05 Jun 2012

How To Get Back on Track After the Penguin Update

Was your site hit by the recent Penguin update? If so, how do you get back on track to regain your rankings?If you noticed a significant drop in your website traffic on or after April 24, your site could be a victim of the Penguin update. If you lost traffic prior to this date, chances are you were victim to the Panda update. Some websites totally disappeared from the rankings while others suffered significant rankings and traffic drops from Penguin. First let’s look at what the Penguin update is about and then take a look at what you can do to recover.

The Penguin Update

This update is an algorithmic update focusing on sites that are spamming Google for ranking purposes. Specifically, the update looks at unnatural links pointing to a site. These links fall into a number of categories detailed below.

Site-Wide Links

If you paid for links on blog rolls and in sidebars, they are affecting your current rankings. These links fall outside the Google terms of service (TOS). Chances are, they are exact match for your money terms and a preponderance of exact match anchor text link could also be a cause of your rankings drop.

Low Quality Sites

Links from low quality sites pointing to you will affect your rankings. The good news is most of those sites are gone now as Google has de-indexed many spun content, very low quality sites and blog network sites with their recent ‘blogpocalypse’. The problem you may be currently having with your rankings is that the link juice that was passing to your site is now gone. Less link juice = lower rankings.

Guest Posts on Questionable Sites

Some sites have been effected from writing guest blog posts for anchor text rather than for valuable content. This is still a legitimate way to earn link juice, just make sure you are creating quality, link worthy content and not spun articles designed for linking building purposed.

Article Marketing

Again using thin content stuffed with links around exact match anchor text is another common problem with sites that were affected.

Links From Sites with Malware

You could have issues if your site has links pointing to it from sites that contain malware, pop-up or other spammy issues. The image below shows a site that had links from low ranking, spun content and network sites.  Is this what happened to you?

Penguin Update - Sites that got hit the hardest

Your Plan of Attack

Check Analytics

A good place to start your recovery is by looking at your website analytics. Run a traffic report and look to see any drops in traffic that correlate to the various updates. If you see significant drops in traffic on April 24, you know you’ve been impacted.

Analytics showing Penguin traffic drop

The image above shows a site that was hit by Penguin. Notice a 50% drop in traffic on the day Penquin rolled out, April 24. (Click the image for a full-size image.)

Penguin ranking dropYou can use tools like SEMRush to give you an indication of the severity of the rankings drops. SEMRush will give you a current ranking number along with a previous ranking. If you’ve only dropped a position or two, it won’t take much to get your site back on track. If you’ve dropped 100+ positions, it’s going to be a tough road back.

The grid to the side shows an example of keywords that were affected on a site. You can see some “red.” This indicates a rankings drop. The good news is some rankings were not negatively affected and some actually gained position. Look at the ‘green’ listings, they’ve actually improved. If your site rankings look like this, there is a very good chance you can regain your previous rankings.

Webmaster Tools

Also check to see if you have any messages in your Webmaster tools. You may have received the dreaded email from Google.

Dear site owner or webmaster of ,

We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links on your site pointing to other sites that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include selling links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.

We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results.

If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.

Google Search Quality Team

In the past, webmasters that spammed Google were told to file a reconsideration request. However, with the Penguin update, Google’s specifically said that a reconsideration request won’t help. They recover naturally, once you clean up the spammy links.

Backlink Portfolio

Take a look at your backlink portfolio. A backlink audit digs into the details about sites that are pointing to you. This is a very good place to find actionable information. These are items you need to look at:

Over-Optimized Anchor Text

Penguin will penalize you for over optimized anchor text. For example, in the example above showing a drop in rankings, the keyword ‘arizona tourism’ makes up 53% of the anchor text pointing to the site. This keyword phrase dropped 9 points. One way to combat the effect of Penguin is to diversify the anchor text pointing to your site.  Use variations of your money phrases and you may also consider a keyword sandwich. Put bumper words pre and post on your keyword phrase. For example with this example you could use:

  • Arizona tourism and travel
  • Arizona tourist information
  • Arizona travel and tourism
  • Arizona vacation ideas
  • Arizona hotels and travel information

These all contain the word Arizona but diversify the “head” term. Contact the webmasters and have them either take down your link or change it to a more diversified version. There are even indications that Google is targeting broad match keywords as well. Jonah Stein, in a recent posted said this: “Evidence suggests that at the same time Google announced a crackdown on over-optimization, they also turned up the sensitivity on the over-optimized anchor text filter and changed to broad match.” So, Penguin is looking for over-optimized anchor text off-site but they are also looking for the same on-site factors.

On-Site Issues

This would be a good time to clean up any on site issues you have. For example:

  • Clean up spammy link grids and overuse of keyword phrases on your site. Make sure you aren’t over using head terms as anchor text links on your site.
  • Look at duplicate title tags and fix these issues.
  • Fix duplicate alt tags on photos. We find this all the time. It’s easy to use the head terms in alt tags instead of taking the time and creating a definitive alt tag for each photo.
  • Thicken your content. If you have thin content on your pages with overuse of head terms, then add good quality content to those pages and diversify the keywords on those pages. You want to have “authority” quality content on your site. If you over use keywords on a page, Google looks at this as keyword stuffing.
  • Get rid of duplicate content. Many sites use duplicate content for city and state landing pages. They only change the name of the city/state but all the other content remains the same. Take the time to make each of these pages unique.

This is a lot of work and many webmasters won’t be up for it. If you take the time and clean up your back link portfolio as well as fix your on-site factors, you will definitely improve your rankings and position your site for future growth.

Focus on three things to improve your rankings after the Penguin Update:

Backlink Portfolio

Work on your backlink portfolio. Get rid of the site-wide links, vary your anchor text and pay attention to the quality of the site that link to you.

Onsite Issues

Clean up your on-site issues.  Get rid of duplicate content. Make sure you aren’t over optimizing keywords in your content.  Get rid of link grids.

Create Great Content

It’s always been about great content and now it’s even more important to focus on content that creates authority for your site. Maybe you were one of the smart (lucky) webmasters and you’ve always created great content and followed the Google TOS. If so, you look like this today. Let us know if you were one of the lucky ones or if you got whacked by the Penguin.  Also, let us know what you are doing to improve your rankings. The-Penguin-Aftermath-Sites-That-Weathered-The-Storm


  • mike Jun 09, 2012

    Great in depth article. We’ve always been more about creating and writing content and we don’t seem to have been effected. I hope the focus continues on unique quality content. They are always talking about it and hopefully they’ll act more on it. Thanks Mike.

  • Carole G. Jun 13, 2012

    Nice article and I love your illustrations, very good visual for us who need that. One thing to include also is what about links you have no control over? If they are spammy but you can’t take them down or do not know who it was that create some low quality content and placed your links in that article. I have had that happen to me at least 2-3x a week. It’s annoying and I can’t do anything about it because I can’t prevent who links to me!

    Just hope those links do not keep G from bringing your site back on the SERPs.

  • shashi Jun 14, 2012

    Really awesome knowledge about Google penguin new update algorithm which we need to apply for better ranking and for recovery our previous position which has been lost due to new update of Google penguin. you have discussed in very god way and it is clearing all the aspect of new update. and one thing which i want to know what is actually natural links as per new penguin update. Please tell me.

    Thanks for sharing

  • Jenney Jul 24, 2012

    My website got effected with Penguin but my website is not bad. Few of my pages are getting some spam links. I want to know if I drop those pages from my website is google going to hurt my website’s ranking or not?

  • Justin Brooks Jul 24, 2012

    I learned a lot from your article! It seems like you really have a good strategy on avoiding penguin update. Actually, I’m already doing some of those techniques but still having a hard time configuring out all the bad links pointing to my site. Thanks for sharing this!