Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series looking back at the history of Google algorithm updates. Enjoy!
In 2013, the major algorithm update that had everyone talking was the Payday Loan Update. This update was significant and impacted approximately 0.3 percent of queries in the U.S.
At the time, Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, was attributed to saying that the impact was as high as 4 percent for Turkish queries. The reasoning behind this is because those types of queries have more spam associated with them.
This was one of Google’s more significant updates, which targeted spammy queries mostly associated with shady industries like super high interest loans and payday loans, porn, and other heavily spammed queries.
Cutts stated that payday loans, casinos, debt consolidation sites would be affected. Other heavily-spammed niches like pharmaceuticals, casinos, and other financial areas like mortgages and insurance were also affected.
When Cutts pre-announced this change in a May 2013 webmaster video, he said that “some queries that tend to be spammy in nature, like payday loans or some pornographic related queries, were somewhat less likely to be a target for Google’s spam team.” He said that “Google is more likely to look at this area in the near future.”
Two things were affected by Payday Loan updates: spammy queries along with spammy sites.
More specifically, Cutts stated that Payday Loan 2.0 targeted spammy sites, and 3.0 focused its targeting on spammy queries.
The payday loan algorithm update was rolled out over a 1-2 month period. The first payday loan update occurred in June of 2013. Payday loan update 2.0 occurred on May 16, 2014, with Payday 3.0 following shortly thereafter in June 2014.
Payday Loan update 3.0 also included better protection against negative SEO attacks.
Counterfeit sites were also included in the update. However, Cutts talked about this being a side effect, and not the initial intent behind implementing the update.
Affected Searches of the Payday Loan Algorithm 2.0 Update:
The update for Payday Loan 2.0 was more link-based and it focused on high search volume + CPC keywords in which the potential for spam is likely to be extremely high.
Cutts talked about the affected searches in the U.S. being only about 0.3 percent.
On June 11, 2013, Cutts officially announced the Payday Loan update 1.0 on Twitter:
Industry Reactions to Payday Loan 1.0
June 2014 Industry Reactions from WebmasterWorld on the Launch of Payday 3.0 Included:
For more industry reactions, read the thread on WebmasterWorld here: Payday Loan Version 3.0 Industry Reactions
Reaction from Bruce Clay:
“The same strategies we have been using and recommending for years still hold true, even with Panda, Payday Loan, Penguin and all the other updates and penalties Google unleashes. We have always preached that your website has to be worthy of ranking in search results. You can’t make a pig fly (your website) and that is definitely not your job as an SEO. These updates, and the ones to come, have only proven this point. Google is going to continue to crack down on quality.
The focus needs to be on content—that which provides value to the searcher—and a user-friendly site, meaning the structure and navigation is logical and clear. You should make sure your on-page content is in line with what Google believes to be the “norm” and is rewarding. For example, view the top ranked pages for your keyword and determine the keyword density, reading level, word count and use of META tags. Then, create a footprint, on your website, of the natural use of that particular keyword.
Part of your SEO strategy should incorporate a site audit. You need to look at everything on the site with an objective eye. Get rid of duplicate or thin content and consolidate pages, when necessary. Review your back link profile and prune bad links. Auditing is an ongoing activity.
You have to be vigilant and proactive.”
Reaction from Jordan Kasteler:
“If you’re doing marketing right way, you don’t need to worry about the negative affects of Google updates much at all until you’re faced with playing cleanup from someone else not doing things the right way. Create and promote quality content, avoid transactional link building, optimize sites for user intent, and you’ll be solid.”
Reaction From Lisa Buyer:
“From a public relations perspective, who would ever think that Google penalties and updates would become an online public relations problem? But a Google penalty can potentially crush a brand’s hard earned search results, leaving a brand with a fraction of the earned search visibility that they once counted on for business. A business needs to make sure they are on top of the search engine’s updates.
Take eBay for example, they not only had a major issue with repairing website issues but they also were faced with a public relations and visibility problem.”
For more industry reactions from professionals worldwide, please see Industry Reactions to the Payday Loan Update
Case Studies Surrounding the Payday Loan Update
Many case studies were published that attempted to identify the who, what, when, where, why of every algorithm update.
This helps to further understand their impact, their reach, how to avoid getting hit by the updates, and how to eventually recover and regain full search engine positioning.
Case Study #1
The first case study we will take a look at involves the Cashlady payday loan update study, as put together by Link Research Tools.
This case study showed websites with heavily-spammed blog comments were part of those who were negatively affected by this algorithm update. Footprints were also visible in one of these examples, for Cash Lady.co.uk, which included anchor text with variations of the payday loans, fast cash loans, cash lady payday loans keywords.
The big thing that was part of the footprint that stuck out to Google was that the sites were owned by the agency doing the work, a big no-no if you wanted to keep your sites unknown to the algorithm. This made it extremely easy for Google to find the site.
Case Study #2
Another case study performed by TrenchWorthy included another theme in a highly ranking site: heavily-spammed blog comments. The big difference in this case study compared to the case study above, all comments were being manipulated and flying under Google’s radar.
How were the spammers doing this? They were going after blog comments with heavily random footprints – with pictures of models, different personas, everything pointing more towards a natural link rather than an unnatural spammed link. Pretty clever!
In this same case study, there were examples of paid links, guest posing, and hacking for link injection.
Case Study #3
The next case study was published in September 2013 by Steven Macdonald, the site Peachy.co.uk had an 81 percent loss in organic traffic. In the study, after the penalty hit branded terms were pushed back to pages five and six in Google. They used probably every possible linking technique in order to manipulate their rankings.
Per the article, they used things like paid links, thin content, article marketing, directories, keyword stuffing, and duplicate content. By August 2, 2013, they realized they should do a website audit. Before filing the reconsideration request, they made the decision to focus on three areas that they needed to address: content, usability, and links.
Their method included identifying and improving thin content. They had many pages of thin content that needed to be overhauled or improved. They ended up removing approximately 60 percent of all linking domains. The next 3-6 months would see a shift in content focus to education. A full user experience overhaul was also necessary.
The reconsideration request was finally filed, and they had a successful reinclusion of the site on Google.
Related Google Patents & Updates
Patent for determining first rank and second rank associated with the document:
As of 2016, on the AdWords side, Google is now banning Payday Loan and other risky loan ads. This is in stark contrast to prior stances at Google on allowing anyone to benefit from AdWords and AdWords placement.
How Has SEO Changed Since the Payday Loan Update?
More SEO professionals than ever began placing more emphasis on Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and more risk was associated with gray/black hat SEO techniques.
The moral of the story?
Don’t violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Don’t be evil and don’t be predatory. Always use holistic, white hat focused strategies for content, user experience, and link acquisition.
Before this update, SEO was largely focused on massive amounts of manipulation. While manipulation still occurs today, and there are some techniques available to fly under Google’s radar, it’s easier than ever to get caught if you are not careful.
Best idea? Don’t do these techniques on your site in the first place, and make sure that the technique you are considering really is not against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
There have been many times where this author has seen someone talk about a technique that was part of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and Google went after it, when it really never was part of those guidelines.
Look before you leap, and always double check your sources before implementing SEO techniques that can otherwise be harmful to your overall SEO efforts.
Resources & Further Reading on the Payday Loan Update
- Google Rolls Out Panda 4.0 & Payday Loan 2.0 Updates
- Google Begins Rollout Of Payday Loan Algorithm 3.0 Today
- Google Spam Algorithm Version 3.0 Launches Today (SE Roundtable)
- Black Hats Mock Google’s Matt Cutts With Payday Loan Hack (SE Roundtable)
- Google’s Matt Cutts Said Pay Day Loan Algorithm Rolled Out But Did It? (SE Roundtable)
- Google AdWords Bans Payday Loans & Other Risky Loan Ads (SE Roundtable)
- Report: Google AdWords Drop Of More Payday Loan Ads (SE Roundtable)
- Google Payday Loan Algorithm: Google Search Algorithm Update To Target Spammy Queries (Search Engine Land)
- Google Launching Payday Loan Algorithm 3.0 Targeting Spammy Queries This Week (Search Engine Land)
- Matt Cutts: New Payday Loan Algorithm Update Coming, More News From SMX Advanced 2014 Keynote (Search Engine Land)