We thought it would be interesting to put together a quick post which helps visualise the impact of various Google penalties, updates and filters. Obviously the best way to gauge the impact would be to analyse analytics, conversion and ranking data. However, we are not always privy to such data as a third party, so a tool such as Search Metrics allows you to get an overview of SEO visibility of a website quickly over time. Some of you might be asking, what is ‘SEO visibility’? Well, Search Metrics define it as –

SEO Visibility displays the visibility of the selected domain in the organic search. Searchmetrics determines SEO Visibility by sorting through millions of keywords from Google’s index.

You can find more details on their website and you can argue the virtue and accuracy of any data set, but internally we have found this measure to be extremely useful as a guide for competitive landscape analysis and trends. If you haven’t already checked them out, then you should do so.

Now, onto the pretty graphs and data. We have not included the website name within the charts below to keep anonymity, but you might be able to guess some of the higher profile cases.

Google Panda Update
A well known Panda update case from the UK in ‘consumer reviews’. The dramatic drop highlights the huge impact to the website which has yet to recover.

Google Panda update

Google Penguin Update
After much speculation about an upcoming ‘over optimisation’ penalty, Google released a web spam update later named as ‘Penguin’ on the 24th of April ’12. While the impact can only be seen at the very end of the graph below, you can see the drop in visibility is substantial.

Google Penguin update

Unnatural Links Profile
Since early 2012 Google started sending out a huge number of unnatural links notices in Google Webmaster Tools. While many received them in March ’12 and saw a subsequent drop a couple of weeks later, others had already experienced decreases in ranking and received the message afterwards. In the below case, the penalty occurred at the end of September ’11.
Google unnatural links penalty

Here is another example of a brand getting hit with an unnatural link profile. They have tonnes of site-wide links with keyword rich anchor text.

unnatural link profile

Buying Links
When you get bought by Google, your link profile will be analysed by SEO’s. So it needs to be squeaky clean, or you will be outed as in this case of link buying (amongst other things apparently).

Paid Link Networks
These two examples are similar to the above and involve two large websites in the states which were outed at a similar time for buying fairly large quantities of low quality network links.

paid link networks

Negative Reviews
Back in December ’10 a website was covered in the New York Times claiming that negative reviews helped him rank on the first page of Google. Facing a PR backlash, Google pretty quickly implied that merchant reviews will be incorporated as a ranking factor and the website plummeted in the search results. Was this the new ranking factor in play? I doubt it, I suspect it was for the paid links they got outed for at the same time. You can see the massive drop in visibility in December ’10.

negative reviews penalty, doubt it

Exact Match Anchor Text
This is an interesting one, so I’ll include a couple of charts that I believe highlight the impact of too much exact match anchor text. You are at first rewarded, but building too many links with your target keyword is often followed by a fall, without the required domain trust.

exact match anchor text filter

exact match anchor text

Footer Links Penalty
This example actually involved someone we work with. Have you ever wondered what might happen if you include 150+ links in the footer of your website by mistake? Well, wonder no more. The sudden dramatic dip in October ’11 was due to just this. We noticed them and acted extremely quickly and the period from penalty to complete recovery was exactly one week.

footer links penalty

Comment Spam
We looked into a competitors link profile who had made large gains relatively quickly and noticed they were undertaking lots of comment spam. Our analysis showed that around 80% of it was ‘nofollow’, but all with very keyword heavy anchor text. After their fairly quick rise, they seemed to drop all of a sudden and haven’t really returned.

comment spam

‘Negative SEO’
There has been much written about negative SEO recently which is unfortunate. However, it is interesting to look at a well known case covered over here at SEOmoz. Dan Thies SEOFastStart.com website was targeted with lots of keyword rich, low quality links around the 18th of March ’12. The graph shows he saw an initial spike in visibility, followed by a similar drop before recovery.

SEOFastStart

More recently another website claimed to be the victim of negative SEO and even offered a reward for identification of those involved. While the below chart certainly shows their visibility tanked, there seems to be other more valid reasons as to why they dropped from the search results.

Negative seo? No

Pagerank Penalty
A well known newspaper in the UK was caught selling links back in April ’10 and subsequently had their visible toolbar pagerank reduced and it still is today. Has the reduction in green fairy dust had any impact on their visibility? It certainly doesn’t appear so from the data range we are able to view below.

newspaper selling links

Who Knows
More often than not there is a simple reason as to why you might plummet in the search results. But not always, a well known and respected agency in the states recently disappeared for their brand mysteriously and returned 12hrs later. The graph below shows the sudden drop in mid April ’12 and suggests the full recovery may have taken a little longer. I haven’t looked into this case at all, so I don’t know if it was a penalty of some kind or probably more likely, a glitch.

seo agency brand drop

Have you got any interesting SEO visibility charts to share? Share them in the comments below.

screamingfrog (33 Posts)

Dan Sharp is founder & Director of Screaming Frog. He has developed search strategies for a variety of clients from international brands to small and medium sized businesses and designed and managed the build of the innovative SEO Spider software.