If you’ve been looking at your site’s stats lately, you may have noticed a bit of a hit to your search engine rankings after, oh, around the end of May. If so, then chances are pretty good that you were an unintended (we hope) victim of the Google Penguin 2.0 update. Penguin 2.0 was rolled out on May 22, and it essentially continues the updates that started with the earlier versions of Penguin to penalize sites who were using less-than-reputable SEO practices. Where the earlier updates (the ones dubbed “Panda”) targeted overall quality of a site, the Penguin updates are concerned with the details, and built to lock onto some of the most common SEO exploitation methods including keyword stuffing, anchor text, and sneaky link profiles. If you’ve been impacted by the Penguin update, we’d suggest taking a long hard look at who’s doing your SEO for you, because it seems like there may be some “Black Hat” SEO practices at work here.
The Nuts and Bolts of Penguin 2.0
Now, just to be clear, no one’s really sure what the Penguin 2.0 update includes, yet – it’s still young by SEO standards and many of its nuances are still being noodled out by the SEO savvy observers. Still, Penguin 1.0 taught us a lot about what this update line is aiming for, and that is the obliteration of webspam. The major tactic that will draw the Penguin’s crosshairs are iffy inbound linking profiles. Here are some examples:
- Lots of updates to poor quality content directories.
- Irrelevant blog links, or links in comment spam, which are not related to your topic(s).
- Overuse of exact match anchor text – that is, titling every link with the exact keyword you’re targeting with that page.
- Paid and/or Advertorial links.
Of course, many sites were affected that weren’t actively engaged in Black Hat SEO practices. Other affected sites were those who had been the victim of hackers, or were simply a little too light on high quality content. Conversely, sites with high quality content and well-built link profiles likely improved a bit in search ranking, so if you’re one of these, congrats to you!
Google’s constant crusade against webspam and SEO exploitation leads to constant changes in their algorithms, and it’s a major frustration for those of us in the web business. Still, it’s important to see things from the point of view of the search giant. Google’s goal with Panda, Penguin, and all their other efforts is simply to make the best possible user experience for web searches, and those efforts help keep Google’s traffic flowing.
Of course, these never-ending updates mean that the spammers, hackers, and Black Hat SEO practitioners are always evolving too, leading to a never-ending cycle of updates and exploits, and those of us in the web industry must, in turn, continually adapt and develop new approaches to account for new changes. If your website was one of the many affected by Penguin 2.0, there’s no need to fret. We’re going to show you a 10-step plan to help you find the fastest path to recovery, and back to page 1.
Recovering from Google Penguin
1. Don’t Panic.
Maybe you had a bad web developer, or you made some innocent choices with your content that turned out to be just what Google Penguin 2.0 was looking for. However you became a victim of the Penguin, the most important thing right now is don’t do anything rash. If you know where your misstep was, then it’s possible to fix that behavior and employ more careful, reputable activity moving forward. If you’ve no idea where you went wrong, then either educate yourself, figure it out, and don’t do it again, or consider hiring a company that specializes in SEO to help you get back on your feet.
2. Learn to Adapt.
There’s a reason that the sketchier SEO techniques are abused so much – can you guess what it is? You got it: because they work. However, their success is generally short-lived, as Google keeps a close watch for loopholes and exploits and is constantly working to correct them. The web companies that engage in these activities usually don’t survive for very long – they either can’t keep their sites on top long enough to turn a profit, or eventually their reputation catches up with them.
When it comes to the web, change is constant, and one should always develop web content with one foot in the present, and the other in next week. Staying abreast of the latest SEO methods – and exploits, too, if only so you know how to avoid them – is necessary to keep your site current and getting optimal SEO rankings. Accept the constant flow and shift of the web-winds rather than trying to dig in your heels and you’ll have a much better time.
3. Stop doing the thing that caused the trouble.
Now, we’re not accusing anyone here of deliberately employing shady SEO techniques – however, if you did, slap yourself on the wrist and don’t do that again. Got it? Good. We’re not about blaming or judging here, just recovering and getting you on the road to SEO longevity so this doesn’t happen again.
Of course, the first step is to stop doing whatever it was that got you into trouble in the first place. If you were working with an SEO firm that assured you that their keyword stuffing practices were totally okay by Google, find a new firm. If you have ongoing orders with link-buying companies, it’s time to let those orders go. Now is the time to take swift action to correct the problem, and don’t leave any stone unturned. It may cause a little upheaval, but if you’re serious about recovering and maintaining your search ranking, it’s necessary – and worthwhile.
4. Do a link audit on your site.
If you’ve been penalized by Google (you’d know via your Webmaster Tools if you have), then you are officially in a red-alert situation, and it’s time to learn as much as you can about your link profile. Penguin 2.0 is largely concerned with seeking out and taking action against bad linking, so this is issue number one to resolve. If you’re not SEO savvy or uncomfortable putting together a link profile by yourself, start looking for a good SEO firm to do a complete audit and let you know what they find.
The goal of a link audit is to give you a complete picture of where your website’s traffic is coming from – your inbound link profile. This will help you identify where you’re doing a little too much optimization, and correct behaviors that are now being identified as bad form by the Google bots. This audit will also show you specifically which inbound links are causing the red flags to fly, so you can take immediate action to remove and disavow those old links. Once that’s done, you will be able to submit a reconsideration request to Google with all the details of your changes. Though it may seem obtuse, this is really the only way to get back on Google’s good side if you’ve been manually penalized.
If your site was affected by Penguin but wasn’t given a manual penalty, then you won’t have to submit the request for reconsideration, but you’ll still need to remove and disavow those offensive links.
The process of an audit takes a while, but it’s not terribly difficult, and we’ll lay out the basic process in the next few steps. The first thing you’ll want to do if you choose the DIY route is to obtain a list of inbound links from your Google Webmaster tools.
5. Evaluate those links.
Once you have your hands on the long link list from Google, it’s time to start analysis. Look for things like repeated anchor text – if you’re using the same anchor text in link after link, that will be penalized by Penguin. Second, look at the sites that are linking to you. Do they have low PageRanks or Domain Authority? Are they seemingly entirely unrelated to the subject matter of your site? If the answer is yes, then you’ll want to remove those, because even though they may have been providing traffic, you can be sure they’re doing more harm than good now.
As you look through your links, make a list of things that you feel may be harmful to your rankings, and make generous cuts to your link profile. Even in cases where you’re not certain, the rule to follow is “When in doubt, toss it out.” It’s worthwhile to risk losing a few good links to eliminate all of the bad ones. Again – if you’re overwhelmed, confused, or just plain uncomfortable getting into the inner sanctum of your link profile, call an SEO professional for help.
6. Cull, disavow, and clean out those baddies.
Once you’ve identified the links that seem fishy or are most definitely bad, it is time to take action, and you should do so quickly. The first step is to email the webmasters at the offending sites and ask them to remove any links that are raising red flags. Many times they will be happy to do so, and will appreciate that you’re giving them a heads up that they may be targeted by Penguin, too. Another option, if links are coming from good sites but have over-optimized or identical anchor text, is to simply ask that they change it. As a general rule, you can correct around 10-20% of your problems simply by sending some emails to the guilty parties. It takes a while, but it helps preserve links that are mostly good, and if you’ve been manually penalized and will have to send a reconsideration request, this step is necessary, because Google’s spam team will be looking into the efforts you’ve been taking to remove bad links.
Finally, once you’ve done your best to clean up links by contacting the offending companies, you can begin using the Google disavow tool to clean out the remaining offenders. Don’t be delicate – as we said, it’s better to sacrifice a few good links to make sure the bad ones are removed.
7. Rip out the stuffing.
Another target of Penguin 2.0 (and of search engines in general) is the old practice of keyword stuffing. In earlier years of SEO, keyword density was a hot topic, and the quest for consistent keyword density was the bread & butter of many webmasters. It’s safe to say that these methods are no longer relevant, and if you’ve been guilty in the past of going a little overboard on keywords, it’s important to look at your content and remove any instances of keyword stuffing. This tactic is every bit as bad as having bad link profiles, and though it’s not the primary target of Penguin 2.0, you can be assured it’s on the list.
Look at your site’s meta tags, and be on the lookout for keywords that aren’t relevant to that page, to your core content, or keywords that are simply overused. If you have a standard set of keywords you used on every page when you built your site, it’s time to yank those out and replace them with more relevant terms. If your content reads like it was written for a robot, rewrite it, hire someone to rewrite it for you, or remove it entirely.
8. Create a new strategy.
Now that you’ve cleaned out your link profile and identified and obliterated any instances of keyword stuffing, it’s time to make sure that your overall site architecture is solid. Make a site map and take a look at your overall keyword list. A good site map should read like a flowchart where each page has a distinct set of keywords that flow naturally to each other page it links to, each with its own keywords, and so on. If your site isn’t easily arranged into a configuration like this, it’s time to start rethinking your website’s structure and content strategy.
One of the best way to build a pillar of great content is with an active blog. Regularly updating this content with new pages that target new and specifically identified keywords will help keep your site’s content fresh, and will greatly increase the number of search terms your site ranks for in Google. When it comes to writing content, aim for no less than 500 words per page, and keep your writing quality as high as you can, with an eye toward grammar and spelling as well as producing informative content constructed around your chosen keywords. Remember to write for your customers first and optimize for search engines second and you’ll do just fine.
9. Building better links.
If you were penalized by Penguin 2.0, it was most likely because of a bad link profile, or spammy blog comments. As a result, you’ve likely cut great swaths of inbound links from your site, and now your link profile is going to have to be rebuilt. However, rather than resorting to the practices that got you into trouble in the first place, a good way to take control of your link profile is by guest blogging. Find sites that are relevant to your website’s content, and reach out to those webmasters offering up your services as a guest blogger. Seek out quality sites with great content and offer new and compelling article content for no cost rather than a link back to your own site.
Finding sites that have an active pool of readers is also going to ensure that your content gets seen by an audience right away. When looking for sites to submit guest work for, take a look at the comments and level of interaction on their existing posts. It’ll be easy to tell where the best and most active communities are.
Finally, don’t slough off your second or third string articles on guest posts! These are new readers, and you want to give them the best possible impression, so submit only your best work for guest articles. Once you have some work published on sites that are active and have a good reputation with Google, some of that authority will begin to rub off on your site, and you’ll begin to see your search rankings improve again.
10. Take your time.
It doesn’t take long for a site’s SEO ranking to take a nose dive. It probably seemed, to you, as if it happened overnight, and you’re rightfully hoping the turn the situation around with equal expedience. Unfortunately, reaching page 1 of Google is going to take a little time. Your site will need to be indexed and ranked all over again, and if you were penalized, you’re going to have to regain the trust of the search spiders.
If you were manually penalized, see that you perform your internal site audit as efficiently as possible, and get those links removed and disavowed as quickly as you can. The sooner this is done, the sooner you’ll be able to submit a reconsideration request, which is a necessary step to recover from a manual penalty.
If you were a victim of Penguin 2.0 and didn’t see it coming, we’re sure it’s probably pretty gutting. Recovering from it, or from any sudden hit to your search rankings, isn’t easy, but it’s also not impossible. With a little time spent educating yourself on exactly why you were penalized and some meticulous effort on your part fixing the parts of your site that caused the trouble will get you back on the road to high rankings again.
Was your site affected by Penguin 2.0? What are you doing to correct the problem?