After spending almost two years analyzing the results from numerous Google Panda and Penguin updates, it has become evident that Google’s ranking algorithms may now include factors that each reduce the ability of a web page to rank well. These “negative ranking factors” or “rank demerits”, may be getting applied cumulatively to a web page. In other words, one demerit may result in a ranking reduction of 10 positions, 2 demerits in 30 positions, 3 demerits in 60 position, etc.
For example, Google’s GoogleBot spider may be taking factors into account such as the number of words in the content area of a web page, the quality of the links to the page from other web sites, the keyword theme of the web page and how it relates to the main theme for the site, the uniqueness of the content, etc. We can only speculate as to what the entire range of penalties is because Google is not about to tell anyone outside of their organization.
Here are some of the issues that we are seeing that may go beyond preventing a web page from ranking well and could be having a negative effect on a page’s natural rank position.
- Less than 300 words on the page. – A few years ago a web page with only 250 words could still rank well. Today, that is rare. 300 words appears to be the starting point for getting GoogleBot’s attention. I have since raised my recommendation for the minimum word count on a page to 300 to 600 words.
- Poor quality links to a page. – Penguin slaughtered the rankings for web pages that had too many links from unrelated sites of from poor quality sites. That made the links appear to be unnatural. Removing the poor quality links is a tedious and time-consuming process, but it can result in a full or at least a partial recovery of former rank positions for those pages, so demerits can be removed.
- Duplicate content. – It has been a taboo to copy content from other sites for many years, but in the past a re-writing of the content could get a page accepted by Google. Not any more. If an article is too similar to another article, its rankings may be reduced. My best advice is to use other articles for research, then put the articles aside and write a new article in your own words. Do not try to alter an existing article. Google is likely to catch it and reduce the rankings ability for that page.
- The relationship of the keyword theme to the rest of the site. – A keyword theme is the keyword-related topic for a web page. The keyword theme needs to be related to the main keyword them for a site. If you have a site focused on green widgets and that site ranks well for a search for green widgets, an article written about blue whatchamacallits is not likely to rank well. Why? Because it is unrelated to the main theme for the site. That is why I recommend that topics for all web pages in a site should be closely related whenever possible.
For several years Google has claimed to be utilizing over 200 ranking factors for determining the rank positions for a web page. With over 500 ranking algorithm changes over the past year, the number of factors may have increased considerably and may now be broken down into both positive and negative factors. Based upon what I am seeing, it may be more common to apply demerits to a web page to reduce its rankings than it is to identify positive factors and boost the rankings.