Google algorithm updates & penalty is tricky topic in the Digital Marketing. There are few people who have best skill to handle Google penalty & give their best possible outputs.
Most of the people know her as a Google Penalty Expert; she is none other than Marie Haynes. She is one of my favorite and running her own agency called Mariehaynes.com
Below is the transcript of the interview.
Hiren: What was your first job? And when was it that you realized you wanted to be in marketing?
Marie: My very first job was one that I created myself. I started a pet sitting business and used to ride my bike all over town to take dogs for walks and feed cats. Eventually I took this love of animals even farther and became a veterinarian. When I applied to vet school though I was torn between becoming a vet and doing “something with computers”. Although I loved my career as a vet, I was always fascinated with how the internet worked. In university I made money part time by helping people with their computer assignments.
Years later I created a veterinary advice website and started to learn SEO to improve the traffic to that site. When I posted my first SEO question to an SEO forum I was getting 34 visitors a day. Now I get around 15,000 to that same site. I became so obsessed with SEO that it’s all I did when I wasn’t working.
When Google unleashed Penguin, I was pregnant and on bed rest. I spent 16 hours a day trying to understand Penguin. Eventually this turned into consulting and by the time it came time for me to go back to work as a vet I was making more money and enjoying my job more as an SEO consultant so it made sense to continue to work from home in marketing.
Hiren: Being a Google Penalty Expert and knowing that 100% result is not in our hands, how do you commit to your clients and make them happy?
Marie: I’m always careful to be honest with my clients. I think that that’s why some people come to me. In some cases I’ve seen people promise to not only get rid of the penalty but to improve a site’s rankings to way better than it was before. I might look at that same site and conclude that this would be hard to do. So, I’d say to the client, “I can remove your penalty but I’m afraid that you may have difficulty ranking again unless you are able to find ways to get good, natural links and that’s hard.” In most cases like that I would have those clients choose me over those who promised the moon. Honesty is so important.
Hiren: What’s your opinion of Digital Marketing in 2016? Where are things heading? What should people focus on currently?
Marie: I think that digital marketing is getting closer to what Google always intended it to be. Google is getting better at ranking the sites that are the best choice for users. Now, instead of finding tricks and loopholes to trick Google into thinking your site is the best, the key is to actually be the best. That’s a hard thing to do! So now, digital marketing is all about making your site the best possible choice for searchers and constantly improving upon it.
Hiren: Google penguin is all about links, many people talk about bad/shady/unethical/suspicious links. I want to know how exactly you determine a bad link.
Marie: When I’m doing a link analysis I take a good look at at least one link from each domain linking to my client. I don’t use arbitrary metrics. For example, a link anchored with a keyword is more likely to be unnatural, but it still could be a good link. A link from a low PageRank or Domain Authority site could still be an incredible link. A sitewide link could be bad or it could be amazing. For each link I ask myself whether the link was created soley for SEO purposes or whether it has value beyond SEO. If the link is obviously made simply to manipulate Google then it’s one that I usually disavow.
I also have a blacklist that I created (https://courses.mariehaynes.com/tools/disavow-blacklist-bulk-upload/) of domains from which I almost always disavow. These are not hardfast rules, but running a site’s backlinks across my blacklist usually helps me move things along quickly. Every time I do a link audit, I add more domains to my blacklist.
Hiren: Do you think Google introduce Disavow tool to gather all suspicious links in one platform? They might use this data to evaluate websites link profile and much more. What is your input?
Marie: I really don’t know. And honestly, I don’t think it matters. If Google does use the data from the disavow tool it’s not used in a black and white matter. It’s not like Google says, “Ah, thousands of people have disavowed this domain so it must be bad!” I’ve seen domains that are on many disavow files, but I would not consider them unnatural links. A lot of people have filed disavow files and don’t really know what they’re doing.
I do think it’s possible that Google has used the disavow data as a training set to help with machine learning. But, Google has denied that this is true.
In reality though, I don’t think it really matters.
Hiren: Google algorithm update refresh time frame is quite longer now days.
e.g There is one client who hit by unknown Google update since long and they did all possible solutions to overcome the penalty but still don’t get any results. What will be your advice to this client? What steps will help to sustain client’s website?
Marie: I think that this type of thing is really changing now. Prior to Penguin 4.0 we had to wait a LONG time between updates and you could only recover with an update. But now, Penguin runs in real time. Also, it doesn’t demote sites. Rather, it simply discounts unnatural links. So, there is no more waiting in between updates.
The Panda update used to take months sometimes to update as well. But, this has changed now too. Panda can reassess a site at any time now. While you’re not likely to see Panda related changes instantly, you shouldn’t have to wait for months to see the benefits of working hard to improve your site quality.
You mentioned a site that worked hard to improve but did not see results. This is actually quite common. Sometimes I think that the problem is that the site actually isn’t the best option for Google to rank. Let’s say that you ran a website that sold lawn mowers in your city. In the past, there were all sorts of ways that you could trick Google into thinking that you should rank the best. If you built links, you could trick Google into thinking that lots of websites were mentioning you. If you stuffed the page with keywords, you might be able to convince Google that your page was the most relevant. But now, it’s getting harder and harder to convince Google that you are the best unless you actually are the best.
Getting back to our lawn mower business example, if a searcher in your city wants to buy a lawnmower, are they likely to want to buy it from your website, best-lawnmowers-in-anycity.com or are they more likely to want to buy it from a well recognized big box brand?
Some would argue that Google gives preference to brands, but I would say that users prefer brands and Google is just showing those users what they want to see.
So, if a site is trying to improve but not getting anywhere it may be that this will not happen unless they are able to strongly convince Google that users prefer their site over the other options.
Hiren: What is the best possible approach to tackle Google Panda Penalty & how to recognize it?
Marie: I’m reluctant to call Panda a penalty as it is more of an algorithmic filter. Panda is Google’s way of saying that the quality on your site is not as good as on others. I think that it has many parts to it. When Panda first came out we simplified it saying that you should simply deal with thin and duplicate content, but now, we realize that improving in the eyes of Panda means improving the site overall so that it is a much better choice than others out there.
There are some things that I would recommend for Panda cleanup such as removing ugly popups or other things that users really dislike. But, I think that in many cases there is so much more to be done. For any site that has Panda issues I recommend a full site quality audit. I also recommend having a few people who are not biased to your brand review your site and try to perform actions on it. Have them try to search for and purchase a product. Is your site the best choice? In some cases, I find that it’s hard for site owners to see that users greatly prefer their competitors. It’s not enough to have unique wording on a page, but each page has to be as valuable as possible. If your competitor’s product page has a buying guide, better photos, a video and is also priced better, then why would Google want to send people to your page?
Hiren: Suppose one of your clients lifted their Google penguin penalty after the refresh, what is the next step do you recommend?
Marie: When Penguin updated in September of 2016, it removed the suppression that was on any site that was hit by Penguin previously. As such, some sites saw nice recoveries. The sites, however, that saw the best recoveries were ones that were able to actually get good, natural links while suppressed. I wrote about some of these here: https://www.mariehaynes.com/penguin-4-0-recovery-case-studies/. So, if your site was hit by Penguin in the past, it means that you used low quality link building in the past. The key to improving now is to find ways to actually get people to link to your site without you being involved. And also, it is important to keep improving on overall site quality.
Hiren: Which are your most favourite SEO tools, and why?
Marie: I use Google Search Console Search Analytics on a regular basis. I love the data that it gives in terms of keyword rankings and click through rates. I think not enough SEOs pay attention to the data we can get here for free. I also am a big fan of SEMRush keyword data. I use Ahrefs for link information. I think that all of the tools have decent link information now but the Ahrefs interface is the one with which I am the most familiar.
Hiren: If you had to identify the TOP most ranking factors, what would they be?
Marie: It sounds cliché, but the most important ranking factor is to have the most helpful content for users. Next, links are still very important, but only those links that are earned as opposed to built.
Hiren: what was your proudest moment? What client did you totally knock out of the park and took their business to the next level?
Marie: I have had a few cases of Penguin recovery this fall that have made me so happy. There are a few sites for which we worked really hard on training the site owners to find ways to get good links. They worked super hard and saw very little benefit from their hard work. And then, when Google finally lifted the Penguin suppressions those sites jumped to amazing rankings. Penguin 4.0 was like Christmas for me. I had site owners emailing me every day to tell me that they had jumped back to top rankings again. Now, not all sites I worked on made full recoveries, but those for which we worked really hard at not just cleaning up links but getting new links and improving site quality did really well.
Hiren: Who is Marie’s idol? From whom do you seek guidance?
Marie: I am a Christian and I love God immensely. When I first started in online marketing, my company was called HIS Web Marketing. The “HIS” stood for both “Haynes Internet Services” and “HIS” as in God’s company. I feel that he blesses me in all that I do.
Hiren: If you had the power to change something in Google for one day, what would that be?
Marie: I would love to see better communication with webmasters. I know that it must be difficult for Google when we as SEOs are hanging off of every word that they say. If they make one cryptic statement we run off and write blog posts on it. But, the problem is that we are desperate for information. I was saddened when I would see Google employees making jokes about Penguin and Panda when I knew so many businesses who were suffering and desperate for information. If we asked, “When is Penguin coming? Is it soon?” they would retort back with a joke. Yet, we had clients telling us that they were not sure whether to sell off the business. I even had some clients that spoke of suicide because of the despair of not knowing what was happening with their businesses. So, if I could change one thing I would make it so that there is good, solid communication between Google and site owners.
Hiren: Which are those 3 things the world doesn’t know about Marie?
- I am deathly afraid of birds. I know that’s shameful for someone who used to be a veterinarian. But, I have had many terrifying experiences with birds. They hate me for some reason.
- I can juggle really well.
- I used to be one of the veterinarians for Stephen Harper and his family when he was prime minister of Canada.
Hiren: How does your workspace look like? Can we have a picture?
Marie: I have two different workspaces. One is a large office that is situated above our garage. At one time I had several employees working for me in this space. However, I found that being an employer was taking me away from my love of learning and writing. I have scaled back now and do most of my work from an easy chair in my living room where I have a great view of the nature that surrounds us. Who knows…maybe one day I’ll have a more corporate looking office, but for now, I’m loving my “workspace”.
Thank you Marie for being a sport and answering the questions. The internet marketing world will look forward to this interview as a valuable source.