Cheat sheet for Google algorithm updates

Google has been very busy with updates over the past few years and I sometimes need a quick reference to remember the differences in the most important algorithm updates — Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird. This infographic should be a good cheat sheet:

Google algorithm changes cheat sheet

Google algorithm changes cheatsheet — penguin, panda, hummingbird (click to embiggen)

Below is a little more information for reference:

Major Google algorithm updates 2011- 2014

  1. Panda was introduced February 2011 and the last update was Panda 4.1 in October 2014.
    • What it is: Algorithm update identifies and demotes low quality pages such as content farms, thin content, and duplicate content — from scrapers or from an infrastructure issues on your own site.
    • Action: Don’t republish stolen content, use a canonical tag to clean up duplicate content, make sure what you publish on your site is valuable to your reader and each URL has completely unique content.
    • Search Engine Land’s Google: Panda Update
  2. Penguin was introduced April 2012 and the last update was Penguin 3.0 in December 2014.
    • What it is: Algorithm update penalize sites using spammy link techniques, like link farms and other “unnatural” linking practices.
    • Action: Clean up suspect links leading to your site. Use Google Disavow to distance your site from bad links. Don’t buy links.
    • Search Engine Land’s Google: Penguin Update
  3. Hummingbird was introduced in August 2013 (although it was not publicized until late September 2013) and is not exactly an algorithm update, but an actual change to the SERPs.
    • What it is: Refresh of the entire Google platform to direct searchers to content that answers questions more quickly with the user intent in mind. Hummingbird also takes into account previous searches and is a huge change to how Google provides results.
    • Action: Create content that answers the queries you think your target audience might have and do not try to “rank” for a word or, worse, multiple and not completely related words. Think of your content as a way to fully answer questions about whatever your site is about with very focused pages.
    • Search Engine Land’s Google: Hummingbird Update

Many of these changes are true improvements to the search experience, although many sites felt they were penalized unfairly. I’m certain more interesting updates await in 2015.

Google Authorship is dead, but rich snippets and structured data still matter

ErnestCat has questions about rich snippetsAs of August, Google has completely discontinued all support of of Google Authorship (SEL article). I’m disappointed because it was one of the more interesting experiments in semantic search and also because I have to eat my words. Two years ago I began recommending author markup to all the authors and web sites I work with. But I’m taking back everything I said in this post: Using rel=author tags on blogs to optimize content ownership. The process was too convoluted and because of that too few authors went to the trouble of linking their content to their Google + accounts. Google tried to do the linking programatically, but often failed in bizarre ways, like Giving Truman Capote credit for continuing to write for the NYT even after his death, for example. So that experiment has ended.

But rich snippets and structured data are not dead yet. And in fact, even Google Authorship may not be completely dead and could return in another form using methods not dependent on humans marking up their pages. But structured data for non-author content is still very much in use and Google is still supporting the use of markup for SERP enhancements. It may be that eventually Google will use Knowledge Graph/Knowledge Vault and other sources to pull this structured data from web content and associate it with search queries — but for now, whatever markup you can add to your pages that will help Google understand what data your site provides can only help. But I wouldn’t recommend making a huge investment in adding this markup, Google obviously hasn’t quite figured out what help they need from webmasters in creating results with structured data.

How to unpersonalize search results

The world beyond GooglePeople often ask how they can get an “unfiltered, unpersonalized view” of their “rankings” on Google. The short answer is, you can’t.

Unpersonalizing your Google results is a useless exercise
You can remove some personalization from your results, but from an SEO standpoint, there is absolutely no reason to monitor slightly less personalized Google results. Just like you, your customer/audience is getting personalized results in Google, and unless you figure out a way to recreate each visitor’s Google SERPs, then the only real way you have to gauge SEO success or failure is monitoring visit totals from search engines to your site and a handful of other web traffic metrics. The Google Hummingbird update was so extreme that it’s taken personalization to the point where rankings and keywords are irrelevant for gauging Google success, but other traditional search engines like Bing, Yahoo, and Baidu also personalize results to varying extents. Personalization is the future of commercial search.

Getting less personalized Google results is possible

However, you may have a real need to get results that do not include the same results you already saw. For example, when you’re doing research on a topic and want to gather as much new data as possible, seeing the same top pages you already visited is not helpful when you want to know MORE, not just just reinforce your previous search choices. This is exactly how personalization fails. (This is also true for paid search — clicking on an ad increases the likelihood you will see that same ad again.)

There are many great posts by respected SEOs with step-by-step instructions on how to depersonalize your searches, as well as FireFox and Chrome plug-ins that will give you less personalized results. I haven’t ever found one that I could say with absolute certainty stripped all the personalization from my Google searches, but there may be one out there. This article on from 2011 covers some of the most basic hacks, Google’s Un-Personalized Search. Tools to Hack the Code. Searching for [disable personalized search] may give you more options (many of which no longer work).

How I get unpersonalized results

Although I know I will never see absolute rankings for Google, I do have a couple of methods I use when I want to exit my own search history echo chamber.

Most recommendations for getting less personalized results in standard Google recommend multiple steps (many of which I don’t bother with):

  1. Log out of Google account
  2. Clear your search history
  3. Depending on your browser, set your privacy settings to not personalize, etc.
  4. Wait until the full moon and at midnight shout, “GoogleJuice! GoogleJuice! GoogleJuice!”
  5. Append &pws=0 to the end of your search URL
  6. Expand or change your location by also appending &gl=us or whatever country code you want to search in, to your search URL

You will end up with a URL that looks something like this:

Here are my results:

Attempting to unpersonalize Google results with code

Attempting to unpersonalize Google results with code (click to embiggen)

All these results are local except for one. This isn’t really working for me, perhaps because I’m too lazy to change all my browser settings every time I want to get a purer search. A better method for me is to use the Google Adwords preview tool . Most likely you will need to sign in to use it. Follow these instructions to set up an account if you haven’t already. Then just input your search terms in the search field and see what you get:

Unpersonalizing Google results with Adwords preview

Unpersonalizing Google results with Adwords preview (click to embiggen)

You can adjust your results to see what people in different locations, languages, and devices might see. Here are my results:

Unpersonalized results from Google Adwords preview

Unpersonalized results from Google Adwords preview (click to embiggen)

Again, this is not useful for finding the absolute ranking unless your target audience has no search history or location but it is good for looking for other answers to questions you may be trying to answer with Google. Also, you do have to choose some personalization options to get the results (language, country, device) so it is not completely unfiltered.

Using truly impersonal search engines
The best option I have found for getting unfiltered search results is to use a truly anonymous search engine like DuckDuckGo. Because DuckDuckGo is a completely different engine, it should not be used as an SEO tool to be used to compare “ranking” against Google. It’s just a good search engine that does what search engines do best — find things on the web. Here’s my query:

Truly impersonal dentist offices on DuckDuckGo

Truly impersonal dentist offices on DuckDuckGo (click to embiggen)

The deep web option
If you really want to get not just unpersonalized, but completely anonymous search results outside the traditional web, you may want to try exploring the Invisible web, via TOR or other anonymizing networks. This is not a comparable alternative to Google searching on the Open web, but a completely different option to be approached with caution.

Keyword research using the Google Adwords Keyword Planner

Forced Adwords sign-up makes kittens angry

Angry kitten used with Creative Commons license from flickr.

Updated October 17, 2013 to reflect yet more changes to this tool

As you may have noticed already, Google has replaced the old Keywords tool with the Google AdWords Keyword Planner. More from Google on this.

The biggest change as far as daily use is that you are now required to sign-in to Google and associate an AdWords account with your gmail ID in order to use the tool. You also must go through a couple of extra steps to get to the tool, but generally it still works the same — although you cannot get mobile keyword totals separated out anymore (and there are initial reports of unexplained changes in keyword totals).

I’ve been using this new version for over a month because I have an AdWords account and I’m always signed in. I’ve written up a quick overview to help people get back to keyword researching as quickly as possible.

Here is the new process:

1. You must be signed in to a Google AdWords account to use the tool. You do not need to be running Google AdWords (but Google would certainly appreciate it if you would), you just need to enable a gmail account to run AdWords. It’s free. But this change does mean you will not be able to look-up terms without signing in.

2. You will be redirected to something call the “Keyword Planner” if you try to go to the Keywords tool URL — or you can just access it directly.

3. You will have to choose from 3 options. Choose the twistie to Search for new keyword and ad group ideas:

Use this option to get keyword suggestions in the Google Keywords planner

Use this option to get keyword suggestions in the Google Keywords planner



4. This should give you options that are familiar to you if you used the old Google Keywords tool. You now have the option to exact match your keywords in this view, to ensure you are shown keywords that are truly associated with your initial keyword choice. Enable the sliding button to Only show ideas closely related to my search term.  Input your terms or analyze a web page and make other changes to further target your results if needed:

Enter keywords and choose exact match

Enter keywords and choose exact match in the Google AdWords Keyword Planner

5. When you get to the results you can view all the other possible recommended terms and their estimated search volume by choosing the Keyword ideas tab. And if you forgot to chose  exact match in the previous views, you can choose it in the left nav under Keyword options.

Keywords idea results from Google AdWords Keyword Planner

Keywords idea results from Google AdWords Keyword Planner (click to embiggen)

This should be enough to get started using the tool.

Here is a much more complete Step-by-step for using the Google AdWords Keyword Planner How to Use The Keyword Planner — The New Keyword Tool From Google AdWords.

Getting started with structured data, rich snippets, semantic markup

4 out of 5 evil kittens recommend semantic markup

4 out of 5 evil kittens recommend semantic markup

Whether it’s called structured data, rich snippets, microdata, semantic markup, using the rel= tag, or hacking, structured data has been a hot topic this week in my SEO feeds and daily search discussions. And adoption of this markup is good news, because rich snippets have a lot of potential for high ROI in organic search marketing.

Structured data is not a new thing. It was not new when I wrote this post last march using rel=author tags on blogs to optimize content ownership — but as was so succinctly stated in a post just last week, If You Don’t Care About Structured Data, You Suck at SEO. That may be a little harsh, but ignoring rich snippets means leaving money on the table. Because you can manipulate your search listings right now with the power of without paying Google another cent — at least for now…

So why now all this structured data buzz? My guess is, it’s something SEO pros can actually control that Google supports. The past few years have been rough for the search world. We’re adjusting to over 50% [not provided] keyword data, new linking penalties, and constant Penguin and Panda updates rolling out it seems like every day (why yes, there is one in progress right now, see the Webmaster world Google Update thread for more info). So a way to have control over your SERPs and help Google understand what your page is about is welcomed.

Getting started with structured data

Another nice thing about rich snippets is that, unlike pretty much everything else related to Google, Google is giving out very good instructions on implementing structured data on your page. Google prefers you use and has conveniently created a FAQ and instructions.

And you can test your snippets with Google’s Structured Data testing tool.

Where should you use structured data?

Everywhere! Well, maybe not everywhere, but anywhere it might be helpful for a visitor to know more about your page and encourage him or her to click on that link in the SERP.

If you host a blog or market a blog you absolutely should use author markup. It’s a little more complicated to claim your blog in Google than it is to just toss some code on your page, but if you get a Google referral and someone returns to Google after visiting your blog,the searcher get extra links when they return to Google. More details on the hidden benefit of authorship on SearchEngineland and my original post on rich snippets for authors using rel=author tags on blogs to optimize content ownership has more details as well.

Think about your own user experience, wouldn’t you rather click on a blog post with a picture of a real person:

ljbanks rich snippet

ljbanks rich snippet

And I know when I’m looking for a product or restaurant, a review with stars in the results like Yelp provides is very enticing:

Yelp,, and my favorite bar

Yelp,, and my favorite bar makes all of this possible!

Other places you might want to enable rich snippets are events, videos, and anything with ratings.

And Google has even created a hack for site owners who have an event site in English. Google has a wysiwyg editor called the DATA Highlighter that will do most of the work for you.

If you’re serious about your Google referrals and want to take positive action in a time of much sadness for SEO professionals, and you have a minimum of technical skills, structured data is the way to go. A small investment could create a long-term payoff.

Google cache hack: See what Google sees

I’m pretty sure I stole this from another SEO, but because I’ve been using it as the first step of  basic SEO testing  for so long, I’ve completely forgotten where I got this. But today I was reminded of  what a great little hack it is when a colleague asked me how I  always know what Google sees when it indexes a page.  Use this hack when when people ask  “Is Google indexing this page?” or “Why does Google not index my content?” and they will think you have Google x-ray vision.

(Pro-tip: Usually when you have a page in a site with no other major indexing problems that is not surfacing in Google, it is a JS or AJAX issue and Google cache is the first step in diagnosing this problem)

Google cache is nothing new, but if you add it to your browser bookmarks you can immediately view what is happening in Google the moment someone IMs you a URL and asks “Why does Google hate this URL?”.

How to Add Google cache to your browser bookmarks to instantly view Google’s view of your page

  • Right-click in your browser shell (under your URL field, usually) and, depending on what browser you are using, you will either have the option to “Add a bookmark” or “Add a page” or something similar.  I’m using Firefox and Chrome on a windows machine in the examples below:

Chrome bookmark view

Chrome bookmark view



ffbookmark view

Firefox bookmark view



  • In the location field (Firefox) or URL field  (Chrome) enter:
  • Add the bookmark to whatever browser you do most of your SEOing in and anytime you wonder what Google is seeing on a page just enter the page in your browser and then click your “Google Cache” bookmark window and you will see when Google last indexed the page, what URL Google indexed, and what that index looked like.

Google cache FF browser
Viewing the URL in Google cache is a great way to determine if you have any weird redirect problems (self-inflicted or otherwise).  Also, I usually click on the “Text-only version” of the page so that I can actually see if Google can see the words I think this page should be indexed under.  This is another great way to diagnose rendering issues and/or text that looks like text but is actually images (basic SEO).

Text-only version Google cache

Text-only version Google cache


I’ve used a lot of SEO tools over the years, but this Google cache hack remains the standard first step in diagnosing Google indexing problems. And remember: spidering, indexing, and ranking are different things.  If you do not see a cache for a page it does not mean Google has not spidered it, and if you see a cache for a page and you are still not ranking for what you think you should be ranking for, remember all this proves is that Google has a cache for your page — no promises were made.  Also, the  ranking you see is not necessarily the ranking everyone else sees for your page.

Removing a profile from Google

One the best things you can do for your blog and your online presence is create a Google + profile and link it to your blog and then link your blog to your Google+ profile.

But what happens  if you want to claim authorship for a blog in Google and you realize that you already have another Google account under your name that you want to keep private?

Or if you want nothing to do with Google+ but Google has created a profile for an email or other Google account that you do not want to make visible?

Here is how to remove profile visibility in Google Search for Google accounts you want to keep private.

1. Sign into google with the profile you want to keep private

2. Go here:

3. If your profile is visible you should see a page that looks like this:

Visible Google Profile

4. Choose to Edit profile
5. Scroll down
6. Click on line that reads Profile visible in search and unclick the box:

Remove Google Profile from visibility






Your profile should now read Profile not visible in Search like below:






7. Save and exit and that should remove your personal profile from search.

using rel=author tags on blogs to optimize content ownership

I came across this article, AuthorRank could be more disruptive than all of the Panda updates combined, this morning and decided it was time to practice what I preach. I’ve been advising our bloggers to link their blogs to Google+ as well as work on their Google+ visibility, and this post persuaded me it was time to update my blog.

There is a great Rel=Author Step By Step Tutorial For WordPress here for people who may not be on Google+ yet and it may work for most people.

But the instructions vary depending on your blog host and your theme. I host my own wordpress blog and it just so happened that I’m using a theme that does not support menus or allow for automatically adding a bio to each post. And despite the fact that it probably is time to update my blog theme, I was not feeling it this afternoon.

So I looked for another solution. Because this post, rel=”author” and rel=”me” in WP and other platforms, went a little deeper I was able to figure out why I was getting this error over and over again:

linked author profile =
Error: Author profile page does not have a rel="me" link to a Google Profile. Learn more.

The good thing is, you can test how your snippets will theoretically show in the SERPs here as many times as you like:

Here is what worked for me (YMMV so refer to the links above for more complete instructions):

  1. I finally updated my wordpress profile to reflect my actual name and not “admin” (I know, I know…) nameWordpress
  2. I linked my “Contributor to” to field in the right nav of my Google + profile page to my “About” page on my blog.
  3. Then I linked my blog to my Google Profile. To do this I added a badge with a link to my Google profile in my sidebar. However, if you use this tool to create a badge it will give you a “rel=”author” and in my case I needed a “rel=me.” Easy enough to change, but something to keep in mind. The Google instructions for tying your blog to your Google + profile did not make that part clear.
  4. Tested it in the Rich Snippet Tester
  5. Success!

Now I can make recommendations to our bloggers with a clean conscience. And it was a good exercise for me to set my Profile up to claim my own blog posts and start tying the topics I post about to my name and increasing my ownership and hopefully future visibility in Google.

searchengineland’s 2011 year in review

I keep coming back to this article 2011: The Year Google & Bing Took Away From SEOs & Publishers in response to questions about why some metrics seem a little wonky, why we are having trouble monitoring our links, and why we can’t use Google result totals as measurements of keyword interest when Google Adwords does not have enough data. Luckily, there are some other options to look into as well as suggestions for possible workarounds.

I’ve started using Blekko for some of the same functions Google once provided and although Blekko is not perfect, it is certainly much more transparent with its data.

Here are a few links for guidance in getting started with. One hint, creating an account is free and gives you access to all sorts of data and tools.

Some resources: