Were You Affected By The Google Penguin Update?

July 10, 2012 by  Filed under: SEO 

On the 24th April, Google rolled out one of its most talked about algorithmic changes since the Panda update in February 2011. The reason It has been talked about so much is because it impacted so many websites, causing many to lose rankings and in the process, most of their web traffic.

Needless to say, for most businesses that rely heavily on traffic referrals from Google, this can be catastrophic to say the least. Being penalised by Google is no fun and getting back to where you previously were in the rankings, an uphill struggle.

But what was the “Penguin update” and why were so many websites affected?

What Was The Google Penguin Update?

Most of us use Google in some way or another to find information and it is Google’s job as the leading search engine to make sure that the results that it produces are relevant and of a high quality. That way, users maintain their faith in Google and continue to use the service.

The latest update was said to target webmasters that were over optimising their websites, building spammy back links and generally abusing the Google guidelines in order to rank better within the organic search results.

So the reason that Penguin was implemented was to make sure that sites that over the years had been gaming the system somewhat, would be penalised by the algorithmic filter and demoted in the search results.

The update was said to affect around 3.1% of search queries which doesn’t sound like a lot, but considering that Google receives hundreds of millions of search queries every day, this equates to millions of websites being penalised.

It is worth noting, that the Penguin update is not a manual penalty, where a human has followed say a spam report and taken action. The Penguin update is an algorithmic update which filters out sites based on certain criteria which assesses whether or not a site has been over optimised or been building spammy back links.

How Do I Know If I Have Been Penalised?

It would be quite difficult to not notice whether you have been affected by the Penguin update or not. If you lost pretty much all of your websites traffic from Google just after the 24th April, it is pretty likely that you were hit by it.

One thing that is noticeable is that sites appear to retain their page rank and continue to be crawled and indexed. What you will notice though is a big drop in organic rankings for keywords that you previously ranked well for.

Another thing worth noting is that it may not be your site that has been penalised directly. If you obtained many low quality links or paid links, it could be that these sites have now been devalued meaning that the links that were pointing to your site previously have also been devalued. This can appear to be a penalty but in fact is purely a natural drop in rankings due to a devaluation of those incoming links.

What to Do Now?

For most sites, Google search traffic can be their main source of traffic in which case it is imperative that you do the following as soon as possible to help re-establish your sites positioning.

1. Firstly, if you have been gaming Google, hold up your hands and admit it. If you don’t, you may never recover. So admit that you have crossed the line and go about putting things right.

2. As link exchange is against Google’s guidelines, remove any link exchange pages that you have. De-index the page/s via Google Webmaster Tools and robots.txt. You may also want to inform your link exchange partners that you no longer participate in link exchange and will therefore no longer be linking to them.

3. Remove any internal links on your site where you are over targeting broad “money” terms. So for example if you link to your home page frequently with the same keywords, try varying the linking text and make it look more natural. If you have footer links on your pages that look un-natural change these too.

4. Clean up any over use of alt tags and link title tags.

5. Make sure that you are linking out to related pages within your industry and not unrelated content.

6. Remove any hidden text that you may have.

7. Make sure that the grammar and spelling on your pages are correct. Google looks at quality and you can bet they have the capabilities to know if content is well written or not.

8. Remove any keyword stuffed meta keywords tags and also make sure that your content does not use the same words repetitively. Remember, write for users and not search engines. Try using synonyms of words. For example, if you want to rank well for the term “estate agent”, try using “homes”, “property”, “houses” and “real estate” as this will help Google to gain a better idea of what your content is about in a non spammy way.

9. Make sure that the majority of your site is original and not duplicate content from other sites. As a guide, 80% should be your own material. It’s OK to provide some duplicated content, just don’t over do it.

The key is to clean up your content and make sure that its primary intent is to provide users with a better experience and not search engines.

An important question to ask yourself when undertaking any SEO or marketing activity is, “Would I be doing this, if search engines did not exist?”.

If you can honestly answer yes, then go ahead and do it.

10. As it has been strongly suggested that the Penguin update has been targeting spammy link profiles, it is important to do some deep analysis of your external links and where they come from.

Do your links come from varied sources?

Natural link profiles contain links from PR sites, article directories, blog comments, forum links, blog posts, footer links, blog rolls, RSS directories and other similar sources. Having 80% of your links from low quality web directories is not a good idea.

Does the linking/anchor text look natural?

As a rule of thumb, around 70% of the links back to your site should be “yourbrand.com” or “your brand name”. This is natural. If you have 500 domains linking to you and 90% of those links contain “cheap televisions for sale”, this is a very bad signal that you are sending to Google.

Link Pruning

If you do check your link profile and find that you have what looks to be a lot of low quality links targeting non branded keywords then you may have to do some link pruning.

This means cleaning up the links that are pointing at your site and in some cases asking the webmaster to remove them.

1. Use Google Webmaster tools to download a spreadsheet of all the links you have.

2. Go to the pages and assess the quality of the site and the link text that it is using to link to you.

3. Put this all in the spreadsheet for all linking sites.

4. Assess the percentage of links that point to you with broad money terms and those that link to you using branded terms. So if you feel that 60% of your links look un-natural, you need to go about contacting the webmaster of that site and asking them to change the linking text to something more natural or removing the link altogether (especially if it is a paid link).

5. Keep working at it until your link profile is squeaky clean.

When Will I Get My Traffic Back?

This is a tough question but one you will no doubt be desperate to know if you have been affected by the Penguin update.

As this particular update is algorithmic it may be a case of cleaning up your site and waiting for the next update. The whole of your site may need to be re-crawled. If you have spent time changing your links as indicated above, you will need to wait for Google to re-crawl these external pages and links. You could be looking at a number of weeks or months rather than days.

Should I File A Reconsideration Request?

In most cases filing a reconsideration request with Google via Webmaster Tools is not necessary as the update is an algorithmic update as opposed to a manual penalty.

There are some cases where you may need to file a reconsideration request though. For example, if you have links pointing to your site that are paid links or if there are links that you have not placed yourself and feel that they could be damaging your site.

If this is the case, file your reconsideration request and enter as much information as possible including the link URL’s that are pointing back to your site and what you have done to try and get the links removed. You will also need to advise Google that you are not responsible for these links and that you would like Google to devalue them.

The future of SEO and Online Marketing

For us, the future of marketing your site is clear. If you have been affected by the Penguin update you will need to start adopting a different approach to your online marketing. If you haven’t been hit by Penguin yet and are choosing to take shortcuts, it’s only a matter of time before you are caught out.

When devising an SEO/marketing strategy you want to consider doing the following.

You Need To

1. Build your site for users, not search engines.

2. Create something of value for your visitors.

3. Build a community online via sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

4. Have an opinion, become more social and participate on blogs, forums and social media sites.

5. Become a consistent publisher of content.

6. Aim to be a leader within your field.

7. Share other users content with your own visitors.

8. Don’t depend on Google alone. Use different sources of traffic including blog commenting, forums, guest posting, articles, press releases, videos and other social channels.

9. Target more specific long tail traffic that converts better and is easier to rank for.

You Need To Stop

1. Manually building spammy links from non related sites.

2. Paying for links.

3. Looking for shortcuts to success. In SEO, there aren’t any.

4. Exchanging links.

5. Getting low level directory links.

6. Aggressively targeting broad search terms.

7. Using spammy black hat practices such as cloaking, doorway pages, hidden text and JavaScript redirects.

8. Using comment and forum spam.

9. Looking for overnight success. Becoming successful on the web takes time, effort and creativity.

Robert provides SEO services for Redline Company who are a marketing agency located in Marbella on the Costa del Sol. If you have been affected by the latest Google Penguin Update, Redline Company can help you to get your search engine rankings and website back on track. Visit us at http://www.redlinecompany.com

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