On April 24, Google launched its Penguin Update, which was designed to punish websites that were guilty of keyword stuffing, cloaking, and other SEO tactics that have long since been deemed naughty. The rankings shakeup has left a number of webmasters and online marketers struggling in its wake and wondering how to recover. In his article on Search Engine Land, Danny Sullivan offers some words of wisdom from Google, as well as some advice of his own.
How Do You Know If You Were Hit?
Naturally, there’s a tendency to assume the worst when you run a search and see your website has plummeted in the rankings or vanished altogether. And while Google does report some penalties for bad behavior through Google Webmaster Central, they insist that there is no way to log in and see if you were affected by Penguin.
However, Sullivan maintains that any change in your rankings immediately after the April 24 rollout are probably related. “Do you see a major drop compared with a day or two before? If so, you were probably hit by Penguin. See a rise in traffic? You probably benefited from Penguin. See no change? Then it really had no impact on you.”
What Do You Do If You Were Hit?
Since Penguin was specifically designed to target websites using spammy tactics, the first thing you should do is remove the offending material from your site. Check Google Webmaster Central to see if Google sent you any messages about your account, and correct anything they have flagged as spam. If you received no messages from Google, simply go through your site and correct anything that might be construed as spam-like.
Although it is possible to file a reconsideration request through Google Webmaster Central, Google claims this won’t help with Penguin: “Because this is an algorithmic change, Google has no plans to make manual exceptions. Webmasters cannot ask for reconsideration of their site, but we’re happy to hear feedback about the change on our webmaster forum.”
What If Google Is Wrong?
Sullivan does recommend that you keep your attitude in check when soliciting Google’s help with the issue. “[M]y advice is not to go in with the attitude that Google has wronged your site. Maybe it did, but Google’s more interested in whether its search results are doing wrong by users.”
If you’re submitting an error on the Google form or on their webmaster forum, make sure you include an example of where you were previously ranking before the Penguin Update. Explain the quality of your site, although you should place more emphasis on what’s being missed by searchers rather than how much business or traffic you’re losing.
What about Link Warnings?
In March, Google also began targeting blog networks that were designed for the sole purpose of providing links to websites to boost their rankings. Unfortunately, Google has been a bit vague with regards to these warnings. Some folks claim that websites saw a drop in traffic because these low-quality links were being discounted by Google. Others claim that Google actually penalized the websites themselves in addition to discounting the links.
“It’s really not clear which has happened to people,” Sullivan writes. ”Getting a warning doesn’t necessarily mean you got a penalty. But we’ll try to confirm this more from Google in the coming days.”
Did Penguin Make Things Better or Worse?
As with any Google update, there have been plenty of strange and unexpected effects on the results. However, these incidents are anecdotal. There have no widespread complaints from searchers and, as expected, the only complaints from publishers have come from those who lost ranking and traffic. As Sullivan sums it up:
“A bunch of people were definitely hit, some of whom probably should have been hit. A bunch of people were rewarded, some of whom should have been rewarded. Most people probably noticed no change at all. Here’s hoping the people who were hit mistakenly, or who weren’t rewarded as they should have been, get corrected in future updates.”