Google's Penguin

Google launched its Penguin “algorithm change”, on April 24th, in order to “fight webspam”. Danny Sullivan mentioned in his post on Penguin that it should be called “search spam”. Let’s take it a step further and call it like it is: Google’s Penguin targets websites that it identifies as having bought links for the purpose of ranking better, otherwise known as what nearly every website in a competitive industry does.

In a couple of the niches I monitor rankings for nearly EVERY site I track was hit! Aaron pointed out an example of a blank page ranking #1 for “make money online”, partially due to other algorithm adjustments when Penguin was launched (Google’s attempt to make Penguin harder to figure out), but also due in large part to almost every site in the top 10 for that search phrase getting cut down by the angry bird. Google’s Penguin is not your ordinary Penguin. Like Panda, it’s a nightmarish version of the creature, one that slashes first…and doesn’t even bother to ask questions later. The Penguin is a killer.

Were You Cut Down By Penguin?

Many people think they were hit by Penguin, but what they don’t realize is that Panda came tearing and pooping through the web just a couple of days before. The Penguin was running close behind, slashing in a rather indiscriminate manner at survivors (both those hit but not killed by Panda and innocent observers). Let’s take a look at a couple of my sites that were hit by Penguin, to see what a real Penguin hit will look like in your analytics data:

Google Penguin Penalty

A Google Penguin Hit

In the above graph it’s not immediately apparent that the site was hit on April 24th, until you look at the traffic patterns of the previous weeks. Look at how the traffic volume is about the same on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (4/17 and 4/18 of the previous week for example). Yet on Wednesday, 4/24 you see a significant drop when the angry bird came slashing through, and then the resulting traffic loss from the 25th onward. Let’s look at another example:

Google Penguin Devaluation Graph

Another Penguin Hit

This one is more obvious, as it’s clear the traffic dropped significantly on 4/24 and then deeper on 4/25. If Penguin started slashing on 4/24, why did it take until the 25th or even later for the full decline? Blood loss, my friend. Penguin cuts a guy mid-day on 4/24 and the blood pours out for at least 24 hours.  So you don’t see the real damage until you get an entire day of traffic data after the fact.

Here’s one more example, this time of a site that was pooped on by Panda just before being slashed by the Penguin (which has led to some people thinking they were hit by Penguin when if fact it was Panda):

Panda and Penguin Penalties

The Panda and Penguin Double Team

Here you see an example of a Panda attack on 4/19 followed by Penguin doing clean up on 4/24. (For anyone wondering, the graph looks different because it’s a snapshot from Clicky Web Analytics rather than Google Analytics, which was used for the first two graphs.) So in order to figure out if you were hit by Panda or Penguin (or both!), you need to take a look at your traffic data and pay careful attention to the dates where the traffic took a dive. If it was 4/19 – 4/20 it was Panda. If it was 4/24 – 4/25 it was Penguin.

What Kind of Spammer Are You???

That’s what you might be wondering, seeing three of my sites hit by Penguin, and Google claiming this was about taking out “webspam”. But no, I’m not a spammer. All three of the sites above were at least as high quality as the one you’re reading now. What was the problem? Well, I’d say it’s Google’s problem, taken out on me by an angry bird with a sword.

It was likely due to the Penguin thinking I had too many low quality or over-optimized anchor text links. Truth be told, I didn’t have all that many. One of my sites that got hit, for which I only purchased a few legitimate directory links years ago, had loads of links I never bought, traded, or asked for…due to real spammers and scrapers!

How to Kill the Bird

We know Penguin is targeting sites with link profiles that look unnatural, and believe me, it doesn’t take much. So here are a few strategies for getting rid of the maniacal bird and restoring your income to previous levels:

1. Remove bad links: If you’ve only got a small number of low quality or over-optimized anchor text links, especially if those are sitewide links, try getting them removed. It may take some time before Google realizes these links are removed, and because Penguin only thrashes and slashes along every month or so, it may take at least a couple of months for this to work out for you.

2. Delete pages: This is a tricky one. But if you’ve only got a few pages with bad links pointing at them, you might consider deleting those pages and re-publishing them with new URLs. If you can’t get rid of the links, getting rid of the pages could have the same effect. Keep in mind however that you’ll lose whatever link juice was flowing into those pages.

3. 301 redirect to a new domain: I don’t see this as a long term solution, but it could be a temporary fix. It’s possible that 301 redirecting a domain hit by Penguin to a new domain will help, but this isn’t likely to last forever, and if you’ve got a real brand, that probably isn’t an option.

4. Split your site into multiple sites: This is another option that may or may not be good for you. If you’ve got a site slashed by Penguin with 100 pages, you might consider putting 80 of those pages on a new domain and leaving 20 on the bloody corpse. If you’ve got really high quality material but aren’t a brand, this could work. You get a fresh start with the bulk of your site on a new domain, and you still get to keep your old site (reduced in size) in case it ever heals.

5. Get more high quality, natural links: This MIGHT be a great option, but it might not. We don’t know what the threshold is for a Penguin slashing. It’s possible that getting high quality, natural links alone will never bring your site back. So you could waste a great deal of time and money with this strategy. But combined with some of the other strategies above, it becomes a more viable option.

Soon, I’ll post on what kind of links you should be looking for in a post-Penguin world, for sites that escaped the wrath and those that didn’t. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss it!

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