Now that Google Penguin has had some time to sink in, we have an opportunity to reflect on what exactly Penguin changed, the aftermath of Penguin, and (most importantly), what steps should be taken to recover from a Penguin penalty.
As I previously wrote, Penguin targeted inbound link profiles. While Panda 3.3 and 3.4 devalued certain elements of anchor text (most notably, exact-match anchor text), Penguin actually slapped a penalty on it. With access to client data as well as dozens of folks who’ve reached out and asked for link profile audits, I’ve seen some specific trends that are undeniable. In this post, I’ll discuss the trends that I see in every Penguin-affected link profile, while pointing out supporting evidence from other SEO gurus and webmasters that have noted similar trends. My goal is to definitively outline what Google Penguin changed, and what you (SEOs and webmasters) should do about it.
Fact #1: Reconsideration Requests Won’t Help You
Penguin is an algorithmic penalty, and Matt Cutts has stated that reconsideration requests won’t help you for algorithmic penalties. Matt Cutts explains the difference between algorithm and manual penalties in the video below. At right around the 2:00 mark, Matt Cutts explains that reconsideration requests won’t do you any good if you have an algorithmic penalty.
However, Google says this is an algorithmic change — IE, it’s a penalty that’s applied automatically, rather than a human at Google spotting some spam and applying what’s called a manual penality. Because of that, Google said that reconsideration requests won’t help with Penguin.
Fact #2: Your Inbound Link Profile is Probably What’s Hurting You
Assuming you’re not engaging in some obviously shady onsite keyword stuffing, your inbound link profile is what caused your rankings to drop if your site took a dive on or around April 24th. Multiple sources have backed this up, including Search Engine Watch in this article:
The Penguin algo seems to be looking at three major factors:
If the majority of a website’s backlinks are low quality or spammy looking (e.g., sponsored links, links in the footers, links from directories, links from link exchange pages, links from low quality blog networks).
If majority of a website’s backlinks are from unrelated websites.
If too many links are pointing back to a website with exact match keywords in the anchor texts
Google changed the way its algorithm calculates value based on inbound links. With the rollout of Panda 3.3, anchor text was severely devalued. Penguin actually added a penalty for over-optimized inbound anchor text. Google did this to make it harder for SEOs to get their clients ranked well in the search engines, in the hopes that those clients would turn to Google Adwords instead.
Fact #3: Removing Bad Links Will Help
Since Penguin is an algorithmic penalty, and the spam flag in the algorithm is related to an unnatural link profile, then it makes sense to remove the links that could be causing this algorithmic flag. In the video above, at the 0:46 mark, Matt Cutts says:
“So, if your site is affected by an algorithm, for the most part, if you change your site, whatever the characteristics are that’s flagging, triggering, or causing us to think you might have keyword stuffing, or whatever, if you change your site, then after we’ve re-crawled and re-indexed the page, and some period after that when we’ve re-processed that in our algorithms, for the most part your site should be able to pop back up or increase in its rankings.
So, I think it’s safe to assume that removing bad links will help.
Note: At AudienceBloom, we offer inbound link profile audits. We can comb through your inbound link profile, diagnose why your website fell in the rankings, suggest specific links to remove, and outline a plan of action moving forward. Call or Contact Us for a quote!
Fact #4: Diluting Your Inbound Link Profile with New Links Will Help
There are multiple case studies that have been published (and I have verified them with my own clients’ data) that conclude that the primary problem plaguing sites affected by Penguin is over-optimized anchor text for their primary target keywords. One of the most popular studies published was the one from MicroSite Masters here, stating:
What anchor text should you be using? From the data we’ve evaluated, “MySiteDomain.com”, “MySiteDomain”, “http://mysitedomain.com”, “http://www.mysitedomain.com”, “The Title of My Website”, “here”, and “the title of one of my H1′s (that isn’t a keyword I’m trying to rank for)”, were generally used as anchors on sites that were not affected by the most recent Google update and are probably a good starting point to consider using moving forward.
If you’ve read my other blogs, you’ll see that on March 9th (nearly 2 months before the MicroSite Masters case study) I publushed this article stating:
Another element of a natural-looking link profile is what’s called “junk” anchor text, LSI anchor text, and naked URLs. These are anchors that say “click here”, “here”, “Website”, “yoururl.com”, “www.yoururl.com”, etc.
[Anchor text] is probably the biggest post Panda/Penguin disqualifier as in most sites we will have researched did not diversify their link anchor density and were hit hard this go around with the “exact match” dial down. As we go up to Case Study #2 we find that our affected sites have VERY LITTLE brand incoming links.
Jonathan Leger published a case study concluding that exact-match anchor text for sites that are ranking well post-Penguin is about 10% on average:
It probably won’t come as much of a surprise for me to tell you that the average EMA for a site is pretty low — just 10% across all of the markets.
Also, if you’re not using EMDs, it’s important to diversify your anchor text a lot. How much is “a lot” really depends on your market. So do the research. Check out the link profiles of other ranking sites in your market and see what their anchor text looks like.
TopMarketingStrategies.com published a lengthy observation packed with valuable insight as well:
Another option is that you can simply try to “dilute” the anchor text optimization by adding more links to that page with very diverse anchor text. This is the more likely option for most and it is what most are doing because it’s easier and cheaper (most of the time).
UniqueArticleWizard.com published an article with their observations and tips for recovering from Penguin in this article:
One of the most notable updates in Penguin was an “Over Optimization” algorithm. This update specifically targeted Keyword Anchor Text as it relates to the underlying link.
What are some things that can help you recover from Penguin?
1) Get new additional links with generic anchor text for your site
2) Build no more than 50% of your backlinks with targeted anchor text
Neil Patel wrote a great article explaining his findings over at QuickSprout:
One of the unnatural link building signals that Panda 3.4 aims at is too many exact anchor text links. Standard practice used to be you’d aim for about 30% to 50% matches…now that numbers dropped drastically. So test the waters out and start with 5% or so and increase slowly.
If you think that you were hit by Penguin, I recommend building a few links to your site with diversified anchor text. Stay away from exact match anchor text.
On June 21st, ArticleRanks sent out an email to its list with Penguin recovery advice:
Start diversifying your anchors to the point that you are totally diluting the anchors you already have in place, then on future penguin refreshes the filter will be lifted from your site. We have already recovered a couple of sites like this.
Time for a shameless plug! At AudienceBloom, we offer SEO link building packages aimed at diluting your inbound link profile. If you’re suffering from a post-Panda 3.3 or Penguin penalty, we can help!
Fact #5: Take Action, Have Patience, and Everything Will be Just Fine
SEO is a rapidly changing industry. Since its inception, SEOs have been doing their best to analyze and adapt to search engine algorithms. When a major update like Penguin comes along and tanks your website’s traffic, the urge to give up may be strong; it may feel like you’ve just lost everything you’ve worked for. But in reality, it’s not about how many times you get knocked down. It’s about how many times you get back up.
But it’s not just about getting back up and holding your ground. Without taking action, your website won’t see any recovery, as we learned from Matt Cutts’ video above.
So, what can you do right now to take action and recover from Google Penguin?
Timothy Carter is the CRO for AudienceBloom. Since 1997 he's been helping businesses maximize their sales revenue from websites via content marketing, SEO and Internet Marketing strategies.
Over the years he's written for publications like Marketing Land, Search Engine Journal, MarketingProfs and other highly respected online publications.