Are you angry and looking for answers about why your rankings vanished after Google released its Penguin update? One common factor thus far appears to be the signals of links that are pointing to your website, early analysis indicates.
The main purpose of the Penguin update is to put a deep freeze on web spam in Google's search results. By extension, a big piece of that web spam appears to be links from low-quality networks.
Before we get into the new findings, first it’s important to understand a bit about Google and links.
Above all, Google considers links as editorial "votes". So, theoretically, the sites that receive the most votes should rank higher on Google because more people find them valuable.
Google analyzes the quantity, quality, and relevance of websites that link to yours. When Google looks at your link profile, they’re looking at such things as what types of websites link to yours, how quickly you acquired these links, and the anchor text (the clickable words) used by the linking website. When Google's algorithm detects such things as a large number of new links or an imbalance in the anchor text, it raises a big red flag.
As Google and many SEOs have preached for years, you’ll attract more links by creating unique, worthwhile content that others will want to link to naturally. If you want to learn more about Google, links, and link building, definitely read our posts “Why Links Matter”, "Filthy Linking Rich", and “Introduction to Google PageRank: Myths & Facts”.
For companies that have been hit by the Penguin update, one common theme appears to be a severe lack of natural links, according to a blog post by Glenn Gabe at G-Squared Interactive. He noted five common issues these sites are all facing:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Article marketing sites: Thin content featuring links with exact match anchor text were another common factor among affected sites.
- 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.
Ultimately, the Penguin update didn’t really change anything that Google has deemed unacceptable. Google has just evolved its algorithm to catch up to those who try to loophole their way to higher Google rankings (and, to be fair, some who simply don't know any better or fully understand SEO). If any (or all) of the above are your sole link building tactic(s), you probably aren't doing enough to rank prominently long-term on Google anymore.
For those unfamiliar, Google has a section devoted to link schemes and makes no secret that such practices “can negatively impact your site's ranking in search results.”
So, fix all these link issues, eliminate any instances of keyword stuffing, spun content, cloaking, and other spammy tactics and you're guaranteed a Penguin recovery, right? Not necessarily. There are never any magical guarantees for gaining or regaining top search rankings and Google is notoriously tight-lipped about the exact signals it uses to detect web spam.
Additionally, Google is constantly making tweaks to its search algorithm. So check your traffic in analytics and make sure your traffic indeed was impacted starting on or after April 24. If your traffic vanished before this date, another change might be to blame – there was also a parked domain classifier issue the week prior to Penguin's launch in addition to the latest Panda refresh on April 19.
Regardless, with the new tag team of Panda and Penguin, Google can put the smack down on websites that appear to be creating or supporting spam to increase their rankings in search engines. So even if you fix all these link signals, you still must make sure you have quality content.
But even beyond that, there are hundreds of other factors at play that Google's algorithm looks at. Among them:
Life After Penguin
While it’s much easier to blame Google and sign a petition begging Google to kill its Penguin update, this isn't the time to give up. Now is the time to look at your website, do a proper, careful evaluation of your inbound link profile, clean up your website, and devise a smarter marketing and business strategy that doesn't rely on Google for the majority of your traffic and income so you can escape the endless loop of Google algorithm updates:
This isn’t to say Google or any search engine results are perfect – though now might be a good time to check out alternatives like Google's closest competitor, Bing, or upstarts Blekko and DuckDuckGo. Google has created a Penguin feedback form for those who feel websites have been hit unfairly, but this update is algorithmic as opposed to a manual penalty (i.e., reviewed by a human), so don’t expect to see whatever rankings you’ve lost miraculously restored over night.
But above all, sometimes when these algorithmic changes roll out, one of the wisest moves is to be patient and carefully analyze any changes before you react blindly to the latest penalty – because by the time you do that, Google will release the latest Panda or its next iteration of Penguin, and you'll be trapped again in the endless loop of relying solely on a third party (Google) for your livelihood.
Below are some more link building and resources to read up on.