The Google Penguin Update, much like Panda last year, has angered SEOs and webmasters, most of whom say they have played by Google’s rules. Anchor text diversity and link relevancy may be two key factors of Penguin, according to more early analysis.
60% 'Money Keyword' Anchor Text
As discussed in “Google Penguin Update: 5 Types of Link Issues Harming Some Affected Websites”, spammy link signals (paid text links using exact match anchor text, comment spam, guest posts on questionable sites, article marketing sites, and links from dangerous sites) were among the issues for some sites affected by the algorithmic change.
Google was also hitting websites for aggressive anchor text for keywords in backlinks even before Penguin. Post-Penguin, anchor text diversity becomes more critical.
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):
As for sites that weren’t penalized, they had a much more natural looking backlink profile. Sites that had money keyword anchor text less than 50 percent of the time were “all but guaranteed” not to be affected by Penguin.
So essentially, what Google Penguin did was try to correct its rankings by discounting patterns it considers to be link spam. Granted, that potentially also opens the door to negative SEO attacks allowing competitors to harm sites by pointing a bunch of bad links at a competitor with weaker link profile, but that’s a subject of another discussion.
Links from Similar Niche Sites
Another finding was that Penguin also hit sites with few incoming links from domains and websites in the same niche, according to Microsite Masters. With Google, link quality and relevance are key, so by being able to attract quality links from authoritative domains in the same niche would be a clear sign that your site or page is relevant.
Basically, Google is looking for signals that can’t be manipulated as easily as anchor text. Getting a link from an authoritative or relevant site in the same niche is much harder to manipulate.
If Penguin has caught you for having “unnatural” or spammy links, “link pruning” is one way to go, according to veteran SEO Bruce Clay, who was interviewed by Search Engine Watch contributor Eric Enge. He advises you to consider evaluating your link profile at least once a month, looking for low quality links to remove.
Getting a link to your site removed is about twice as hard as successfully requesting a website link to you, Clay noted. In one case, a website actually tried to extort him to remove the bad links, demanding $10 per link.
If that were to happen, or you're unable to add enough good links to counter the bad, or you’re otherwise unable to get a spammy link removed, Clay advised that one thing you can do is send Google a list of links you’ve tried to get removed and ask them to discount them, to show you're making the effort.
Duplicate Content & Site Clean Up
While it’s easy to focus just on cleaning up your links in the hopes of a Penguin recovery, it could be something else dragging down your rankings. Perhaps a site Google views unfavorably has scraped your content, and is now either linking to you with some sort of “credit” or it failed to remove an internal link to your site from within the copy text, and now that link from a bad neighborhood is pointing at your website.
Is your content being duplicated on other websites? Not sure, try Copyscape.
If, after using the tool, you find that other sites have stolen your content, Google has this page to submit a DMCA report and request the removal of content. If Google removes that site, that’s one less bad backlink you have to worry about.
And while you’re at it, do a full spring cleaning or SEO audit to ensure there’s nothing you’re doing to harm yourself. Do an honest evaluation of your own website, or find an SEO pro who can do it for you.
For those websites that have impacted but haven’t done anything wrong, it may just be the case that you don’t have enough quality backlinks or your domain may not have authority. If you’ve been standing still, it’s doubtful your competitors have. It’s up to you to win back the rankings by optimizing for users, building a brand, and creating great content, because as we've learned multiple times now, Google won’t give anything to you.