous, make sure the inbound link is from someone you or someone who reports to you can contact

The latest update to Google’s Search Engine Ranking Algorithm, known internally as the “Panda” update and externally as the “Farmer” update, primarily targets content farms. This update was rolled out on Wednesday, February 23rd and tweaked on Tuesday, March 1st.

You may have already heard, as there’s a wealth of excellent coverage currently out there such as:

However, we found ourselves explaining and comforting to such a degree that we thought we’d publish a simple how-to guide for the layman who wishes to determine if he’s been affected.

What is a Content Farm?

Essentially, a content farm is a web property or group of properties that creates low-quality “optimized” content en masse designed more for the purpose of ad generation than valuable information. Other attributes include:

How to Tell if You’ve Been Affected by the “Farmer” Update

The fastest way to tell if you have been affected by the “Farmer” update is to check Google Analytics. Unfamiliar with GA? Here’s a play by play:

  • Log into Google Analytics
  • Click on Traffic Sources
  • Click on Search Engines
  • In the list of Search Engines, Click on Google
  • Under the graph, where it says “Show” click on “non-paid”
    If you use another analytics program (Coremetrics, Omniture) look in organic referrals by Search Engine.

Once you’re in, there are a couple things you need to do:

  • Check to see if you have seen a dramatic decrease in traffic since February 24th
  • Compare that to the previous week and the previous month
    Saturday and Sunday may be normal low traffic periods.

If it’s looking grim, you have the option to request consideration from Google. Make sure you’re very detailed when writing out the case for reconsideration.

What About Paid Link Penalties?

Do not confuse the “Farmer” algorithm change to Google’s recent crackdown on paid links. Stay tuned for more info on how to verify if you’re being penalized for paid links.

So, PubCon South is right around the corner (March 8-9  Austin, TX), and it is official; I am speaking on a panel!

Search Analytics and Traffic Analysis

Date: Wednesday March 9

Time: 1:30 PM – 2:45 PM

Location: Salon B

Format: Standard Conference Session

Show up, because this is going to be a fantastic session.

This is my first speaking engagement on a panel this large, and it’s a milestone moment so excuse me if I gush for a second.

When I broke the news to Timothy Nobles, I think he was just as excited as I am, in a “Drinks are on the house!” kind of way. This is as big a moment for him and Words Go Here as it is for me.

Timothy and I started out in Internet Marketing at the same time. He initially brought me on as he was starting out and we formed a tremendous working relationship. At the time, this whole “internet marketing” thing was still pretty new, and we were learning and plying our skills in the high-demanding automotive industry. Because of the scale of our in-house operation, we learned our craft quickly and we learned it well with Timothy finding a niche with Organic Search and Content Strategy, and myself having a talent for PPC and Analytics.

The fast-paced, aggressive environment allowed us to learn and adapt furiously; our battle scars were deep, and for all the daughters that didn’t get ponies for their birthdays, and for all the used yellow convertibles in Buffalo, we gained large wins and a crazy sense of internal satisfaction when it looked like our most vocal competitors might have started bitin’ our rhymes and copying our style.

And in that industry within an industry, frustration grew as companies might not have moved as fast as we would have liked, “automotive online experts” would take credit for advances Timothy and I made, and others would peddle bad advice only serving to line their own pockets and cause confusion in the marketplace. I believe this was the catalyst that made Timothy want to go into business for himself, and me to desperately want some type of recognition from our peers (call it “Only Child Syndrome”).

For both Timothy and I, where we are professionally is the culmination of a near-decade of tremendously hard work as Words Go Here begins to take off and someone thinks I’ve got enough knowledge to talk about Analytics in front of people. This is a watershed moment in time for both of us that is as validating as it is humbling.

I do feel like I need to thank some people for helping me get here:

Longtime bro, and fellow Austinite Taylor Pratt has been tremendously reassuring. Since he’s an old hand at these types of things. I want to thank both him and Jon Henshaw. It was working with them that gave me the final boost of confidence to seek out greener pastures on my own, and I’m eternally grateful. I don’t this would be possible without the Raven crew.

Kelly McGee at Ads Next, who is a satellite sister from back in the automotive days. She and I attended our first Search Conference together, and neither of us would have made it out alive without the other one.

Bryce Callaway for Fists of Fury! One of the most loyal guys I’ve ever met, and one of those persons you always want on your side of a fight.

Grumpyhawk for challenging me on a daily basis. You make me want to be better at my job.

Ashley Morrison – She had to deal with a lot of the residuals in those early days, and she made every business trip worth it. Despite going our separate ways, she remains a big part of how I got here. You’re the top.

Lauren Litwinka – I met this young woman at SMX East of aught-nine. She bought me a Coke in between sessions, so she’s pretty cool in my book. During the conference I noticed how determined she was to meet everybody, and I thought to myself, “She’s going to be somebody. I wish I had her confidence.” Cut to a few months later and she had relocated to Duluth, MN to take a job with Aimclear. It’s amazing the little things you pick up from people.

Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land – I was initially on Danny Sullivan’s radar during our SEO Showdown Foursquare match at last year’s South by Southwest Interactive. During the Google Instant kerfuffle, he linked to a post I had written on the Raven Blog. He and I had briefly discussed the SMX East 2010 Google Instant panel, but it wasn’t in the cards for me that time. I became more motivated than ever professionally, when only a year ago a similar situation would have discouraged me to the point of debilitation. At some point I grew up during all this.

To Brett Tabke and Jeff Randall – thanks for taking a chance on this guy.

To my fellow panel members, Alan K’nechtPaul EdmondsonPrashant Puri, and Moderator Joanna Lord, I just hope I make you guys look good while not embarrassing myself.

Show up at this panel if you dare to have your minds blown by some Analytics goodness!