Experts Blog

Special Report! Google’s Penguin Update *Rocks* the Results

By Casey Markee on May 07, 2012 - 10:43 AM

Google has finally rolled out their over-optimization/webspam algorithm update that they officially named the Penguin Update after Webmasters were up in arms at being labeled "spammers" hit by a "webspam update". After the Panda Update we're really starting to wonder what their attachment to animals is over at the Google Plex.

penguin2.jpgDoes naming these updates that are destroying people's rankings (sometimes on pure accident) after an animal make it more okay?

Clever bloggers and webmasters alike are already expressing their dislike of the update by representing it with dark images of the well known villain 'The Penguin' we all know and love from the classic Batman comics.

On a more serious note, when it was officially announced on April 24th, Google stated that the update would be rolled out "in the next few days". Like Panda, this was predominantly a quality content update. The goal of this update was to REWARD higher-quality sites and PUNISH pages that were spamming (in their opinion) Google. Sites that were affected were guilty of some or all (or none) of the following:

  • "spun content",
  • low-quality content,
  • thin affiliate content,
  • questionable linking practices,
  • cross-domain link schemes,
  • keyword stuffing,
  • excessive on-page optimization,
  • or just "being evil."

Google also announced that the Penguin update will be rolled out in all languages simultaneously, and it will affect an estimated 3.1% of queries in English search. To compare, the Panda update affected around 12%. However, remember that Google was eager to tell us that Panda would only affect around 3% when rolled out initially and look at how that turned out.

Like Panda, Penguin is an Algorithmic Update. Reconsideration requests won't work. You must remove the SPAM, clean-up your site and then wait for a "data refresh" and a recrawl which could be weeks.

Next, make sure you realize that Penguin is like the Big Brother to Panda. Penguin is after VERY noticeable WebSpam AND sites that were engaging in manipulative linking schemes to game their rankings. So the standard is higher. Panda on the other hand targets "low-quality content" so if you weren't affected by Penguin, that doesn't mean you won't suffer under a future Panda Update (Panda 3.5 was run by Google on 4/19 very close to Penguin, customers could have been affected by either).

Google's advice is the same it's always been - create higher quality pages and focus on an enjoyable user experience instead of aggressive webspam tactics.

However, if you feel that your site was caught in the filter innocently (and it does happen), Google has a form you can fill-out. It's also a smart move to check your Google Webmaster Tools account (for any messages). This is something you may want to continue to do because the general consensus so far is that NO messages on this were sent. It was also suggested you use the Google Webmaster Help Forum to inquire about your site. However, since you are usually required to post your URL, this is a double edged sword. You may want to either pass on this advice OR use a shortener to "disguise" your URL before submitting and asking for blunt feedback.

Generally, this update DID NOT affect big brands AND actually increased their traffic/rankings. These sites uniformly share the following: high name recognition, a "stickiness" factor that results in longer average visits and lower bounce rates, general high quality content, tons of social signals, a naturally built inbound linking profile.

Here's Some General Advice If You were Hit:

  • Conduct an on-site audit: is your content high-quality, does it serve a purpose, is it unique?
  • Conduct a backlink site audit: is your link profile natural, does it contain a ton of exact match anchor text links, affiliate links, or cross-links from sites you control?
  • Review your site with Google Analytics to benchmark specific pages/keywords and their traffic, both now and one month ago.
  • Put up higher-quality content and then promote that content socially to generate on-page social signals.
  • Review your current bounce rate (higher than 40%, lower it), average site visits (3+ minutes is good), and your site speed (do you load fully in less than 3 seconds?).
  • Review your social presence? Are you generating both on-page and off-page social signals, shares and community interactions with your customers/fans? If not, why not?

Not affected yet, things that WILL trigger a hit:

  • Review your on-page optimization, use a plug-in like SEOQuake and compare it to the sites ranking above you in Google, adjust accordingly.
  • Look at your ratio of exact match keyword backlinks, especially footers, sitewides and blogrolls, decrease it.
  • If you have SPUN or gibberish content on your site, REMOVE IT.
  • If you've been using SPUN or gibberish content via article marketing or blog posts, STOP DOING IT.
  • If you are linking to affiliate or "thin-content sites" especially ones you control, remove those links.
  • The power of exact match domains, which we have told people was coming (back in this April, 2011 article), has been downgraded by Penguin, adjust accordingly.
  • If your bounce rate is NORTH of 50% and your average site visit is less than 2:00 min, you need to increase these!

Finally, if you've lost your rankings and you're looking for some professional SEO help remember that we're here for you. You always have the option to schedule a Full SEO Consultation & Site Review with us through your SEO Services tab. We can easily run the site audit for you and give you a complete checklist of potential issues so that you can have something to work from when battling these updates.

Regardless of what actions you decide to take the most important thing we can stress is that you do NOT wait to do something. The sites that are hit the worst overall are the ones that wait months to correct issues. Don't make that same mistake. And before you ask...signing the petition does not count as taking action in the sense that we mean.