In 1996, I optimized my first website by adding a few targeted keywords (including a competitor's name) into the meta tags. A month or two later, my client's website outranked its primary competitor's website. Since then, the world of search engine optimization (SEO) has evolved. Google engineers continuously tune the algorithm to generate the most relevant search results while battling black and grey hat SEOers intent on gaming the system. Over the past two years, Google has stepped up its efforts to battle link spam, affiliate sites, and poor quality content with significant updates known collectively as Panda and Penguin.
The series of updates, as recent as Penguin 21 on November 6, 2012, have negatively impacted websites that Google deems in violation of its Webmaster Guidelines and general best practices. A minority of those sites may be legitimate, but a majority of those impacted were consciously in violation, and the penalization is the equivalent of death: a precipitous drop in rankings from page one to page five+. While total sites affected were a relatively small percentage, there are lessons for those unsure if they are affected or those that are intent on not being penalized in the future. This article is meant for you.