If you are a business reliant on web traffic for your bread and butter, Google holds a lot of sway in determining whether you sink or swim. In April 2012, Google released an update to its search algorithm which impacted sites which use manipulative link building tactics to rank highly – particularly building links with exact match, commercial anchor text. Nick named Penguin, the update effectively devalued these ‘bad links’ and affected around 3.1% of sites in the English speaking world. Two weeks ago on May 22nd 2013, Google released the next generation of the Penguin update, Penguin 2.0.
Symptoms You’ve Been Slapped By Penguin
Unfortunately Google doesn’t send you a message informing you that the Big Bad Penguin has paid you a visit. However, there are two symptoms which would indicate that the algorithm change has impacted your site:
- A marked drop in traffic – if you’ve seen an unusual drop in organic search traffic to your site around April 2012 or/and May 2013, you may be dealing with a Penguin issue. This will be confirmed by the second symptom
- A drop in rankings for your keywords – if this drop in traffic coincided with a drop in rankings around about the same time, you can be pretty sure you’re site has been affected by Penguin
There is a third symptom which would indicate you have received a Penguin penalty, and that is the receipt of an unnatural links warning from Google in Webmaster Tools. However, be warned that non-receipt of this warning doesn’t mean your site hasn’t been affected by Penguin. Penguin is an algorithmic change in the way Google ranks websites – if your site has been engaging in what Google sees as manipulative link building tactics, your rankings and traffic will suffer whether you receive a warning or not. The unnatural links warning is manually sent out by a member of Google’s Web Spam Team and is meant to draw your attention to the fact you have dubious links pointing to your site, which may be affecting your rankings. Its Google’s way of saying you might have a problem, but not all sites affected by Penguin will receive a warning.
How To Recover From The Slap
Since the Penguin update penalises sites which have been using manipulative link building tactics, any site which Google detects as having an unnatural looking link profile, will be affected. The first stage of recovery is therefore to examine the inbound links to your site:
- Examine Inbound Links – There are many free tools you can use for this task such as Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO and Google Webmaster Tools. A detailed account of the steps taken in using these tools is outside the scope of this post and warrants a post of its own. The main thing we are trying to determine with this examination is the proportion of inbound links with exact match, non-branded anchor text. A high proportion (anything over 20-30%) of exact match anchor text could be deemed unnatural by Google.
So what do we mean by ‘exact match’ anchor text? If I have a website which sells blue widgets and I want to rank for ‘cheap blue widgets’, an exact match anchor would be ‘cheap blue widgets’. A branded anchor might be ‘blue widget company’ and a generic anchor ‘visit our site’ for example. Before the Penguin update, having a high proportion of exact match anchor text links gave strong signals to Google as to the relevancy of your site for specific search queries. The ease of manipulating search results with this tactic is a major reason why Penguin was introduced.
If your inbound link analysis has shown that you have too many exact match links, you have to delete these harmful links.
- Delete Harmful Links – Contact the site owners asking for the links to be taken down. It is strongly advisable to be as courteous as possible, as the site owners have nothing to gain by cooperating with your request. If you can’t find any contact details on site, try using whois lookup.
A word of warning on deleting harmful links – make sure you don’t delete any valuable links. By a valuable link I mean ones from domains where metrics such as DA and PA (domain authority and page authority) and PR (Google’s page rank) are high and the website is in the same or a similar niche to yours. The subject of determining the characteristics of a good link will be discussed in a future post.
- Dilute Harmful Links – Embark on a link building campaign creating branded and generic links to dilute the harmful links and show Google a more natural link profile. You will want to stay away from sites irrelevant to your niche, with poor metrics. Avoid poor directories and spamming blogs with comments that serve no purpose other than to provide you with a link.
Link building today is about building meaningful online relationships with relevant sites. Get involved in online communities and offer something of value – for example, answering questions on forums. Aim to become an authority within your niche and people will naturally want to link to your site, especially if it has good content.
Write well researched, outstanding content and publish it to high quality, relevant blogs which accept guest posts. If this content is placed on the right sites, not only will you be able to attract traffic and conversions, you will please the Google Gods and be rewarded with good search engine rankings.