The past few weeks have been painful for many hundreds of thousands of site owners following the Google Penguin Update, unnatural link warnings, a parked domain bug, and a host of other Google updates. Businesses have folded and lives have been changed irrevocably – and all because of the immense power Google’s algorithm wields.
Penguin Recovery: Possible for Sure!
Ross Hudgens wrote up an excellent case study for the SEOMoz blog on WPMU.org and their successful Penguin recovery strategy. He cites the most influential factor in its recovery as the removal of a large number of footer links, saying WPMU.org “instantly shut off almost 15,000 ‘iffy’ sitewide, footer LRDs to their profile, dramatically improving their anchor text ratios, sitewide link volume, and more.”
Microsite Masters examined historical data for thousands of websites to investigate whether sites that saw their rankings drop after Penguin were also guilty of having an unbalanced percentage of anchor text for “optimization” or “money” keywords (i.e., whatever term you’re trying to rank No. 1 for) as opposed to more natural-looking mix of linking anchor text (e.g., Your Website’s Title, example.com, www.example.com, “click here”, “here”, “blog post”, etc.).
The results are quite interesting. Websites that saw their search rankings tumble had a money keyword for anchor text in 65 percent or more of their inbound links, according to Microsite Masters (not that this percentage was a guarantee of being hit by Penguin):
What Exactly Happened?
An analysis of a number of sites that have been affected in a big way by Google Penguin offers some helpful insights. The Penguin also 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 the 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
The analysis also discovered:
- Majority of links were unrelated due to a high number of directory type links. The unrelated links were as high as 90 percent. By unrelated, I mean the subject of the sites linking to the impacted sites didn’t have similar/related content or were too general.
- Those that had sponsored links had some consecutive sponsored links (i.e., a bunch of links with no text descriptions in between)
- Those that had sponsored links had some footer links (i.e., the links coming from external sites to them were placed towards the bottom of the page; it could also be on the right panel, but if you view the source code, the links would be in the bottom 5 percent of the text content)
What can you do?
- If you have links from too many unrelated sites, such as directories, either remove some or try to get more links from related sites. You should have links from related websites at the minimum at 20 percent of your overall links.
- If you have too many keyword links coming in, then vary your keywords and mix your brand name and URL in the links. Have at least 20 percent of your keyword links be non-keyword or brand-based.
- If you are doing sponsored links, be careful! Cancel or remove any links you have from footers. Remove any sponsored links that don’t include a text description next to it. Contextual links are much better, meaning it’s better to have links from within text content of a website.
- Make the above changes a few at a time and wait a few days to see if rankings come back, before proceeding. However, Penguin will only run periodically like Panda, so it could be weeks before any affected websites recover their rankings.
- Break out your SEO shears and cut out any low-quality links, most importantly those coming from sites that have been penalized by Google, have low PR and low-quality links pointing to them. This will involve using tools like Google Webmaster Tool or Open Site Explorer to analyze your incoming links and identify the bad seeds.
- Analyze link type distribution. Is it found in a relevant area of an article, the comments, sponsored listing, a directory listing?
- Ensure that anchor text distribution is natural. Too many links with targeted anchor text will result in a loss in value in the search engine’s eyes.
- Diversify your anchor text and include a branded keyword. Be transparent about who you are.
- Be selective with directory listings and choose ones with a good reputation.
- Avoid link networks, Penguin will penalize you for having a suspicious number of sites interlinking with optimized anchor text.
- Focus on users. This is probably the most important tip. Create content that’s updated, useful, and relevant. People, not just machines, have to get something out of it.