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How to Recover Your Rankings After Panda 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, or Penguin – Delete or Dilute

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Since I wrote my last post about Google’s Penguin update (the updated  name for Google’s webspam algorithm change), I’ve been asked how to diagnose the reason for your site losing its rankings (Pandalization, if you will — or is it ‘Penguinization’ now?). So in this post, I’m going to outline a specific, step-by-step method via case study for how to do the following:

  • Diagnose why your site dropped in the rankings, and;
  • Recover your site’s rankings in Google

Diagnosing why your site’s rankings dropped

If your site’s rankings dropped around February 19th, March 23rd, or April 24th, then you’re likely a victim of Panda 3.3 (February 19th), Panda 3.4 (March 23rd), or Panda 3.5/Penguin (April 24th). All of these algorithm changes specifically targeted inbound link profiles. Google’s goal with each of these was to make it more difficult to get a website ranked well using inbound links. For years, inbound linking tactics have dominated the SEO industry for one simple reason: They work really, really, well.

However, after Panda 3.3, the link building game has changed. What used to work is no longer working. Google swiftly smacked hundreds of thousands of sites out of top ranking spots that they had long enjoyed, in the hopes of creating a panic-induced mass migration to Google Adwords, thereby driving up bid prices and putting more money in Google’s pockets.

Anyway, since we know that the recent Panda/Penguin algorithm updates were related to your backlink profile, we know where to start with our analysis. Let’s go over some of the pre-Panda 3.3 link building best practices:
Old (Pre-Panda 3.3) Link Building Best Practices:

  • Exact-match anchor text: 30-45% of overall inbound link profile
  • Link Quantity: The more, the merrier
  • Link Quality: Higher PR pages and root domains are better
  • Link Velocity: Steady or increasing, month over month
  • Source anchor text matches destination content: Unnecessary
  • Source URL content matches destination URL content: Unnecessary
  • LSI anchor text: 5-10% of overall inbound link profile
  • Junk/universal anchors, Naked URLs, and Branded Anchors: 5-10% of overall inbound link profile
  • Nofollow anchors: Unnecessary

 

New (Post-Panda 3.3) Link Building Best Practices:

  • Exact-match anchor text: 1-5% of overall inbound link profile
  • Link Quantity: The more, the merrier
  • Link Quality: Higher PR pages and root domains are better
  • Link Velocity: Steady or increasing, month over month
  • Source anchor text matches destination content: Important
  • Source URL content matches destination URL content: Important
  • LSI anchor text: 20-30% of overall inbound link profile
  • Junk/universal anchors, Naked URLs, and Branded Anchors: 70+% of overall inbound link profile
  • Nofollow anchors: 10-20%

 

Clearly, Google has turned the link building industry on its head. Hundreds of thousands of webmasters and SEO companies that followed pre-Panda 3.3 link building best practices were hit with an “unnatural links” warning from Google Webmaster Tools and terrorized with abrupt losses of rankings, leading to huge declines in traffic, sales, and bottom lines.

Of particular importance was Google’s change to the “Exact match” anchor ratio. Whereas more exact-match anchors was previously a golden ticket to the top of Google’s search results, this golden ticket became a warrant for your arrest after Panda 3.3. Websites with backlink profiles that included over-optimized anchor text (as a ratio of the overall inbound link profile) were smacked into oblivion by Google.

Clearly, after Panda 3.3, Google implemented some sort of threshold for what they feel is an appropriate ratio of anchor text that any website should have. Websites with a higher ratio than this threshold saw the value of all of those links completely discounted — it was as if they didn’t exist anymore.

This is also what opened the door for Negative SEO — the practice of tanking your competitors out of the rankings. Simply build thousands of crappy links with the same anchor text to your competitor’s site, and BAM; they’re out. Previous to Panda 3.3, this tactic would have either helped your competitor slightly or done nothing to them at all. Google was smarter than that. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the case anymore.
Anyway, now that you know what ratios of anchors you should be looking for in your site’s backlink profile, it’s time to get a list of your site’s backlinks. The top two tools right now are the following:

  1. Majestic SEO – (free to use on your own site, or monthly subscriptions available to analyze your competitors’ sites)
  2. Open Site Explorer – (Monthly subscription required)

 

For the purpose of this tutorial, let’s use Majestic SEO.
Step 1: Create an account

Step 2: Follow the instructions to link your website to Majestic SEO (you’ll need FTP access to your site)

Step 3: Type in your website’s URL & Click “Explore”

Majestic SEO

Majestic SEO’s main search screen

Step 4: Review your site’s foundation stats

Majestic SEO dashboard

Majestic SEO’s report dashboard

What’s important to look for here is a good ratio of referring domains to external backlinks. For example, as of the time of this post, AudienceBloom.com has 1,436 backlinks from 566 referring domains, giving us a unique linking domain ratio of 39.41%. Generally, you want to aim for 30% or higher.

Step 5: Dig in — click “Create Report”

Be sure to use the “fresh index” and select a domain-level report. It should complete immediately, after which you can navigate to the “reports” section, click the report, and then click “More detailed anchor text report here.” On the next page, click “Export report CSV” and download the CSV report so we can dig into the data.

Step 6: Visualize the data

Open your CSV file and get rid of all the columns except “AnchorText” and “TotalBackLinks”, then sort the columns by Total Backlinks from largest to smallest.

Note: from here on out, I will be using data from a website that got Pandalized recently — this is not AudienceBloom.com’s link profile.

Anchor text counts sorted from largest to smallest

Anchor text counts sorted from largest to smallest

Next, use the pie graph option (on Excel’s “insert” menu) to create a visual pie graph of your data.

 

Anchor text visualized on a pie graph

Anchor text visualized on a pie graph

Ahem. Well there’s your problem. More than half of this site’s link profile is comprised of three keywords (clearly the keywords they were targeting). It should now be clear why this site fell out of the rankings for these keywords in Google. This is definitive evidence that this site lost its rankings because of an over-optimization flag on its backlink profile.

Recovering your site’s rankings in Google: Delete or Dilute

Now that you’ve confirmed that you have an over-optimization flag on your site’s backlink profile, you have two options for fixing it:

  1. Delete or remove all or most of your inbound links containing the over-optimized anchor text, or;
  2. Dilute your existing inbound link profile with a new link building campaign that focuses on building brand anchors, junk/universal anchors, LSI anchors, and naked URLs

 

It’s often extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible, to delete or remove existing inbound links. Most of the time, you’ll have no control over them. You can send emails to webmasters in a futile attempt to get them to care about you and your site’s rankings, but this often is too time-consuming, too tedious, and yields too few successes. A more feasible alternative is to dilute your existing link profile.

All other variables equal, Google values more recent links higher. This is because a more recent link is a more timely “vote” of confidence. And that’s exactly the way Google views links — as votes. Because Google has more respect for newer links, it’s possible to quickly dilute your existing link profile with new links. The idea is to increase the size of your overall inbound link profile in order to reduce the ratio of your exact-match anchor text.

***Shameless self plug alert*** – We at AudienceBloom offer link building packages designed to dilute your existing inbound link profile, for the purpose of recovering from Panda/Penguin over-optimization penalties. Whether you’re looking for link building for an individual company or you’re an agency with your own clients, we have solutions for you, and we’d love to work with you!

If you do decide to go the “delete” route, then you’re going to need a list of domains on which your links currently reside, as well as an an anchor text count for each domain (so you know where to target your efforts). Luckily, you can also obtain this information from Majestic SEO.

Step 1: Log back into your Majestic SEO account

Step 2: Return to your report and click “More detailed report on referring domains here.”

Step 3: Dig in

Go ahead and click “Export Report CSV” and open up the CSV file so we can manipulate the data. Delete every column except “RefDomain”, “TotalBackLinks” and “AnchorText”. Next, sort by “TotalBackLinks” from largest to smallest.

Domains sorted by anchor text

Domains sorted by anchor text

You should now have a clear picture of who you need to reach out to in an attempt to get your links removed.

Step 4: Start contacting webmasters

Now that you know what domains are harboring the majority of your offending links, you need to reach out to them, one by one, and politely ask them to remove the links they have to your site. Often, if there are hundreds or thousands of links to your site from a single domain, it means your website is in a footer, sidebar, blogroll, or other site-wide link. This type of link is easily removed by the webmaster, provided they actually heed your request.

Conclusion

I hope this guide on recovering your rankings from the recent Panda/Penguin/webspam algorithm updates has been helpful. If you find it useful, leave a message in the comments!

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Jayson DeMers

Jayson DeMers is the Founder & CEO of AudienceBloom. You can contact him on LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter.

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  • http://BlondeNerd.com Britt

    You clearly have a thorough understanding of SEO. I will be contacting you shortly with inquires in regards to your services.

    • Jayson

      I’d be much obliged! =)

  • Pete

    Awesome article, helps me to understand why my site got penalized and how to try and rectify it.

    Although Im having problems with Majestic SEO. It says to create an empty (zero length) verification file? I created a blank .txt file and uploaded it to the specified URL. When I clicked “verify my domain”, it said they could not verify it as the URL was too long, it is supposed to be empty?

    Any help?

    • Jayson

      Hi Pete,

      I can’t remember specifically how Majestic SEO does it, but it’s one of three things:

      1. Sometimes the verification file should be blank, but the title of that .txt file should be what Majestic SEO specifies.

      2. Sometimes the verification file needs to have a specified filename in addition to a specified string of characters or code contained in the file itself.

      3. Usually, you’ll be asked to upload the file to the root of your domain (yourdomain.com). If you uploaded it to subfolder within the root, it might not work (yourdomain.com/somesubfolder).

      Use a free FTP program like Filezilla, which helps you visualize where you’re dropping the file, complete with a drag-and-drop interface. Hope that helps!

      • Pete

        Thanks Jayson! I’ll have another look at Majestic SEO tonight.

        I also wanted to ask you about your article. You mentioned the best link building practices post Panda 3.3, as “Exact-match anchor text 1-5% of overall inbound link profile”. Unfortunately, I had created a backlink profile where 50%+ were exact match anchor text links (I used about 30 different keyword phrases as anchors). I still know where the majority of these links are placed. Would it benefit my site if I went back to these links and removed the anchor text, keeping the link to my site, but now it will only say “click here”, or it will just have my url as the anchor text. Is that the right thing to do?

        And what is LSI anchor text?

        Thanks so much for your help. This article was awesome, it helped explain why my page dropped from page 1 to page 47, and it is the only article I have come across that offered advice on how to fix the problem….every other website basically says that I am doomed, and may as well start a new website.

        Thanks again, looking forward to hearing from you

  • jonathan

    Hey Jayson,
    It sounds like you understand a lot about google updates and their overall purpose of greed like every other big company in America. My question, as my family businesses website optimization and design guy (still a rookie with no background in this area, so if you look at the site don’t be harsh) who’s website has basically dropped from search results and rankings all together. Should i even try to recover my website with google’s recent changes, or with the negative seo doors they have opened to please google. The fact is that I’m seeing an increasing number of back-links from banned websites in google webmasters as of about 2 months ago? I’m personally thinking about re-optimizing my website to please yahoo and bing. Granted the traffic will be no where near what we seen from google, but this is not our only source of income so who cares.

  • Jeffrey

    Hey Jayson, thank you! My website sometimes drops in the google filter and one week later Iam out of the filter… But I try your strategy, to make more brandlinks – and also more links to subpages!
    An intresting point is, big sites have more backlinks to subpages than to the root domain.. Like wikipedia or news sites..

  • SRK

    One of my sites recently effected by panda and then penguin but still unable to recover the site even after following all the needy seo stuff. Is it better to start new site or any remote possibility for the existing site to get recovered?

  • http://jasjotbains.com jasjot singh

    Nice post again Jayson !! Just got referred from your post at SEJ (i hope it was you only :D ) Your idea of creating a pie chart from Majestic SEO and Excel has helped me. I had no idea how to get the pie chart and had to use the paid option at OSE. Thanks :)

    • Jayson

      Glad you liked it! I’m happy I was able to help =)

  • http://jasjotbains.com jasjot singh

    Thats quick ;) was just implementing the Majestic SEO tool, but it only gives me a standard report which does not have the total backlinks option :/ am on the free account yet

  • Hello,

    Thanx for the nice article, can i please ask you something more? How do i reduce the number of these inbound links, coz i have found out that my blog has so many inbound links!

  • Online Reputation Management

    If you want to get rid of your all back links which was created previously then it’s a too time consuming process for anyone, it’s better to build more quality links. Remove only those links which can cause problem in ranking.

  • http://seobus.co.uk Lucy K

    Really great article thank you!

    Just thought I’d add, a really great way to review your entire backlink profile classified by type, as well as anchor text by type (to see if you are overoptimising) is to use the tool Link Detective. In order to use it you need a CSV from Open Site Explorer of all the external links to the root domain of your site. I have found this extremely useful when diagnosing Penguin/Panda as well as helping clean up link profiles.

  • http://jameseo.com James

    Great article dude. You touched on many good points. I love how you provided percentages of old backlink profiles and new.

  • http://www.storkbabygiftbaskets.com Victoria

    Jayson,

    I’m confused. When in Majestic they offer 3 options for information on your stie. You can click on http: or www. or one with neither an http: or www. Which one should I be using to figuring out the ratio of referring domains to external backlinks that you are talking about.

    I’m just learning all of this stuff….and I’ve learned alot from your article but I get confused when I go into Majestic…thanks.

  • http://www.homesandvillasabroad.com/ Jeepster

    # Exact-match anchor text: 1-5% of overall inbound link profile…
    When counting the total number of links into a site to work out these percentages, do you include internal links from other pages within the site — or just external ones only?

    # Source URL content matches destination URL content: Important
    What if the destination URL isn’t keyword rich? If I’ve got a great site about widgets that’s simply called GreatSite.com, doesn’t a link from SuperWidgets.co.uk fit the relevancy criterion perfectly?

    # Source anchor text matches destination content: Important
    If I get a link that says “click here”, how does this match destination content? Please expand.

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