Sometime between September 22 and November 17, 2005, Google launched a major update to its search algorithm, shaking up the search engine optimization (SEO) community—and millions of Web site rankings. The update has been named Jagger and is apparently finished.
The keywords that people used to find your site with in Google may not be producing as many visits any more, because the Jagger changes caused your rankings to plummet. Of course, many people have seen their rankings stay the same or improve in Jagger's aftermath, too.
If your site's rankings have decreased, what can be done to get back to where you were or better in the post-Jagger Google world?
There are still a lot of questions, to be sure, and not a lot of answers. But there are some good beginnings of answers. Since this update was rolled out over months and in three distinct phases, it has been much more difficult to determine what factors have been given more weight or less.
For instance, inbound links (or IBL, in trade talk) to your site have always been important to achieve high rankings in Google. But there are many different kinds of IBLs. Link trades—where you put my link on your site and I put your link on my site—may be less valuable than a one-way link. This has been the case for a while. But is the importance of each changed since Jagger?
Probably. I don't know all the answers. In fact, I don't think anyone knows all the answers (save the people at Googleplex).
What are some theories? Here are my best guesses, based on my online research and client observations. Read the following with a grain of salt, however (always a good idea when reading any articles or forum posts about Jagger or SEO itself, in fact).
Ways Jagger Might Help You
- Aged domains—Sites with domains that are older rank better now. The older the domain, the better its rankings—with all other things being equal.
- Very relevant links—IBL and outbound link (OBL) relevancy is more important after Jagger. This means that if you point to related sites or you get links from other sites that are related to your site, you may rank better after Jagger, with all other things being equal.
- Links from trusted sites help—TrustRank (or a similar concept) is more important than ever after Jagger. TrustRank is a concept that says if you get a link pointing to your site that is highly trusted by Google (trusted either programmatically or by human editors), then you will rank better all other things being equal. (See https://www.vldb.org/conf/2004/RS15P3.PDF).
- Variety of links—Links from .edu and .org sites are good for increasing your rankings and are more important than ever. It's vital to get links form a wide variety of Web sites. Just like your investing, you need to diversify your IBLs. (This was probably true before Jagger.)
- Aged links—The older the link that points to your site, the more weight it's given now. (Also probably true before Jagger.)
- Embedded links—Links that are embedded in sentences and paragraphs instead of stand-alone links are weighted more heavily now. (This may be not be true yet, but it's likely to be true soon.)
- Article links—Articles are what directories had been a year or two ago for link building. Links from the author byline or within the article that point back to your site will positively affect your rankings.
- Fresh and unique content—Now, more than ever, regularly updated and added original content will help your rankings.
- Be a big guy—If you are a behemoth site like Wikipedia, Yahoo, AOL, eBay, Amazon, etc., you will rank better than you did before Jagger.
- High traffic and stickiness—User popularity statistics now, or will soon, affect rankings. In other words, user actions on your Web site, like how long they stay (stickiness), how many pages they visit, and even how many people visit your site in a given period, can all affect how Google ranks your site.
Things That May Not Help You Anymore, or May Even Hurt You More
- Duplicate content—Any kind of duplicate content can hurt your rankings. Some say this only refers to other sites having the same content as you, and others say even duplicate content within your own site can be bad. I find the latter hard to believe, since all sites have repeating slogans, phrases, checkout instructions, or any number of other duplicate sentences within the same site. (Use https://www.copyscape.com/ to find people who are stealing your original written content and publishing it on their site.)
- Hidden text—Hidden text within your html, in tags, CSS, or comments, can negatively affect your rankings. (This is something you should never do.)
- Footer links—Some say links in the footer are disregarded now. (This is one we have found no evidence for.)
- Directory links—Links from directories are weighted less now. (This is one we have found no evidence for, but is most likely true or will be soon.)
- Decreased rate of link building—The speed and volume of inbound link creation to your site from other Web sites, if changed, can negatively affect your rankings more so now. (This one is most likely true too.)
- Reciprocal links—Reciprocal link trades are worth less than they were before or are worth nothing now. (It's probably true that they are at least worth less now.)
- Linking to bad neighborhoods—Reciprocal link trades hurt your rankings when you link to sites that are considered "bad neighborhoods" by Google, such as link farms or sites that are banned by Google. (This is most likely true and has been for a while.)
- Link schemes—Participating in link schemes such as Co-ops or Link Vault can hurt your ranking more than help them. (I have not found any evidence of this so far for my client's sites, but this could be true).
Again, I don't think anyone outside Google knows which among those factors are true or false, and how each one affects a given keyword phrase's ranking. In fact, that's the idea. Google doesn't want people gaming its system. So many variables need to be considered, that it is very difficult to figure out which ones affect what.
What to Do If Your Site's Rankings Have Dropped Since Jagger
If your site was ranking well in the Google SERP's (search engine ranking position) before Jagger, then it was nowhere to be found right after Jagger hit, and now your site has still not bounced back at all, then you probably tripped a filter, got penalized or even banned. You may have duplicate content on another site, or someone copied a lot of your content, or you may have canonical issue (where yoursite.com and www.yoursite.com are considered two different sites by Google causing it to look like duplicate content). You may have hidden text, or keyword stuffed your pages or any number of other things. You're definitely going to need more knowledge than this article can give you to get your rankings back.
Some say that Google updates have happened before around the same time of year, and many sites that tanked came back after the first of the year. I don't know if this is true, we'll just have to wait and see. For those who have still not rebounded, this may be nice to know.
Interestingly, most of our clients' sites either stayed the same or improved after Jagger. Our own company site improved. But, unfortunately, a few of our clients saw some decreases in their rankings right after Jagger; they have since rebounded, but are not quite at the pre-Jagger levels. Here's what we did for them:
- Scoured their site for bad outgoing links and made sure that each site they linked to was indexed by Google and was not trying to game Google. Any questionable links were deleted immediately. But we did not get rid of all our link partners, we just culled.
- Determined the ratio of the different types of incoming links to learn where improvements were needed. In other words, we determined the percentage of links to their site that were link trades, one-way links from related sites, one-ways from unrelated sites, link advertisements, directory links, forum signature links and more. We then advised them to increase their one-way related inbound links that are embedded in sentences, and not concentrate so much on link trades and stop getting one-way unrelated link development altogether.
- Took out any inadvertent hidden text. One client had keywords in comment tags in their HTML that we deleted.
- Decreased file size of pages, by taking out old links and superfluous verbiage, and by re-optimizing the .gif and .jpg files.
- Wrote much more succinct meta descriptions and on-page verbiage.
- Made sure that every title tag on every page within the site was different.
- Coached them about the importance of continually developing good, quality, original content.
- Brainstormed ways in which their sites could entice other webmasters to link to them because of what their site offers, such as good content, free Web tools, articles and many other things. This is called natural linking and what Google regards as the only legitimate way to build links. Therefore, it is vital.
We tried to look at the overall link development strategy, the value of the site, and the quality of the site, both the content quality and the HTML quality. A clean, simple, fast-loading site with natural links pointing to it from a variety of other related websites—some .org and .edu, others from trusted authority sites, and many from small related Web sites that add fresh and unique content daily—will rank well in Google over time and won't be affected by any update, including Jagger.
The best way for you to learn what to do in Jagger's aftermath is to read articles like this, participate in forums that discuss these topics, and, most important, experiment with your own sites to see what works. This takes time and patience. So does building quality sites that have things to offer and subsequently get natural links. But it's all worth it.