Google Labels Penguin Update a Success & How to Recover If You’ve Been Hit

Google’s Penguin Update has been a hot topic in the SEO world for around three weeks now. With widespread reports of ranking penalties and false positives, Google’s Matt Cutts has chimed in on the debate labelling the Penguin Update a success.

“It’s been a success from our standpoint”, Cutts said.

When asked about the issues of false positives (people who feel they’ve been unfairly hit by Penguin when they weren’t doing any spam) Matt went on to clarify,

“We’ve seen a few cases where we might want to investigate more, but this change hasn’t had the same impact as Panda or Florida,”

“No algorithm is perfect. While we’d like to achieve perfection, our litmus test is, ‘Do things get better than before?’”

Matt also went on to clarify that penguin was designed to be quite precise, only acting against pages where there was a high confidence of spam being involved.

So what should you do if you were hit?

Google have said that those hit by the penguin update will need to make changes to their website or link profile in order to recover.

As we’ve mentioned before, bad linking practises seem to be a major cause of this penalty. Some of the things to look out for include,

  1. Paid text links using exact match anchor text: For companies that want to rank for a certain term (such as “red widgets”) one way to accomplish this is by buying links from other websites with that exact matching anchor text. This is against Google’s guidelines, as Google would consider this a paid link that exists solely to manipulate PageRank, rather than to provide any value to visitors.
  2. Comment spam: Two things proved problematic for websites trying to unnaturally rank for specific keywords: signatures in comments that contained exact match anchor text; and people who used a spammy user name (e.g., Best India SEO Company) as exact match text.
  3. Guest posts on questionable sites: Although guest posts are a legitimate way to earn links to your site, sites dinged by the Penguin had links pointing to their website from sites filled with low-quality articles where the focus was on the anchor text rather than the content.
  4. Article marketing sites: Thin content featuring links with exact match anchor text were another common factor among affected sites.
  5. Links from dangerous sites: Do you have inbound links from sites that have been flagged for malware, numerous pop-ups, or other spammy issues? This was another factor that caused websites to lose their Google rankings, so links to and from web spammers or “bad neighborhoods” are a danger.

If you’re looking to clean up your link profile one technique you can try is called link pruning. This basically involves identifying poor incoming links to your website and taking steps to remove them.

Here is a basic outline of the steps to take,

  1. Identify: You need to gather a comprehensive backlink profile for the site in question. There are several tools available that would accomplish this, including Google Webmaster Tools Backlinks Report, Majestic SEO Site Explorer and SEOmoz Open Site Explorer.
  2. Investigate: Go down the list of backlinks to find the rotten ones. It’s a time intensive step that requires you navigate to each link to evaluate its quality. After a while you may start to get a sense of what’s bad by the URL of the linking page alone. If you opt for using Majestic SEO, you have the benefit of their proprietary ACRank, a quality score that you can use to judge link value.
  3. Send Requests: Create a template email requesting link removal that you’ll send to the webmasters in charge of the links identified as low quality. The template should candidly explain that you are an SEO or site owner trying to recover from a Google penalty and would he or she please remove the following links. List the URLs where the links can be found, the URL on your site they point to, the anchor text ─ all the info needed to easily find the link you’re requesting removed. To send the request, you may find contact info on the site, you may need to do a whois search, and you may need to do some sleuthing to get names and email addresses.
  4. Follow Up and Repeat: Expect to receive four types of responses to your requests:● Remove link and tell you.
    ● Remove link and not tell you.
    ● Not reply or do anything.
    ● Will remove the link if you pay them. 

    In the case of the first, verify by going to the page where the link was and if the link was removed, check it off the list. If you haven’t gotten any response back from a contact in 2 weeks, check to see if the link has been removed. It may or may not. If it’s been removed, cross it off the list. If it hasn’t been removed, send a follow-up request.The process of link pruning requires multiple cycles. Each successive cycle will see more links removed. If you run across a webmaster requesting payment for link removal, let’s just say there’s a search engine who will be very interested to hear about this.

  5. Communicate with Google: Throughout this process you must keep detailed records of your actions. A spreadsheet with columns for the linking URL, the contact name, the contact email, the date a request was sent, and responses or actions taken by the linking site. In the end you will not be able to extract all dubious links from the site but you will want to be able to show you’ve done everything in your power to extract manipulative links from your backlink profile.

Have you been impacted by Penguin? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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By Matthew Elshaw

Matt is a marketing professional at ineedhits.com, an international search marketing firm. Matt's passion for online marketing began at university and has proved invaluable in steering product development and marketing initiatives at the company. Matt is a regular contributor to the ineedhits search marketing blog.