Penguin. First there was the cuddly endangered arctic bird, then there was the colourfully wrapped childrens’ chocolate bar. Now there is the Google algorithm update…

Last week I gave a presentation on search engine optimisation to local businesspeople in Sturminster Newton. One of the topics that sparked the most interest was the way in which Google’s rankings have changed as a result of the Penguin update in April this year, so I thought I’d cover that in this week’s blog.

I’ll look briefly at what the Penguin update is all about, then how you can work out whether your website has been affected by Penguin, and what can be done to restore it to its former glory.

What Is Penguin?

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For a long time Google were aware that were are certain ways to “game” their algorithm, and that some SEO agencies were getting their clients’ websites into prominent positions on search results that they didn’t necessarily deserve with a variety of underhand approaches.

Recognising the importance that the Google algorithm places on inbound links, these agencies realised that they could artificially create large numbers of links using tools such as link directories, and that by using the same keywords in anchor text many times over they could convince the algorithm that their sites deserved a high ranking for those keywords.

Others were able to achieve good rankings by “scraping” – pulling in content from our sites and platforms and passing it off as their own.

Google’s response was the Penguin update, launched in April of this year. It aimed to root out and neutralise the impact of any of these so-called black hat techniques (described as “negative SEO” by Google web spam chief Matt Cutts). Consequently a lot of sites (as many as 3.1% of all indexed websites) saw their site traffic take a tumble, as they were bumped down the search rankings in favour of supposedly ‘cleaner’ competitor sites.

This came as a shock to many site owners, who had no idea they were doing anything wrong. Some had employed SEO agencies in good faith who had used these “black hat” techniques, while others had been linked to without their knowledge by other sites, or were simply innocent victims caught in the net by some quirk of the update.

Has Penguin Affected Your Site?

It’s not always immediately obvious whether or not a particular site was a victim of the Penguin update, so here are a few tips for you to investigate:

  • Check webmaster tools. Does it mention any other errors in your site that might explain a drop in rankings unrelated to Penguin?
  • Look on your analytics. Did your website experience a drop in traffic in the immediate aftermath of Penguin’s launch on 25th April?
  • Also in analytics, look to see whether your entire site dropped down the rankings, or if it just slipped for certain keywords?

If you can’t find any other serious errors on webmaster tools, and can pinpoint specific keywords that dropped in the rankings at the end of April/beginning of May, then it’s a fair shout you were hit by Penguin.

What to Do to Recover your Website

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Google have acknowledged that there may be some innocent victims and repentant sinners caught up in the Penguin net, so they’ve made it clear that if you tidy up your SEO, your website will be able to recover in the search rankings.

For some this will be easy. If you have a lot of links with the same anchor text on your own website or blogs, then you can simply delete some of these links or edit the anchor text to add some variety. This may fix the problem and allow you to bounce back in Google.

Similarly if you have any content on your site which has been copied from elsewhere, it is fairly straightforward to just delete it or re-write it into something more original.

It gets trickier if you have lots of low quality links located offsite. You probably won’t have control over these links, meaning it is much harder to get them removed. Google has been busy de-listing known link directories since April, so if you’re lucky your links may simply disappear. This will mean that any positive impact you got from them previously will be negated, but the good news is that you will have a clean slate to build from (with good SEO techniques this time!).

The advice from Matt Cutts is to clean up what you can, and if you still can’t get your site to recover, then you may need to pull the plug and start from scratch with a brand new site. Painful for sure, but the update is here to stay, so if all else fails you may just have to take the hit to appease the Penguin.

We also expect more similar updates in the future, as Google continues to try to target spam and increase the relevancy of its search results. So even if your website wasn’t affected negatively this time, it pays to take a look at the SEO techniques that you’re using and make sure there’s nothing in there that is likely to get you banished to the far depths of Google when the next update rolls out.

If you’d like to know more about dealing with the Penguin update, or would like some advice on clean SEO techniques you can use, why not give us a call on 01305 542000.