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Category Archive: Penguin

  1. How to Prepare for The Next Penguin Refresh

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    If you were around for the first few iterations of Google’s Penguin update, you know just how much of an impact it had on the world of link building and search marketing. For months, Penguin refreshes served as follow-up attacks to Google’s initial release, and search marketers were kept on edge, trying desperately to stay ahead of the curve.

    Now, it’s been quiet on the Penguin front since late 2013, and many search marketers believe we’re long overdue for a new update, or at least a refresh. With the recent release of Panda 4.1 marking a quarterly rhythm for the search giant back in September, experts suspect a Penguin refresh could be right around the corner. If you incorporate link building as part of your offsite SEO strategy, it’s vital that you take immediate measures to protect yourself against the inevitable refresh.

    A Glimpse Into Penguin’s History

    articleimage540A Glimpse Into Penguinu2019s History

    First, we’ll take a look into the chain of events that led to the most recent Penguin release, and why so many webmasters were hit with ranking penalties in the first place. Penguin 1.0 was first rolled out in April of 2012, designed as a complement and a follow-up to its predecessor in 2011, Panda. While the Panda update was created to penalize websites with low-quality or keyword-stuffed content, Penguin was created to penalize sites with low-quality or keyword-dense backlinks. It was a one-two punch that sent both onsite and offsite black-hat SEO practitioners scrambling.

    While Penguin 1.0 only affected around three percent of all search queries, the long-term impact it had on the world of link building was tremendous. Link builders could no longer build large quantities of keyword-stuffed, irrelevant links wherever they pleased. Instead, links had to be on-topic, posted in a relevant forum, and had to appear as a valuable and realistic part of the conversation.

    Between May and October of 2012, various refreshes of the Penguin update hit on an almost monthly basis, rolling out new penalties to link schemers who might have otherwise survived Penguin 1.0 without a penalty. In May of 2013, Penguin 2.0 was released, introducing even more sophisticated changes to Google’s ranking algorithm and affecting another 2.3 percent of all search queries.

    A handful of refreshes came between May and October, repeating the same pattern as 1.0. It led many to believe that Penguin 3.0 would hit in May of 2014, following the pattern, but it never did. Here we are in October, a year after the last known Penguin refresh, and we still haven’t seen an update.

    What to Expect From a Refresh

    articleimage540What to Expect From a Refresh

    There are two reasons to expect a new update. First, we’re overdue for one. It’s been more than a year now without any follow-up from Google, and it’s highly likely that they’ve developed some new sophisticated tricks to catch link schemers and penalize irrelevant links by now. Second, Panda 4.1 hit last month, just four months after the second latest major Google update. This may indicate a new, almost quarterly pattern for the search engine giant’s updates, putting a new Penguin update anytime between now and December.

    The next Penguin update could be a simple refresh—a new addition of data that Google then uses to distribute penalties or change ranks for sites whose backlink profiles have changed since the last refresh. The update could also be a major overhaul, the long-awaited Penguin 3.0, which would change some of the criteria for how backlinks are viewed, analyzed, and determined to calculate page rank.

    Either way, the update could affect your site’s rank if you aren’t up to speed with Google’s best practices for user experience and link building.

    How to Prepare

    articleimage540How to Prepare

    It’s impossible to tell whether the update will be a refresh or a major overhaul, but any update will require you to reevaluate your link building strategy, and proactively eliminate any questionable practices that could put you in jeopardy of getting a penalty.

    We’ve put together a step-by-step guide to help you do just that:

    Step One: Hunt Down and Disavow Any Questionable Links

    Your first step should actually be a part of your regular link building process. Once a month or so, it’s a good idea to go through your existing links and weed out any that might look suspicious, or ones that you haven’t built yourself. You can use a free tool, like Moz’s so-called “search engine for links, Open Site Explorer. Don’t judge too harshly, but if you do see a link that stands out from the rest, consider it for removal. First, try and delete the link yourself. If you cannot, contact the webmaster in charge of the site—you can usually find this contact information through a contact page or through the domain registrar. If the webmaster refuses to take the link down, you can file a request for disavowal with Google directly.

    Step Two: Review Your Sources and Timing

    Next, review the totality of your current strategy. Take a look at your “usual suspects” of link sources, and weed out any that might be considered irrelevant, spammy, or of low authority. Examples of bad sources include article directories, link building schemes, or blogs and forums not directly related to your industry. Replace these sources with higher quality sites like news affiliates and relevant forums. You’ll also want to review how many links you’re building, and how often you’re building them. Posting too many links too quickly could send a red flag to Google.

    Step Three: Increase Your Brand Mentions and Nofollow Links

    It may sound counterintuitive, but your link building strategy shouldn’t be solely reliant on traditional links. Instead of posting nothing but links, work more brand mentions and nofollow links into your strategy. Google’s algorithm detects non-linked brand mentions—that is to say, mentions of your company name, product names, etc.—and treats them as similar to links. Posting more brand mentions and fewer traditional links will give you a similar increase in domain authority without putting you at risk of a penalty. Nofollow links, which are links marked with a rel=nofollow tag, will not affect your rank at all, but will allow you to post links to your site without seeming spammy.

    Step Four: Encourage More Natural Link Building

    Finally, establish more avenues for natural link building. Your goal shouldn’t be to make your links appear more natural. It should be to make more natural links. You can do this by posting more relevant, engaging, amusing, or insightful forms of content such as infographics, videos, and detailed blog posts. Syndicate these through your social media channels, and if your content catches the public eye, you’ll easily attract hundreds of new links—and you’ll never have to worry about any of them triggering a penalty.

    Watch Out for Penguins

    Take the time to review and adjust your link building strategy—even if the next Penguin refresh doesn’t hit this year, you’ll still receive the benefits of the extra offsite authority, and reduce your chances of a future penalty.

    If the update does hit and your site seems to be affected—don’t panic. Contact us, and we’ll work with you to determine the root of your penalty, and rebuild your link profile to restore your rank.

  2. How to Recover From a Penguin 3 Penalty

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    Sooner or later, Penguin 3.0 is going to hit, and if it’s anything like its predecessors, it’s going to hit hard. Like previous Penguin updates, its intentions will probably revolve around rewarding sites with natural, relevant backlinks and penalizing sites with questionable practices. It’s best to be proactive and possibly prevent yourself from being penalized by adhering to best backlinking practices, but all it takes is a handful of suspicious links to garner a Google penalty.

    If you find yourself struck by the onset of Penguin 3.0, don’t worry. It might cause a temporary hiccup in your SEO strategy, but if you respond quickly and patiently rebuild your authority, you should be able to make a full recovery.

    Waiting for Penguin 3.0

    articleimage431waitingforpenguin

    While Penguin 3.0 hasn’t yet been deployed, we speculate that it could happen any day now. Penguin 1.0 and 2.0 made major waves and as of the writing of this article, it has been 10 months since the last major rollout.

    Penguin 1.0 and 2.0

    Google Penguin 1.0—the first major backlink-specific update from Google—appeared on April 24, 2012, affecting approximately three percent of all search queries on the web. Designed to fight back against the backlink spamming practices associated with black hat search engine marketing, Penguin 1.0 unleashed a wave of penalties on sites whose backlinks were determined to be irrelevant, spammy, or otherwise intended solely to manipulate rank.

    Penguin 2.0 came out over a year later (after a handful of minor refreshes to 1.0) on May 22, 2013. It affected another 2.3 percent of all search queries, doling out another strong wave of penalties to sites with questionable backlink building practices.

    As a result, the world of link building changed completely. Search marketers were no longer able to rely on traditional practices, which favored the sheer number of backlinks over any other factor. Instead, search marketers were now forced to comply with Google’s new web experience standards—only posting links that are relevant and valuable to the reader, and only on authoritative, legitimate sites.

    What will the Penguin 3.0 update affect?

    Penguin 3.0 will undoubtedly be focused on improving backlink practices, just like its predecessors, but beyond that it’s difficult to tell. It could follow in the footsteps of its counterparts, affecting roughly three percent of all search queries, but there’s always the possibility that it could hit harder, closer to the 11 percent of search queries that Panda hit back in 2011.

    No matter how impactful it is, it’s highly likely that Penguin 3.0 will simply reinforce the standards that Google has already put in place: backlinks need to be varied in content, appropriate for context, valuable to the reader, and relevant to the site on which it is posted.

    When will it come?

    Since the release of the last Penguin 2.0 refresh, things have been relatively quiet. There have been regular Panda refreshes building upon the Panda update, as well as a handful of new updates designed to improve local searches and other peripheral factors, but there have been no major backlink-related updates since the last 2.0 refresh in October of 2013. That’s a gap of almost 11 months, putting search marketers on edge. The gap between Penguin 1.0 and 2.0 was slightly over a year, so if history is any indication, the 3.0 update should be coming by the end of 2014.

    Of course, Google is somewhat unpredictable. It could be another year before we see 3.0, or it could be tomorrow. Stranger still, it could never come at all. But our best guess is that Penguin 3.0 will be coming out by December.

    How to Know You’ve Been Penalized

    articleimage431How to Know You’ve Been Penalized

    The word “penalty” gets thrown around often as a way to describe a sudden loss of search engine rank, but there is an important distinction between manual penalties specifically created to target a domain and the automatic search rank drops that come about as a result of an algorithm update. As a victim of the Penguin 3.0 update, it’s far more likely that you’ve suffered a loss as an indirect, automatic result of the algorithm change.

    If you keep track of your search engine ranks and domain authority (as you should), the penalty will be evident within a day or two of the algorithm’s official release. Depending on the severity of the penalty and the significance of the algorithm change, you could drop a few ranks or a few pages, for any or all of your keywords. If you notice a significant drop across the board, or notice that your domain authority has taken a heavy dip, it’s a clear indication that you’ve been penalized.

    If you have been penalized, try not to panic. Unless you’re engaging in heavy spam and shady link buying practices, your penalties will be short-lived as long as you respond appropriately—and even if you are engaging in spammy tactics, odds are Penguin 1.0 and 2.0 have already penalized you.

    Link Removal and Disavowal

    articleimage431Link Removal and Disavowal

    The first and most important step to take after identifying a Penguin 3.0 penalty is to start removing questionable links and disavowing links that are particularly bad offenders. Go through your backlink sources and immediately delete any links that feature the following:

    • Placement on a low-quality or irrelevant link directory
    • Placement on a blog or forum irrelevant to your industry
    • Spam-like qualities, in any context
    • Mass duplication of anchor text
    • Mass duplication of link destination (for example, if all your links point to your homepage)

    However, even deleted links can have a legacy effect on your site. If there are major offenders, such as a host of links coming from a known paid source, it’s better to perform a disavowal, which is essentially a notice sent to Google that requests them to ignore those links permanently in their search algorithm.

    Once your link profile has been cleaned of any possible offenders, your immediate actions are complete. All you can do at this point is maintain solid, high quality link building practices, and patiently wait until your rankings return to normal.

    Best Practices

    Moving forward, in order to recover from your Penguin 3.0 penalty or simply prevent a new penalty from occurring, you’ll need to follow best practices for backlink building:

    • Use a variety of sources.

    It’s a good long-term strategy to build links on as many external sources as reasonably possible. Play it like an investment strategy: diversify your portfolio.

    • Use high quality sources.

    Make sure all your sources are somewhat authoritative, relevant to your industry, and supportive of Google’s best practices. Don’t get caught in a web of spam.

    • Point links deep within your site.

    Only using links that point to your homepage is penalty bait. Instead, use a variety of links that point to your internal pages as well.

    • Blend backlinks and brand mentions.

    Links aren’t the only thing that counts anymore. Use links in combination with linked brand mentions and non-linked brand mentions for a multifaceted, conservative approach.

    • Use viral content to encourage natural link building.

    The best way to build links is to let your audience do it for you. Use high-quality, viral-sensitive content like infographics and whitepapers to attract sharers and link builders to point to your site.

    It will take time to recover from a penalty, even if you do everything right. But it’s important to be patient and comply with Google’s standards; spend your time giving your users a good experience and try not to worry about your specific ranks.

  3. When Will The Next Google Penguin Refresh Be?

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    When it first came on the scene, Google’s Penguin update hit businesses with questionable backlinking practices hard. Harsh penalties were common across the web, and traditional link building strategies were made almost completely obsolete. Google’s updates are iterative, and multiple rounds of Penguin updates and refreshes have followed up on the initial dramatic release. Now, search marketers and business owners are keeping watch for signs of the next Penguin refresh to proactively guard against its potential penalties. Google makes it next to impossible to accurately predict the scope and timing of their algorithm changes, but there hasn’t been a Penguin refresh for some time, and we’re overdue for one.

    A Short History of Penguin

    articleimage425 historyofpenguin

    For those of you who are unfamiliar, Google Penguin first hit the web on April 24, 2012 as a follow up to the game-changing Panda update the year before. Where Panda cleaned up the web by penalizing sites with low-quality content, Penguin cleaned up the web by penalizing sites with irrelevant, unnatural, or otherwise “spammy” backlinks. Overall, Penguin 1.0 affected just over three percent of all search queries, but the long-term impact it had on the world of search marketing was substantial.

    After the update, the process of link building was completely transformed—rather than being mostly a numbers game, link building suddenly required finesse and careful attention to ensure that all links are relevant, valuable, and natural. Previous strategies revolved around posting a specific number of links on a regular basis to external sites, including a blend of industry-specific authorities and easy-to-find link directories. Penguin 1.0 intended to put a stop to link building for the sole purpose of increasing page rank, and targeted “low-quality” links that seemed to have no primary purpose other than for search engine rank building.

    Over the course of the next several months, Google released a series of follow-ups, including refreshes on May 26 and October 5 of 2012 designed to refine and perfect the original algorithm release. The next major Penguin algorithm release wasn’t until May 22, 2013 when Penguin 2.0 impacted another 2.3 percent of search queries. Several new sites with questionable backlinking practices got hit, despite making it out of Penguin 1.0 unscathed. Google also followed up with a refresher to this major update on October 4, 2013, impacting about one percent of all search queries.

    Since then, things on the Penguin front have been relatively quiet. There have been a few rumors of data refreshes and speculation on a “Penguin 3.0” yet to come, but there have been no formal announcements or indications of a specific date.

    Why a New Penguin Update Is Expected

    We’ve mentioned before that Google releases algorithm changes iteratively. They have a long history of releasing updates upon updates and gradual refreshes since they first started releasing regular updates to their algorithm in 2003. Since they’re always interested in refining their process and building upon their established frameworks, there is always room for further advancement.

    As an example, let’s take a look at the Panda update. February 24, 2011 was the first big Panda hit, affecting nearly 12 percent of all search queries, but that was only the beginning. Several refreshes rolled out over the course of the next few years, some of which were announced and some of which were unannounced. In March 2013, Google made a public announcement that they intended to keep rolling out data refreshes for the Panda update on a more-or-less monthly basis. Since then, we haven’t received any formal announcements of updates, but we have seen the quiet results of their release.

    An objective look at Google’s history makes it seem likely that we haven’t seen the last of Penguin. As the two major pillars of modern search engine progress, Panda and Penguin continue to be the most significant considerations for search marketers, and it makes sense that Google would want to continue making those algorithm revisions increasingly sophisticated.

    When Will It Happen?

    articleimage425When Will It Happen

    Even though Google’s history makes it seem likely that a new Penguin refresh is inevitable, it’s no surprise that there hasn’t been a formal announcement regarding its release date. Google likes to keep things under tight wraps for several reasons, most notably to throw search marketers off their game. The motivation behind these updates is to prevent people from being able to easily manipulate page ranks so that users can find relevant results more easily. Withholding critical information, such as the specifics included in each update and upcoming release dates, helps to ensure that site owners engage in long-term best practices rather than trying to find loopholes.

    That being said, it pays to be prepared, and we can make a best guess at when the next Penguin refresh will occur. It’s already been more than a year since Google Penguin had its last major update. The big dates for Penguin have been April 2012, May 2012, October 2012, May 2013, and October 2013, showing spans as big as 5-7 months between releases. At that pace, we could have expected Penguin 3.0, or at least a data refresh, back in April 2014.

    Obviously, that didn’t happen, but unless Google considers the Penguin update to be perfect (which is unlikely), it’s likely we’ll see at least one refresh by the end of 2014. Just following the pattern of major October releases, a new Penguin update in October 2014 seems likely, if not inevitable.

    How to Prepare Your Site

    articleimage425howtoprepareyoursite

    If you haven’t already, it’s time to guard yourself against the possibility of a new Penguin update and respond to the changes of the previous ones. Penguin is all about encouraging a more valuable, sustainable link building process, so implement these strategies as part of your preparation:

    • Check your sources.

    Not all backlinking sources are equal. Article directories, link farms, and external sites not related directly to your industry are all bad news. Instead, focus on building links with a diverse range of sources that include high-authority sites like .edu or .gov domains, quality blogs and forums, and niche-specific industry directories.

    • Encourage natural link building.

    Let your users build your links for you. Use content with a high potential to go viral, such as unique infographics or entertaining videos, to subtly encourage people to link back to your site.

    • Forget about raw numbers.

    Quality is better than quantity. If you go crazy posting dozens of links all over the web, you’ll appear to be spam and you could suffer a penalty as a result.

    • Use brand mentions and Nofollow links.

    Build your authority and generate more web traffic by using more brand mentions (explicitly naming your brand without a link) and Nofollow links (marked by a rel=”nofollow” expression). These promote your name and authority without counting as explicit links to search engines who might otherwise see it as spam.

    Conclusion

    Google Penguin is still one of the most significant SEO disrupters in play, and because there is still room for improvement, it’s only a matter of time before we see another update. At 10 months and counting since the last major update, Penguin is overdue for some new energy. As of now, our best guess is October 2014 to see Penguin 3.0 (or at least a data refresh).

    Regardless of whether this new update is or is not on the horizon, it’s important that you continue to polish your link building practices. The more natural and relevant your backlinks are, the more traffic you’ll receive, and the better protected you’ll be against future Google updates.

  4. How Guest Blogging Is Affected after Penguin 2.0 and 2.1

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    Guest blogging is popular because it creates a win-win situation for everyone. It works well to drive traffic back to a blog. It works well to give a new blogger exposure on other more established blogs. It works well to provide blog owners fresh content. And it works well to gives readers interesting content from a new perspective.

    There are other benefits, too.

    For one thing, guest blogging is a great vehicle to allow good writers to quickly become popular bloggers. It’s a way to build your reputation even if you have only recently started blogging and are not getting many visitors to your blog. If you write on a specific niche well—in a clear and authoritative way—then you are attracting positive interest with your work. You are also winning the silent endorsement of the blogger who shares your content with his or her audience.

    For another, guest blogging is way of building backlinks back to a site. Consequently, it provides excellent search engine optimization. But that’s not all. Guest blogging, when done right, gives readers high quality, relevant content.

    In fact, guest blogging has become so popular that many top blogs now are inundated with requests for guest posting.

    Why, then, if guest blogging is so beneficial, providing a wonderful service for writers, publishers, readers and even search engines would Google try to discourage guest blogging?

    Actually, Google is not targeting guest blogging. If guest blogging is in some way hampered by Penguin 2.0 or 2.1, then it is just an accidental casualty to a major larger issue Google is trying to tackle with its change in algorithms.

    New Algorithms Will Not Wipe Out Guest Blogging

    After the dust from Penguin 2.0 and 2.1 settles it may put a dent in this unique win-win strategy for driving traffic back to a website, but, all things considered, while it may damage the enthusiasm shown for guest blogging, it will not be devastating enough to stop it.

    It’s unlikely that we are going to see articles and reports on the demise of guest blogging.

    While Google is not exactly targeting guest blogs, some devaluing may occur to backlinks and author ranking as a result of the new algorithms.

    It’s still too early to say what has changed, but four trends are slowly showing up.

    How Life As We Know It May Change

    Here are four probable ways that Penguin 2.0 and 2.1 will affect life as we know it on the Internet.

    1. Google will be more discriminating about rewarding social signals.

    articleimage545Google will be more discriminating about rewarding social signals

    In the past, social signals were a sign that a guest post was popular. After all, if people liked something they might be inclined to share it with friends and followers on Facebook, Twitter, and the other popular social media platforms.

    Why, then, would Google want to discourage this level of sharing and enthusiasm?

    It’s because Google’s unstated prime directive is relevancy and with many people gaming the social signal system by buying hundreds, even thousands, of Tweets or Likes on cheap outsourcing websites like Fiverr and other clones, the relevancy test will fail.

    Google’s battle is not actually against people sharing content that they like. It’s really a battle against bots and spam purveyors who are mimicking real Tweets and real Likes.

    One sign that an author is gaming the system is the author’s reluctance to mention their guest posts on their own social media platforms. Google reasons that an author who wrote a great piece is inclined to share it with his friends and followers on some major social media websites while an author who had already purchased tweets and likes would probably not be bothered to share it on his or her own social profile.

    Still, although things may look grim, one way to resolve Google’s loss of confidence in social signals is to write great posts, share them on your own profiles in social media, and ask influencer’s to do the same. At some point, Google’s algorithms will probably be able to distinguish between real human approval and the footprints left by bots.

    2. Google will be looking at author rank.

    articleimage545 Google will be looking at author rank

    A new benchmark is author rank. This will show Google where you are publishing your content and how well people like it on the Internet. While author rank can work in your favor, you also run the risk of having your rank devalued.

    Here are two ways to resolve this potential risk of getting your author rank devalued:

    • First, write great content that will naturally attract social signals and comments. Avoid short, hackneyed, uninteresting or even spun content. In other words, stuff that people will not want to read if they can find something better.
    • Second, get your backlinks from multiple content creation strategies rather than from guest blogging alone.

    It’s important to note that with the new algorithms, publishing on an authority website alone is no guarantee that your author rank will be safe.

    3. Google will give less weight to links.

    articleimage545Google will give less weight to links

    Before the change in algorithms, a link was a link. Now, Google questions links, deciding which to value and which to devalue.

    If you write a long piece, full of valuable information, then the link will probably be valued, but if you post an infographic, the link will probably be devalued.

    What this change basically means is that the rapid link building methods deployed by SEO experts will now be under suspicion.

    4. Lack of link relevance could be penalized.

    The worst penalty Google can mete out is to devalue your site. This may happen if you create irrelevant links.

    What is an irrelevant link? Suppose, you wrote a guest post on the best places to invest in 2014. Then relevant links might be those going out to Huffington Post, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal. Relevant links might also include reference to pertinant dictionaries and encyclopedias like Investopedia or Wikipedia. An irrelevant link would be linking your article to a car website, a plastic surgeon’s website, or a dog grooming website.

    While you could probably create irrelevant links a few times, if you do it often enough, your site itself might be devalued. Google would rightly argue, based on the latent semantic index of your guest post, about the relationship between the world of investments and the world of car dealerships, cosmetic surgery, and pet care.

    Don’t Panic, Write Well

    Ultimately, what Google is trying to do is in line with what they have always tried to do—encourage quality content and discourage poor content on the Internet. Quality content is one that informs and educates. Great content wins attention and approval in the form of social media sharing, blog comments, and other forms of popularity. Alternatively, if content is just written for the sake of keywords, backlinks, and other SEO favors, then under the new algorithms, it will be more quickly detected and devalued. Guest blogs that show signs of poor content will suffer. But guest blogs that give circumstantial evidence of good content will actually rise to the surface. The best strategy, then, is to continue to write well and avoid appearing to game the system, either accidentally or intentionally.

  5. Penguin 2.0: What Happened, and How to Recover

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    If you’ve spent any time recently in the world of SEO, you’ve probably heard about Penguin 2.0 — Google’s search engine algorithm change that was just launched on May 22nd, 2013. By the way that some SEOs were talking, you’d think it was the Zombie Apocalypse. Whatever it is, you can be sure that it will have a dramatic change on the web landscape. Here are five important questions and answers about Penguin 2.0.

    What is Penguin 2.0?

    To understand the 2.0 of anything, you need to understand the 1.0. The original Penguin is the moniker for Google’s algorithm update of April 24, 2012. When Google tweaked the algorithm in a big way, 3.1% of all English-language queries were affected by the update. Penguin was carefully designed to penalize certain types of webspam. Here are some of the main factors that Penguin targeted:

    1.  Lots of exact-match anchor texts (30% or more of a link profile)

    2.  Low quality site linkbacks, including directories and blogs

    3.  Keyword intensive anchors

    The aftershocks of Penguin continued long after April 24. Several mini Penguins were released since then, which is why some SEOs prefer to call the coming change “Penguin 4.” The new Penguin is predicted to do the following:

    • Penalize paid links, especially those without “nofollow”
    • Penalize spamdexing in a more effective way
    • Penalize advertorial spam.
    • Tightening penalties on link spamming/directory listings
    • Removing hacked sites from search engine results
    • Boost ranks for sites that have a proven authority within a niche

    How much different is it from Penguin 1.0?

    Calling this Penguin 2.0 is slightly misleading. We shouldn’t think of algorithm changes in the same way we think of software updates — better features, faster architecture, whatever. Penguin is not a software update. It’s a change in the way that a search engine delivers results to users.

    Here is a brief explanation of search engines, and how they change. Search engines are designed to give people the most accurate, trustworthy, and relevant results for a specific search query. So, if you type in “how to cook lima beans,” the search engine attempts to find the very best site on the Internet to help you cook your lima beans. Obviously, every lima bean recipe site wants to have the top dog spot on the search engine results page (SERP).

    Some webmasters will cook up clever tricks to do so. Thus, a site with hordes of banner ads, hordes of affiliate links, and barely a word about cooking lima beans could, with a few black hat techniques, climb in the rankings. The search engine doesn’t want that. They want people to have their lima bean recipe — great content — not just a bunch of ads.

    Thus, they change things deep within the algorithm to prevent those unscrupulous tricks from working. But the slithery lima bean site figures out a new way to slip by the algorithm. And the algorithm figures out another way to block them. And so on, and so forth.

    As all of this is happening, several key points emerge:

    1.  Search engine algorithms become more sophisticated and intelligent.

    2.  It becomes less likely for sites to game the system.

    At AudienceBloom, we follow white-hat SEO principles. We understand that there are a few tricks that we could use that might bump your site higher in the short term. However, we don’t engage in those practices. We want our clients to be successful for the long haul, which is why we engage in SEO techniques that are truly legitimate.

    What’s going to happen? 

    Now that Penguin 2.0 is rolling out, one of two things will happen to your site (as Google’s data centers propagate with the algorithm rollout and your rankings are adjusted accordingly):

    1. Nothing.

    2. Your rankings will drop, organic traffic will tank, and your site will begin to flounder.

    If, unfortunately, number 2 strikes, you may not realize it for a few days unless you are a big site with 10k+ visits with 30%+ organic a day.  In order to answer “what’s going to happen” for your site, you need to understand whether or not your site is in violation of any Penguin 2.0 targets. That question is better answered with an entire article of its own, but here are a few warning signs that your site could be targeted by Penguin 2.0.

    • You’ve had unscrupulous link building efforts conducted on your site.
    • You purchased paid links from another site (e.g., advertorials)
    • You rely on spam-like search queries (for example “pay day loans,” “cheap computers,” “free gambling site,” etc.).
    • You have aggressively pursued link networks listings on unreliable directories.

    Each of the above four points are common SEO tactics. Some SEOs have become sneakier than the algorithm, which is why Google is making these important changes.

    What should I do to prepare or recover?

    The most important thing you can do right now is to follow Matt Cutt’s advice in his recent video:

    “If you’re doing high quality content whenever you’re doing SEO, this (the Penguin update) should not be a big surprise. You shouldn’t have to worry about a lot of changes. If you have been hanging out in a lot of blackhat forums, trading different types of spamming package tips and that sort of stuff, then this might be a more eventful summer for you.”

    Content is the most important thing, of course, but that’s more of a proactive preparation than an actual defense. Is there a way to actually defend yourself from the onslaught of Penguin 2.0? What if you’ve already been affected by it?

    One important thing you can do right now is to analyze your site’s link profile to ensure that your site is free of harmful links. Then, you should remove and perform disavow requests on the bad links to keep your site’s inbound link profile clean. This is the equivalent of a major surgery on your site, and it could take a long time to recover. Here’s what Matt Cutts said about it on May 13:

    Cutts on Penguin 2.0

    Here are the steps you need to take to recover from Penguin 2.0:

    Step 1. Identify which inbound links are “unclean” or could be hurting your rankings (ie, causing you to be affected by Penguin 2.0). To do this, you’ll need to perform an inbound link profile audit (or have us do that for you).

    Step 2. Perform major surgery on your site’s link profile in order to make it as clean as possible. This includes removing links identified in the link profile audit, and then disavowing them as well.

    Step 3. Build new inbound links using white-hat tactics like guest blogging, while abiding by proper anchor text rules with your new inbound links.

    Step 4. Establish a content calendar to keep pushing out high-quality content, engage in social media, and avoid spammy techniques of any kind.

    If you’re looking for SEO help, AudienceBloom is prepared to help. One of our major efforts in the wake of Penguin 1.0 was helping sites to recover their rankings and clean up from their past. If you’ve been hit by Penguin 2.0, now is the time to take action to recover your rankings and search traffic. Contact us for a complimentary assessment and action plan.

  6. How to Prepare for Penguin 2.0: Take Off that Black Hat!

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    Google Penguin 2.0What do Penguins, Pandas, and black hats have in common? Lots! Penguin is the most recent set of guidelines published by Google designed to clean up abuses in the field of SEO, and a new version is due out soon, according to Google’s Web Spam Czar, Matt Cutts. The impending event has marketers, reputation managers, and webmasters scurrying for cover.

    SEO – A Concept Recap

    SEO (search engine optimization) is the relatively newborn public relations field that tries to increase the visibility of websites by the strategic placement of keywords, content, and social media interaction, and the industry has grown rapidly in a little over a decade.

    Carried to extremes, as such things always are, black-hat SEO is a subdivision within the field that tries to achieve money-making results in an unsustainable way (ie, against Google’s webmaster guidelines). It frustrates the very purpose of a search engine, which is to help users find the information they need. Instead, rampant SEO gone amok serves only the needs of online marketers wishing to increase sales for themselves or their clients.

    To readjust the proper balance, Mr. Cutts and his team of “penguin” police have attempted to establish guidelines that will rule out the most abusive practices of black hat SEO.

    BlackHat SEO – Are You Doing It?

    The predecessor to Penguin was Panda, with much the same purpose. Panda included a series of algorithm updates, begun in early 2011. These were aimed at downgrading websites that did not provide positive user experiences.

    Panda updates of the algorithm were largely directed at website quality. The term “above the fold” is sometimes used to refer to the section of a website that a user sees before one begins to scroll down. The term comes from newspapers, which are delivered folded in two. The section that is “above the fold” is the section one sees before opening the paper, or unfolding it.

    Typically, marketers wish to cram as much eye-catching, commercial material as possible into this section, while responsible journalists wish to pack it with the most relevant and useful information.

    Penguin, on the other hand, is targeted more specifically at keyword stuffing and manipulative link building techniques.

    One targeted abuse, keyword stuffing, is not a tasty Thanksgiving delicacy, but the practice of loading the meta tag section of a site, and the site itself, with useless repetition of certain words. Sites can lose their ranking altogether as a result of such stuffing.

    Abusive practitioners of keyword stuffing are not above using keywords that are rendered invisible because their font color is identical with the background color. The user doesn’t see them, but the search engine spider does. This practice was soon discovered, however, and dealt with by the search engines.

    Meta tags are sometimes placed behind images, or in “alternative text” fields, so that the spiders pick them up while they remain invisible to users. Popular or profitable search keywords are sometimes included invisible to humans, but visible to the search crawlers. Very clever, but also soon discovered and dealt with. With Penguin, Google now analyzes the relevance and subject matter of a page much more effectively, without being tricked by keyword-stuffing schemes.

    “Cloaking” is another tactic that was used for a while to present a different version of a site to the search engine’s crawler than to the user. While a legitimate tactic when it tells the crawler about content embedded in a video or Flash component, it became abused as a Black Hat SEO technique, and is now rendered obsolete by the technique of “progressive enhancement,” which tailors a site’s visibility to the capabilities of the user or crawler. Pornographic sites have often been “cloaked” in non-pornographic form as a way of avoiding being labeled as such.

    The first set of Penguin guidelines and algorithms went live in April 2012, and the second main wave is due out any day now (though Penguin has gone through several periodic updates since its initial release). It’s designed to combat an excessive use of exact-match anchor text. It will also be directed against links from sources of dubious quality and links that are seen as unnatural or manipulative.

    The trading or buying of links will be targeted as well. The value of links from directories and bookmarking sites will be further downgraded, as will links from content that’s thin or poor-quality. Basically, the revision in the algorithms will be designed to rule out content that serves the marketer’s ends rather than the users’.

    Advice For SEO Marketers To Stay Clean

    If you are a professional SEO, the questions to ask yourself are:

    • Is this keyword being added in order to serve the customer’s potential needs, or is it designed merely to increase the number of hits? If the latter, then the additional users that would be brought to the site by the keyword are probably not high-quality conversion potential.
    • Is the added SEO material being hidden from the user or the search engine crawler? If so, with what purpose? If that purpose amounts to dishonest marketing practices, the material runs the risk of getting you in trouble with Penguin.
    • What’s the overall purpose of your SEO strategy? If it’s anything other than increasing sales by enhancing user experience, then you may expect an unwelcome visit from Penguin.

    If you’re a user, you’ll very likely not be as conscious of these changes, except inasmuch as they will alter the look of your search results page when you perform a search in Google. Will the new Penguin algorithms cut down on those ubiquitous “sponsored links” or “featured links”? Probably not. But savvy users know how to ignore those links by now, except of course when they turn out to be useful.

    Will the new algorithms enhance the overall usefulness of the search engine experience? Probably, at least marginally, and perhaps even in a major way. The whole field of internet marketing and e-Commerce is changing so rapidly and radically that it’s hard to keep track of the terminology, especially the proliferation of acronyms. But the ultimate goal will be an enhanced user experience.

  7. Caution: Don’t Overreact to Penguin (or Any Other Google Change)

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    If you got Penguin slapped, the last thing you wanna do is rush in to try to fix things without first making sure of what you’re doing. Soon as the big Google updates started to hit, people panicked.

    Even some so-called professional SEO service providers freaked out. Then there were the SEO specialists who decided this would be a great time to take advantage of people: they rushed out and promised near-instant recovery from these updates. They assured people “I can fix it for you!” — when in reality, they were only chasing $$$ signs.

    Don’t jump on board and take everything you read to heart. Check out some of the big mistakes people made (and are still making).

    Calling a Complete Halt to Backlink Building

    No! No! No! Don’t believe it when someone tells you that backlinks don’t matter anymore. Think about this: If Google didn’t place any value on backlinks as a ranking factor, then why did they get so strict about which links they’re willing to count? If anything, that seems to emphasize the importance of backlinks, to my eyes. How about you?

    Google is getting stricter about which links they place value on because links do matter. Google wants everyone to produce over-the-top, priceless content each and every time; content that will bring mass attention and leave everyone wanting to share your material with everyone they know.

    Really? Yeah, like that’s gonna happen. It just isn’t that easy to generate those “natural” backlinks they wanna see.

    So yes, be aware of what Google is cracking down on. Read the Google Webmaster Guidelines updates (as rare as they are) and stay away from those links that hover in the dark, beckoning you to buy them. They may be enticingly cheap, but they’re that cheap for a reason. In sum, don’t-don’t-don’t stop working to gain valuable quality links.

    Racing as Fast as Possible to Remove Backlinks

    There’s an underlying, irrational fear that’s driving people to remove lots of backlinks. True, there are cases when that’s perfectly justifiable. But only if you have shady, cheap backlinks you’ve paid for or clearly identified as part of a negative SEO campaign out to hurt you. (The latter is rare; and even more rare is for one of those campaigns to achieve its intended effect — but it’s been known to happen).

    It is heartwrenching to watch a small business that relies on its website do further damage by using the disavow tool or actually paying people to remove links that weren’t really doing it any harm. Not all backlinks are bad! Just because you didn’t create, initiate, or generate the link doesn’t mean it’s hurting you. Remember, Google wants you to have links that appear naturally without any involvement from your side.

    So before you start erasing parts of your backlink profile or disavowing links, please — please! — make sure you know what you’re doing. Don’t just take one person’s opinion as gospel truth.

    Ditching Any Kind of Anchor Link Usage

    Anchor text. It was kind of a buzzword of 2012, wasn’t it? Everywhere you turned after the Penguin arrived, people were talking about how using keyword anchor text for links got them buried in the search results. Truth is, using a multitude of anchor texts has always been the smart way to do things. If 99% of your backlinks say “Dallas DUI attorney,” it doesn’t look natural at all.

    Instead, a chunk of your backlinks should say “Dallas DUI attorney,” but another chunk could say “Dallas attorney for DUI charges”; another could say “this attorney,” another could say “his website here,” etc.

    If your links are coming from related pages on other sites, Google’s pretty good at picking up on that and knowing what your site is about. Even with anchor text that has nothing to do with your keywords “click here,” if it’s surrounded by text that talks about DUI attorneys or something similar then, yeah, they’ll know.

    Note: One of the newest “hot things” that’s getting a lot of talk is co-occurences — sometimes called co-citations. There’s evidence that you don’t have to get a true HTML’d link. If an article talks about what to do when you get a DUI and they say visit so-and-so.com (your site) just like that, with no actual link, that helps your ranking just as much as a real link. Google has a patent pending that deals with identifying phrases and “used to retrieve and rank documents” here. Whether it pans out to be related to this or not, we’ll just have to wait and see. What do you think it really means?

    Conclusion

    So these are just a few of the rash moves that site owners have been making. We hope that you’ll take heed. If you aren’t sure about your backlink profile or what you should be doing with it, we can help you. Visit our contact page and get in touch.

  8. SEO Mistakes the Panda and the Penguin Forbid You to Commit

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    For Google and other major search engines, quality and reliability of information are key to user satisfaction. These elements also empower the search engines to thrive as they seek to provide better data to users in terms of quality, relevance, and authority.

    And who is king of the SEO hill?

    Google, of course. And Google shows no sign of loosening its stranglehold on the universe of SEO.

    Via one algorithmic update after another, Google is wreaking havoc on people who found loopholes in the system to advance their personal interests. For years, these smooth operators devised tricks to manipulate their way to the top of search engine results pages.

    With the Panda and Penguin updates, Google may have finally patched the holes that allowed spammers to litter search engine results with garbage.

    More recently, Google rolled out newer versions of the Panda and Penguin updates. In the hope of making the Internet a better place to host and find high-quality and extremely useful information, Google supplied webmasters and business owners with guidelines to help them play the SEO game in a fairer manner.

    So let’s talk about some of the mistakes that every webmaster and online business owner should avoid so as not to get slapped by Google. We’ll also discuss some recommendations on how to optimize your site properly for Panda and Penguin.

    But first, a brief review of what the two major Google updates are all about.

    Google Panda
    The Panda was the first of the two major overhauls that Google rolled out in less than two years. It offered an initial glimpse of how the mighty Google intended to provide better search engine results.

    The main goal of Panda was to sniff out sites that carry low-quality content — or in Panda-speak, “thin” content. What Google Panda generally looked for were sites that had obviously spammy elements such as keyword stuffing, duplicate content, and in some cases, high bounce rate.

    Google Penguin
    Although at first it might have sounded cute and cuddly to Internet users, the Penguin quickly showed them otherwise. This update zeroed in on sites that were over-optimized in terms of backlinking.

    One of the most widely practiced link-building tactics prior to Penguin’s appearance was to use exact-match keywords for anchor texts. The problem with this tactic is that Penguin reads it as an unnatural linking practice.

    To promote natural backlinking, Penguin set out to penalize sites that routinely used exact-match keywords for anchor texts, and rewarded those smart enough to employ variations in their keywords.

    The top SEO mistakes you should avoid at all times
    Now that you have been reminded of what Panda and Penguin want and how they’d like us to play the SEO game, keep the following pitfalls in mind to avoid seeing your site take the deep plunge down the search results pages.

    1. Using mostly exact-match keywords for backlinks
    This used to be one of the most effective ways of getting a site to rank higher in search results. These days, this strategy can still be recommended, but with caution. Now that Penguin is policing the info highway, using mostly exact-match keywords is a sure way to get your site devalued.

    To gain or maintain favorable ranking, observe natural link-building best practices. Post-Penguin SEO calls for you to vary your keywords by using related terms. If you are optimizing for “baby clothing,” for example, use keyphrases such as “kids’ clothing,” “clothing for babies,” etc. It’s also a good idea to use your brand’s name as anchor text.

    The primary thing to remember is to link naturally. Don’t be too concerned about failing to corner exact-match keywords that you think could hugely benefit your business. After all, Google is moving toward latent semantic indexing (LSI), which puts related keyphrases into consideration for smarter indexing.

    2. Generating most of your traffic via only one marketing channel
    Many marketers, especially new ones, tend to assume the only way to gain a huge amount of highly targeted traffic is by focusing time and energy on a single marketing channel. Some only use SEO, while others concentrate their efforts on social media marketing.

    Focusing your attention on one channel could bring success in terms of gaining some very targeted traffic, but with regard to ranking, it could actually hurt you, especially since the Panda and Penguin rollouts.

    Again, diversity should be used not only in keywords and keyphrases, but also to drive traffic to your site. Apart from SEO, the smart way to drive traffic to your site will involve use of the following tactics:

    • Article marketing
    • Social media pages for your business
    • Guest posting
    • Social bookmarking
    • Forum posting and blog comments
    • Press release

     

    By diversifying your traffic sources, you will create a natural way for your audience to find your business at different online locations — a signal that will get you favorable rankings in search.

    3. Failing to take advantage of internal linking
    Even worse is not doing any internal linking at all. Internal linking not only improves the users’ experience; it’s also good for onsite SEO.

    With strategic and meaningful internal linking, you will make it easy for your users to find their way around your site and locate the information they want. Your users will also have more good reasons to linger on your site as they consume more information related to what they are looking for.

    Proper internal linking also enables search engine spiders to determine which content is related to other content.

    Proper internal linking can be executed by including the following:

    • Standard navigation above the fold — more specifically, above the content
    • Category section on sidebar
    • Related posts on sidebar or below each post
    • Links within each post that point users/readers to related content
    • Sitemap

     

    4. Publishing content with very little value
    In Google Panda-speak, this is known as “thin” content. Panda rolled out to hammer sites that carry duplicate information and that promote content which offers very little value or information to users. Such sites are often stuffed with keywords and overly promotional.

    To avoid getting smacked by the Panda’s giant paw, think critically about the value your users are likely to get from your content: Is it unique? Will it help them solve their most pressing concerns? Will the content fulfill its promise?

    Conclusion
    Are we seeing the beginning of the end of SEO manipulation? Let’s hope so.

    As Google shoves spammers way down its search results, the hope is that Google’s first few pages will feature nothing but extremely valuable and useful information that really meets users’ expectations. And as a site owner and online entrepreneur, you can depend on Google Panda and Penguin to improve your standards as you strive to deliver what your audience is looking for.

    For more information on properly optimizing your site, contact us and we’ll show you your options to make your site Google compliant.

     

  9. Google Penguin Update 3 Unleashed

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    We are seeing drastic changes in how search engines deliver information. Google in particular is striving to deliver not just the most relevant information, but the most useful and high-quality content.

    Google has released a series of algorithmic updates aimed at placing sites that promote high-quality content ahead of the pack in search results. The most notable of these updates are Google Panda and Google Penguin.

    On October 5, 2012, Google unleashed the latest version of its anti-webspam algorithm called Penguin. Widely known as Penguin 3 and announced by Matt Cutts via Twitter, it announced a refresh that affects sites in several languages:

    “Weather report: Penguin data refresh coming today. 0.3% of English queries noticeably affected. Details: http://t.co/Esbi2ilX.”

    0.3% may sound like a tiny figure, but it’s a significant signal that should put everyone on alert that the Penguin update is here to stay, and it’s hell-bent on providing search results that are more relevant and more useful.

    A brief timeline of Google Penguin updates

    Among Google’s algorithmic updates, perhaps none was more striking than Google Penguin. Below is a brief timeline of the Penguin update:

    • April 24, 2012 – The first Google Penguin was released. Almost instantly, many sites saw an incredible drop in rankings.
    • May 26, 2012 – Penguin 1.1 was released, affecting less than 0.1% of English sites.
    • October 5, 2012 – Penguin 3 was announced and released, with about 0.3% of English sites affected by the latest refresh.

     
    How does Penguin 3 fit into the series of Penguin updates?

    Penguin is all about ridding the SERPs of spammy websites. If they were overly optimized with low-quality content and links, sites were heavily penalized by the first two versions of Google Penguin.

    Penguin 3 has had the same effect on search queries as Penguins 1 and 2, but Cutts was explicit this time about the effect of the latest refresh.

    In his tweets, Cutts revealed the size of Penguin 3’s impact on queries in English and several other languages. Below are some of the data on how much Penguin 3 affected searches in various languages:

    • English – 0.3%
    • Spanish – 0.4%
    • Italian – 0.3%
    • French – 0.4%

     
    What’s noticeably different?

    SEOs and webmasters are probably wondering what’s different in the SERPs as a result of Penguin 3’s release.

    With the release, Matt Cutts gave us a clear idea of where we should look for the results of the latest algorithmic refresh: the changes will be “above the fold.”

    This means that while the previous two Penguin updates affected the entire first page of the SERPs, Penguin 3 made observable changes within the top 5 search results.

    Should you be worried?

    If your site has not been severely affected by the previous two Penguin releases, you shouldn’t have any worries. You have probably been doing SEO right as far as Google’s recent updates are concerned.

    If you’ve been hit by the previous releases but you made changes to your link-building activities in accordance with current SEO best practices, you should be fine.

    Just remember that the key to surviving any update Google throws at you is to make sure your site promotes high-quality, relevant, and extremely useful content; maintains natural link-building practices; and keeps informed of all timely developments in the Search Engine Optimization industry.

    In other words, stay on top of things!

    Conclusion

    I hope this post has provided you with useful information on the Google Penguin 3 update. If you need help making sure your site stays compliant with current SEO standards, contact us. We would love to chat with you about how we can help.

  10. The Penguin Rises Again

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    From the depths of Google’s secret society, the Penguin has just risen yet again. When the Penguin was originally released, Google told us that it was not a one-time thing. They told us that it would evolve into being part of their ongoing algorithm and would refresh now and then.

    What is the Penguin Update?

    You probably already know all about the zoo Google has been growing… pandas, penguins and more. But just to make sure we don’t leave anyone behind, the Penguin update originally came about back in April. Matt Cutts first presented it as an update that would penalize ‘over optimization’. This was confusing to a lot of people.

    Later he clarified and said that was a bad way to describe it. The Penguin update was meant to penalize sites that use webspam and “blackhat” SEO to manipulate search results. When it hit, the internet buzzed with confused site owners. They were ticked off and didn’t know what to do.

    Since this was an algorithm change and not something where Google was manually reviewing sites, site owners were not given the opportunity to submit reconsideration requests. Instead, if they felt their site had been wrongly penalized they could either talk about it in the Google webmaster forum or use this form.

    What’s worse is that no one really knew for sure what the ‘guidelines’ were. No one knew for sure just what it was about their site they should be concerned about. Then, because this was an algorithm change that would be refreshed (at some point, but no one knew when) you couldn’t make changes on your site and immediately see how they affected your rankings in order to make Google happy.

    Instead, you were forced to pretty much guess; make changes and hope for the best when the refresh came around, eventually, which we see now came about six months after the original Penguin. That’s a long time to wait for recovery for a small business.

    The New Penguin Refresh

    The Penguin refresh has hit and now site owners have a little better idea of what the Penguin wants to see on a site. Apparently, it could be both on-site and off-site factors.

    Some people claim that they’ve done nothing about existing backlinks, but instead focused on the site itself. They’ve had some success.

    On the other hand, Marie Haynes still believes it’s pretty much the backlinks that are solely to blame for a small business website she has been talking to. She talks about it here. This site had tons of bad backlinks that a ‘SEO company’ had convinced him he needed and she believes the only solution for him is to start fresh with a new site (which has been mentioned by many people for the best way to recover from Penguin). That’s very sad and frustrating if it proves to be true.

    Speaking of Bad Backlinks…

    What about negative SEO? What if he hadn’t hired the SEO company to build all those links, but a competitor did it to tank his site? (Referring to Marie’s post)

    This is the main reason that Google is considering disavowing backlinks within Google Webmaster Tools. Bing already offers the ability to do so. However, there are potential downsides and ways even that could be manipulated as discussed here.

    If there was a way to remove the downsides, would it really still be viable? Google already devalues a good chunk of bad backlinks. So if you run out to have these bad backlinks removed, it may not even make any difference if they’ve already been discounted, right? There are a few reports of removing bad backlinks and seeing a recovery from Penguin, but there are far more saying there’s been no change regardless of the links they’ve removed.

    Mass Confusion & Conclusion

    While all the what if’s for the Penguin update and refreshes can be confusing, there’s even more. Many site owners are in a state of absolute hysteria. Within one week, we’ve seen a Penguin refresh, Panda update and the EMD update… so the very first step to recovery is figuring out just what you got hit with. Was it one of these updates or was it a site-specific penalty? If one of the mass updates, which one and why?

    If you’ve suffered from a drop in search rankings, we can help. Contact us and we’ll get you on the path to recovery.

    Photo via Cnystrom @ Flickr

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