In the last couple of weeks we have seen a total of 5 Google algorithm updates. This has certainly left a lot of people’s sites in tatters as traffic and earnings have dropped off a cliff overnight.
Historically Google have left a decent amount of time between updates so you can get a grip of what’s going on, but not this time.
5 updates in less than 2 weeks has created a huge amount of hysteria and fear amongst webmasters – something the web spam team are becoming an expert at.
So with all the mayhem the updates have caused, how are you meant to know where to start?
Identifying The Penalty
If you suspect your site was hit with a Google penalty after an update then you need to identify which algorithm change took your site out.
Once you know which penalty your site got slapped with it is a lot easier to analyse in detail and create a plan of action to recovery.
Unfortunately a lot of webmaster make assumptions at this stage and start fixing things that aren’t actually broken, often making things worse.
Accurately diagnosing which penalty is at play is essential to recovering your site.
Where To Start
The first thing you should do is see if your drop in rankings/traffic correlates with any new Google algorithm updates.
SEOMoz Change Hisotry
SEOMoz maintain a very helpful page that lists all of the major updates, the date they happened along with some additional information about the update.
This page gets updated quite regularly and is always a good point of reference.
If you are seeing strange movements in the SERPS and that page hasn’t being updated, then you should have a look at the MozCast for the day.
Mozcast is a great tool that represents the turbulence in rankings in weather terms. The higher the temperature, the more fluctuation the rankings have seen that day.
This is a good way to check if an update is rolling out at the current time.
Chartelligence is a Google Chrome extension that allows you to overlay data onto graphs in Google Analytics or Quantcast.
You can choose to display a variety of information that includes Google Panda, Penguin and other algorithmic updates.
Not only that, but by default you can also display information such as public holidays, economic activities and a range of other key dates throughout the year.
How to Use Chartelligence
The first time I used Chartelligence it took me quite a while to work out how to get it to actually display the data within Analytics.
So with that in mind I decided to write a quick how to.
Step 1 – Install Chartelligence
Make sure your using the Google Chrome browser and install the Chartelligence extension.
Step 2 – Viewing The Data
To overlay the data onto your Google Analytics graph, login to Analytics and then view your organic search traffic only.
Look closely at the graph and you will see a little light bulb symbol with a black and green background. Click on that and then select each set of data you want to overlay and click update.
Step 3 – Customised Overlays
You can also add your own custom data points to overlay at the click of a button. For example you might want to track site changes and be able to overlay site changes over traffic or conversion graphics at the click of a button.
To do this you need to create an account (completely free) and set it up in the Google Chrome extension.
Then all you need to do is click on Create New Layer and select a topic and subtopic. In the example below I have created a new topic called Site Updates and a subtopic of General. You can choose to make these public or private as well.
Next click on Add Event on your newly created layer and assign a title, description and date. For example if you added Facebook Comments to your site on the 3rd of October it would look like this-
Once you have added a few events you can jump back over to Google Analytics and see how changes to the website have affected traffic, conversion, goal completion etc
Pretty cool huh? You could add overlays for pretty much anything you want – you could even use it to track your link building. If you use a lot of services you could add a reference point to see how that affected your search traffic etc.
The Panguin Tool combines the data from the SEOMoz change history page with your Google Analytics graph.
It isn’t as flexible as Chartelligence as you can only see Google updates and how they affected your search traffic but it’s great to quickly check if an update has affected your site.
There is no need to install anything, all you need to do is login with your Analytics account and grant the Panguin Tool access to the data.
As soon as you have done that and selected your website you can see this-
The red lines are Panda related, blue lines are Penguin related and Orange lines are general updates to the algorithm.
What I really like about this over Chartelligence is that when you mouse over each update you get a bit information about it as well as a link to get more information.
Once you have isolated which Google penalty is potentially affecting your site you can start to analyse the cause of the problem.
Remember that correlation of your search traffic dropping with an algorithm update doesn’t necessarily mean it is the update at fault, for example your site may have being hacked and hosting malware.
If a drop in your traffic does correlate with an algorithm change then that should point you in the right direction of what to look at first as a cause.
Many webmasters set off in the wrong direction from the get go, so make sure you take time to understand why the site dropped before taking any action.
If you think the penguin update is to blame then analyse your backlinks, if you think its Panda then do a full on site audit looking for duplicate content and site structure.