It’s funny to talk about a single Google algorithm update that happened a year ago when the company updates its core algorithm almost every single day. Many updates go through without searchers or SEOs ever knowing about them, while others make more of an impact. Penguin was one of those that caused a lot of change. Mainly, it was those who were doing things they weren’t supposed to be doing who were affected by the change; just like Google intended. In fact, it’s sometimes comical to see SEO providers get so worked up about updates and what they should do to prepare for them, when, in reality, they should be rejoicing and embracing the changes. They should be thinking, “I don’t really have to change a thing.” If you find yourself in the camp that lost presence in SERPs because of an algorithm change, perhaps you will find this post useful. We will explore what it was that happened when the Penguin update was deployed, and what you should be doing differently now.
What was the Google Penguin Update?
Disclaimer: If you are already familiar with what Penguin and Google Updates are, you can skip to the next section of this post.
Google is known for its quirky nature as a company, and being a search and software company, they are constantly updating their services. As such, teams of people are assigned to working on parts of the company’s core algorithm, and the changes are typically assigned internal names. Penguin was an algorithm update that was rolled out on April 24, 2012, and it was designed to combat web spam more adequately. Specifically, it was aimed at weeding out sites that were engaged in lots of keyword stuffing or link schemes. One of the notable parts of this change was that it was supposed to penalize websites for violating quality guidelines that had already been established by Google some time ago, but that were not really being enforced. The change affected about 12% of queries on Google’s search platform across the board.
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) April 24, 2012
So, if you were a website owner who didn’t pay much attention to SEO and just focused on making a good website, you may have noticed a bump in traffic. If you did pay attention to SEO and practiced “white hat” tactics, you were probably rejoicing. If you were part of the “black hat” crowd, you were probably scrambling to come up with new ways to rank your site in advance of the release. Not everyone, however, belongs to one of these groups, and there were undoubtedly some webmasters out there going about their business, trying to make websites who may have inadvertently lost rankings for one reason or another. Maybe they didn’t realize what they were doing was about to be targeted, or maybe their sites were configured in a way that appeared to fit the bill of a site the algorithm was targeting. Whatever the case may be, it’s been a while now since the update came out, and if you can’t seem to get your rankings back after the change, we have some tips to help you.
What you can do now After the Penguin Update
Write your own stuff or have someone write it for you
This is perhaps the single best thing you can do for yourself. Whether you are uploading text online on a regular basis for a blog or simply updating web pages every so often, content must be written by a person and not a program. There are lots of article spinning programs out there that generate halfway readable content pretty quickly, but even the best ones are lacking.
Here are some things to avoid:
- Content produced by automated software and published without reviewing and/or critiquing it for correct grammar and spelling.
- Automated content generation from scraping websites, RSS feeds, search results or other content from around the web.
- Simply copying and pasting snippets from web pages on the Internet into a new order without adding any real additional value.
- Having many pages of a website that simply deliver content fed from other websites such as news articles or other content feeds with no other static content on pages.
Your best bet is to not do any of these things even a little bit. Writing your own content is difficult and time consuming, but if you plan to make money online or build any kind of credible presence, you must do it the right way. Paying someone to write your content is an excellent alternative to doing it yourself. Not everyone has what it takes to come up with content on a regular basis, but there are tons of people out there looking to write content professionally for other web masters. Hiring a copy writer is a perfectly acceptable alternative to doing it yourself. Many webmasters negatively impacted by the Penguin update enjoyed good rankings for a while before one change caused a significant setback in their activities online.
Don’t Game Search with Links
Technically, Google doesn’t want anyone building links manually at all, but let’s face it — the secret is out and everyone does it. That doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t follow the same model in link building that Google expects to happen naturally if no one were doing it manually. In the ideal model, people would still build links, but they would do it with no knowledge that it was improving a website’s ranking in search. With that element out of the equation, it is thought that their only motivation for building a link is because the content they are linking to is somehow valuable to their audience. Otherwise, why would they essentially be telling visitors to go to another site? Web masters can still build value with links if they qualify both the links they are creating and the ones they acquire coming into their website. Here are some things to avoid when it comes to links:
- Don’t get involved with link schemes: This means don’t buy links from other websites claiming that they can help you improve your rankings, don’t exchange links for the sole purpose of exchanging links, don’t accept links from websites you know are spammy or of low quality and don’t use automated services to build links.
- Don’t make your only mission to build as many inbound links to your website as possible. Have another primary goal in mind and have link building be the secondary goal. Your focus should be on helping users with the links that you build and less on only helping your website.
- Avoid optimized links in forum or blog posts or in forum signatures. This means links that are created using specific anchor text and that are designed to manipulate pagerank. Sending out automated bots to post these for you is also frowned upon.
- As tempting as it may be, don’t create optimized links on article submission or book marking sites.
So, all of that may be good advice for those starting on new websites; however, what if you are trying to bring back one that has been hit by this update? The answer is pretty simple: undo all of the things that caused you to get penalized and redo them the right way. If you have spun content or similar on your site, take it down and rewrite it. If you have been building bad links or engaged in other spammy link building activities, this is more difficult to undo.
Removing bad links
Use a tool like Google webmaster tools or one of the numerous SEO tools on the market to gather as many of the bad links to your site as you can find. You can also use the link:operator in Google search to find spammy links. Then, reach out to the websites where bad links are present and ask site owners to remove them. You can get a fair number removed in this way; however, you won’t get all of them. For this, Google offers the “disavow links” tool.
Using the Disavow links tool
Keep in mind that Google wants you to do everything in your power to take down bad links before submitting a disavow links request to them. Once you feel you have done that, create a text file with all of the links that you want Google to disavow, and upload it using the tool.
You must also submit a reconsideration request. Include in the request all evidence of how you are working hard to remove the bad links to your site. It is important to be honest here and provide as much detail as possible. If you were affected by a third party who was building bad links for you, try to get a statement from them. Provide emails, dates and other correspondence that show you are trying to fix the issue. Any evidence — no matter how insignificant — should be provided. If you simply submit the text file with an email that says, “please just ignore these links,” your request will be denied.
I realize there are a lot of businesses out there buying SEO services, so they aren’t always working with their website first-hand. Even experienced SEOs outsource work on their own websites. You must be absolutely sure that your providers are performing work in line with Google’s quality guidelines. There are stories on the web of business owners who outsourced SEO work to credible agencies who, in turn, outsourced other work to providers who were not so credible. Whether you are working with an SEO provider or searching for one, keep in mind that not everyone cares about your website and your business the way that you do. If you hired a contractor to build a house for you, chances are you would be on the site very regularly making sure they were doing things right. You should be doing the same for your website when you outsource SEO work.
What steps are you taking to bring a site back from being penalized by the Penguin update? Did you have a bad experience with a third-party company that was building links or making content for you?