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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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Veronica has been writing online since 2007. She enjoys helping clients with copywriting and content needs, as well helping with SEO campaigns. Her experience ranges from helping small websites succeed with SEO and internet marketing campaigns to writing for Planet Green (Discovery Channel).

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