On Saturday 29th September something happened that completely changed our outlook on SEO – no site is safe.

Our wedding directory, weddingdays.co.uk, and James’ pregnancy website, pregnancy.co.uk, were both smashed to pieces by the EMD update. This came as a surprise as they are, in terms of content and link portfolios, two of our strongest and most legitimate sites. So much time and money has been poured into each that to see them wiped off the face of the net was heartbreaking. And as with any great loss I went through the usual emotions – denial (“it must be a mistake; Google will surely reverse it”), despair (“for the love of all things holy, why us??!!”) and finally, acceptance.

Excuses aside, the bottom line is we did something wrong. Perhaps we were unlucky (really unlucky) but dwelling on that won’t help. We need to understand what it was about these branded, high quality websites that caused them to be treated as nothing more than low quality exact match domains. Furthermore we also need to be sure that this actually was an EMD issue and not the result of Panda, Penguin, or Top Heavy updates.

To do this I have created a table listing not only the ways to distinguish between Panda, Penguin, Top Heavy EMD penalties, but also the reasons they may have happened and most importantly how to respond.

Table 1

Just a quick note on identifying the update that caused your problems – a faster method can be to use Panguin (which also offers the added advantage of including other, less well known updates) but as it includes all brand traffic, then for any site that attracts a substantial amount of brand traffic the results can be less clear. Personally, if you don’t have daily rankings recorded, I would either look at non-brand Google traffic in analytics, or, better still, impressions for keywords in Webmaster Tools (“better still” because keywords will always receive more impressions than clicks so the data is more reliable)


A milestone

For me this has marked a milestone in SEO. No longer is it enough to simply practice white hat SEO. We must now actively seek out those things that, while completely innocent, could accidentally be interpreted by the algorithm as manipulative. Brandable domains containing keywords, repetitive patterns in title tags and headers, keyword heavy navigation links – all things that may have been done exclusively with the user in mind, but all things that this update was sent out to seek and destroy.

So this month we now have a very different strategy. This is the month of de-optimisation and future proofing. No links will be being built. In fact, if we do anything link related, it will be link removal. Every site we manage will undergo a complete audit using the table above. No matter how white hat the site, nothing will be left to chance.

The last few weeks have been massive for SEO, and only a massive response will do.