I have been sitting on this post for a while now and didn't want to write it because information changes so fast that by the time I you read this the info it could be outdated. Use this info as a starting point if your website has been taken down into the Google hellhole of rankings. I know a lot of people that have suffered lately because of the Google Panda and Penguin updates, It is really a shame but that goes without saying. A lot of these people are now looking at “How to fix Panda issue” EBooks and spending money they don't have, to get answers that are bland at best. Please don't buy these books, they can't tell you anything you can't find on your own.
Here is my free 2 cents and take it for what it is worth:
After an update happens I try to think like Google and what would they like to see in their results. Not an easy thing but with every update I say to myself what is Google thinking now. I covered this in my Feedfront article last year “Was Panda Just the Beginning“. Of course I had no idea the Penguin update was going to be next and clear out the search results in what Google says is the positive way.
When Panda hit I felt a little sting to one of my sites. I didn't sit there and blame Google for that won't make your rankings go up. I went out and saw what my worst visited pages were for the year and either deleted them or added some content to them. 99% of the time the page was deleted. I then went out and got a few backlinks for some internal pages. Another thing I did was send out 5 days of consecutive newsletters. This put a steady flow of repeat traffic back on to my site. I am sure this was a number that Google was looking at. All of a sudden my visitors went from 80% new to 65% new must have told Google that my site was worthy. Changing a site to get 35% returning visitors is a major feat but can be done. Panda looked at your overall site so by improving in those areas helped get me back to where I was.
As the Panda updates kept coming they were tweaking little things. I am sure that the 2nd or 3rd update took in account that social media tracking was turned on. Some say it was rolled into the first Panda update but which one doesn't matter, it happened. If you think about it now it must be an important ranking checker since Google added it into analytics. To find your report go to Google analytics > Traffic Sources> Social> Social Media Flow – it will open up your eyes as to what is happening to your site in the social scale. Google already knows this info and I bet you never took the time to pay attention to it. Google also knows that lousy websites don't get Facebook likes, Retweets and G+1's. Yes it looks at all these factors.
We know that Google likes fast websites so why not give them what they want. I just finished editing a page that took 20 seconds to load and was the slowest page on the site. All I did was edit the picture into a manageable file size and got the page down to 3 seconds. Just making this one change will make my site faster on average. Most people that I see blogging are still using huge file size images and just cutting it down by putting a set size. Google still downloads the full picture so shrinking the file by adding a size doesn't do you any good. Edit the image using something like Photoshop and edit the thing down to 6 or 7 quality and re-size it to the size you need. You should also limit the amount of pictures in a post to whatever it takes to get your story across. No need for 37 pictures on a blog post ever!
Improving Your Google Rankings
Let's look at a few things that should be easy to spot and hopefully correct your site enough to get you back into Google's love zone. Is your site hosted on a free template? I learned a long time ago that there is no free lunch in this world. Most of these templates are free because they put links back to themselves in the template (usually on the bottom). Some templates have links that are the same color as the background so you wouldn't see them unless you were looking at the html code. I believe Google looks at these links and sees where all these backlinks come from and basically puts you in a bad neighborhood. Technically you are linking using hidden text to a site that is known for doing bad linking. Not exactly the best place to be. Go look at your source code for your site and make sure this isn't happening. If you are on a free template I would almost guarantee it is.
Same thing for plugins. Last week I was helping out a friend and saw some crazy backlinks to a washing machine service on a site that had no business linking to a washing machine site. When I asked her what the links were she told me they were auto inserted by a plugin she was using. Once again I am sure Google saw this and said what the heck is this.They then took a look at all the links the washing machine company had and it put her site into a bad linking neighborhood. I bet the plugin had 50 or so sites all doing the same exact linking with anchor text. Not that hard to find and Google could penalize all the sites linking to it since they were all linked by the plugin. You can also get into the same trouble by buying links on sites like Fiverr. You create a stamp on yourself and tell Google you are buying links. The same 10 links you are getting on deals at Fiverr is the same as everyone else that is getting links on Fiverr. I don't mean to target Fiverr it just is what it is. Oh and don't try getting link wheels from there either as it is just as easy for Google to go and look at straight backlinks as it is to find link wheels.
Lets change this up and talk about your site. Just as I went in after the first Panda update happened and deleted lousy pages. I think that Google is looking at bounce rates a lot more. I recently looked at one of my sites that had some old outdated pages that were crummy and wondered how many visits they had. I was shocked to see that in the last year I had about 50 pages that get less than 10 visits and of course 100% bounce rate. At the time the overall site bounce rate was 79%. By getting rid of those 50 or so pages my bounce rate went into the 60% bounce rate. If you were Google who would you rank higher a site that had a 79% bounce rate or a 60% bounce rate. The answer is pretty easy. To find this just log into Google analytics and look to the right hand site after picking out what site you want to look at. Click on the bounce rate twice and you will see your 100% bounces. I bet these are also not your top money making pages. I would also suggest setting your time range to a years worth of data just to get a better look than the monthly data Google shows by default.
Google Doesn't Hate Affiliate Sites, It Hates Affiliate Looking Sites
We know that Google hates affiliate sites so why do we keep making affiliate looking sites! Everyday I look at a lot of affiliate sites and all I see is websites that have 20 or more products on the front page all with affiliate links. The page does no external linking at all to any other place but to an affiliate link. Seriously do you really think Google wants this in their index. Besides that the text is all full of the same text that is on everyone elses site, so you stand out as an affiliate site. You have to think to yourself, if I had a website would I link to this site. The answer 99% of the time is no. If you wouldn't link to it what makes you think others will. Make your homepage something else. Maybe make it a little more about your site and what you are selling and put up one featured product if you feel like it. The days of making popshops built pages as your homepage are long gone and they ain't never coming back.
I believe that time on site is a huge ranking factor. If you were Google who would you list higher in the search results a site that the average visit was 10 seconds long or a site that had a 2 minute average. I would bet you agree it is the 2 minute average one. Back in the day most affiliate marketers were told to get your customers to the merchants website as fast as possible. That is why most older sites have nothing but affiliate links like I said above. Times have changed and not only should you keep a customer on your site for a while (using good pre-sell content) you should also be trying to get them on to your email list. (You do have an email list right?)
The same goes with the amount of pages a visitor has made during the duration of your site. If a visitor is only going to one page on your site you must either have what they are looking for or not at all. Don't tell me that the visitor is finding what you have and is leaving to go to the merchant site. That is a dream if that is happening all the time. Google can also track this using the time on site so there is no fooling the Big G. Add some related post to the end of your post and do some internal linking where it is appropriate to do so within your content.
If you are on my newsletter list and you have been targeted by Google send me an email and I will help you and take a look at your site. If you are not on my newsletter list you can send me a message here. Newsletter subscribers get first dibs though.