I'm a little bit late in summarizing the April 11 Webmaster Central Office Hours with John Mueller.  This one was packed full of interesting information.  There was some good stuff on the Penguin algorithm, Panda and also a very important fact about the Page Layout Algorithm.  You can watch the hangout here and I have summarized the hangout below.



Here are the parts that I found the most interesting:

Can a mistake in one line of your disavow mess up the entire file?

Penalty gone?  Manual penalties expire.

A site has thousands of duplicate subdomains.  John says it's not a big deal.

Site:query can be inaccurate.

A slider or big image can trigger the above the fold layout algorithm!  (This one is an important one!)

There can be degrees of Penguin and Panda.

Is Penguin always fixable?

Are outbound links a problem with Penguin?

Is Google still telling us about when they do Penguin refreshes?

Is having a lot of extra pages indexed that shouldn't be indexed a Panda issue?

How do you know if you have a rich snippet penalty?

Are all links in WMT relevant to ranking?

1:07 - If a site uses hreflang and gets penalized, will the penalty affect all of the language variations? John gives a good explanation of how hreflang works. There wasn’t a direct answer on whether the penalty would affect all versions but most likely if your .com was penalized and you had a .co.uk that was connected via hreflang your .co.uk wouldn’t be affected.

13:28 - Can one line mess up your entire disavow? If I disavow domain:blogspot.com will that mess up my entire disavow? John confirmed that it is ok to disavow all of blogspot. If a single line is incorrect then it won’t mess up the entire disavow file but just that one line. John stated that it can take a very long time to recover from link related issues.

15:53 - Manual penalties do expire. A site owner got a rejected reconsideration request but now there is no message in WMT. John couldn’t determine what is happening because there was no url but he said that if the manual action tool shows that there is no manual action then this is correct. He said that it commonly happens that reconsiderations are filed at the same time that a penalty was about to manually expire. When this happens you can get back a vague message saying, “We’ve processed your reconsideration request” but it doesn’t say anything about the outcome. (Note: I’ve received this message often when Google downgrades a penalty from a sitewide to a partial.)

17:16 - Duplicate content problem is not a big issue? A site owner found technical duplicate content where several hundred thousand duplicate subdomain pages got indexed. John pointed out that you will not get a manual penalty for a technical problem like this. But Google might get stuck crawling all of this content and may not notice your new content as quickly. John said this problem is not extremely critical. John recommends using a 301 redirect to the preferred version and using a rel canonical to the right version. (My note: I would have thought this would be a Panda issue. John seems to be implying that it is not. Perhaps I am interpreting him wrong though.  I'd still want to fix this type of problem right away!)

18:16 - Site:query can be inaccurate. John mentions that the site:query can show things that Google has seen in the past on your domain and may not reflect the current index.

21:20 - A slider or image can trigger the above the fold layout algorithm! Can sliders cause an above-the-fold algorithm problem? Theoretically yes. If the whole above the fold area is taken up with images or a big logo then users can’t find information that they are trying to find.  While the page layout algorithm is primarily meant to demote sites that are littered with ads above the fold, it's possible that a big image or slider could cause problems as well.

28:17 - There can be degrees of Penguin and Panda. John was asked to comment on when Matt Cutts said there was a “slight case of Penguin”. John said all of their algorithms work on a sliding scale and have different strengths depending on the problem that they are seeing. For example, Panda may see something low quality and just cause slightly lower rankings for things that aren’t relevant to your site. This is one of the reasons why they currently don’t show much about these algorithms in WMT. (Interesting that he said, “currently”. Perhaps in the future they can tell us if an algo is affecting a site strongly.)


32:19 - Sometimes the cache is updated separate from crawling and indexing. (My note: I wonder if this has implications where the disavow tool is concerned. If the cache date for a site I disavowed is last week, does that mean that I can assume it’s been disavowed?  I've put in a question for the next hangout to see if John will answer this for me.

34:22 - Can a site hit by Penguin always be fixed? Or is it just that the links affected by Penguin effectively nofollowed? John said, “Generally speaking you can always fix the issues that the Penguin algorithm has been picking up. It’s a webspam algorithm...most people see that with regards with links to their site. You can clean that up...clean up those links, remove those links, disavow those links, change them to nofollow, all of that, but the important part to keep in mind is that we have to recrawl everything, we have to reindex everything, we have to rerun this data through the algorithm and then we have to push that data out for the algorithm. So, it’s not something where you’d see a change from one day to the next...It’s really something that takes quite a bit of time. It can easily take a half a year or longer for us to technically crawl and index all of these changed links and to push that into the search results as well. There’s another step there. You can clean it up...it just takes a lot of time.”

I think it's important to note though that even though any site can get out of the grips of Penguin it doesn't mean that they'll automatically rank well again.  The site has to have good content that will attract links naturally and be useful to users.  If it only ranked on the power of unnatural links before then it's not likely to rank well again.  You can read more here about whether Penguin recovery is possible.

35:52 - Are links OUT of your website a Penguin factor? John says, “We don’t usually use those for the Penguin algorithm.

36:50 - A question about manual unnatural Outbound links penalties such as the ones given in connection with My Blog Guest. These were manual penalties and not a part of the Penguin algorithm. Outbound links penalties don’t generally cause ranking issues for your site but probably will cause your Pagerank to be reduced.

39:00 - Is Google still telling us when they do Penguin refreshes? John, “I imagine with something like Penguin you’ll find out regardless because people are watching us all the time. To some extent we’d like to have all of our algorithms so they roll out on their own. When we make bigger algorithm changes it makes sense to tell others about it so that they’re aware of what’s happening….If we do have bigger algorithmic jumps we try to let people know about that.” He said that in the long run the goal is to have all algorithm changes just part of the regular algorithm. He also said, “Probably the next couple of times we will tell everyone about it (Penguin refreshing) but you’ll probably also hear about it from other people. But, I can’t promise we’ll always continue to tell you about these algorithm changes.” He was asked whether they are currently still telling us about each Penguin update and he said, “As far as I know today there is no Penguin update happening.” It sounds like he is saying that the next couple of ones will be announced but eventually it will be baked into the algorithm.


43:47 - Question about a news website with infinite scroll that shows the latest 100 articles. If you want people to be able to find the articles on Google then provide some kind of navigation on the website. I thought that this statement was interesting. He said, “If we don’t have context for individual articles and they’re only listed in a sitemap file then it’s really hard for us to determine how relevant they are for individual queries because it starts to look like this is just some random url on your website that nobody is recommending and that isn’t even recommended within your own website so it’s really hard for us to determine how important or relevant that page might be.” Having pages linked via some type of navigation is important. I personally think this could be a Panda issue for some sites. If you have all sorts of orphan pages that aren’t linked from anywhere then this could be a sign of low quality.

45:20 - Site:query is showing extra pages in the index. Is this a Panda issue? The site has 950 pages in the Google index but there should only be 250. Could this be affecting their Panda recovery? John says it does make sense to clean out the lower quality pages like this. But, be careful in looking at the site:query as it can be inaccurate and doesn’t always represent what is in the index. It’s possible for this case that those extra 700 pages are not actually in the index. Still, redirecting the extra urls that shouldn’t be indexed to appropriate pages is helpful. To know if you are making a difference in succeeding at removing these pages from the index, rather than using the site:query, look at your index status in WMT. You should see the numbers going down.


46:30 - Should a change from https to http cause ranking problems? There could be some minor fluctuations short term not long term. Having https shouldn’t cause you to rank better. However, if users prefer https then this could have a positive effect on the site.


48:00 - Question about a penalty that appeared and then disappeared. In general if there is no penalty shown in the manual actions viewer then there is no manual penalty.

50:06 - How do you know if you have a rich snippet penalty? John said it should be shown in WMT and you can do a normal reconsideration request.


54:00 - Is there a character limit for title tags? the search results layout has changed so the title is shortened, but there isn’t a character count. Google will rewrite the title if they think it is appropriate.

55:15 - Are all of the links that you see in WMT relevant to ranking? No. The list includes nofollowed links, disavowed links and also ones that Google is just not counting because they don’t trust them. Should nofollowed links that show up in large quantities be disavowed? “No. If they’re nofollowed they are essentially not used in our rankings.” John said you do not need to disavow nofollowed links. John also said that they also don’t need to be removed.


This was one of the best hangouts I have seen in a while with lots of really helpful information.  Once again, thank you to John Mueller for running these.  If you have a comment I'd love for you to leave one below.