If you’ve experienced a drop in traffic since mid-March, then more than likely you were penalized by one of Google’s recent actions.
Which one of those updates hit you is hard to tell, but the biggest one was the Penguin update, which seemed to take a lot of people by surprise.
If you want to understand exactly what the Penguin update was, how other actions by Google during this time – like their parked domain mistake and Panda 3.5 – might have affected you and how to tell if you were penalized by any of these actions, read this blog.
Let’s take a look:
Penguin update explained
Google launched Penguin on April 24. It was designed to penalize those pages that violate Google Webmaster Guidelines on spamming.
This is the over-optimization penalty that they’ve been talking about.
Most of you probably understand what spamming means, but if you don’t, here’s a short video by Danny Sullivan that explains it.
Now, there is some question within SEO circles as to whether this update helped or hurt Google’s search results. Whether this update hurt or improved Google’s search results is hard to tell since most SEO experts can indeed find odd things about the new search, but general Google search users haven’t said anything.
All updates can take up to a week to roll out completely as these updates have to reach different data centers around the world that Google owns, covering all of the search results. It’s safe to say that by now the update is over.
Unfortunately, there is no way to log in to Google Webmaster Central, which does report spamming violations on occasion, and find out if Penguin has hurt you.
So, what you need to do to see if you’ve been hit is to take a peek at your search traffic before and after April 24. If you see a big loss in traffic after April 24, then you can probably assume that you’ve been hit.
If you don’t see any changes, then it didn’t impact you. If you see a dramatic increase in traffic, you may assume that Penguin actually benefited you.
How to recover from Penguin
So, what should you do if you’ve been penalized? Well, if you’ve been hit by Penguin, then your first step is to get rid of any spammy pages on your site.
In fact, log in to your Google Webmaster account to see if you have messages from Google about spam on your site. If you’ve never done anything about those warnings, now would be the time to do it.
Use the list of violations Google has given you as a starting point and correct all those mistakes.
If you don’t have any warnings from Google but believe Penguin hurt you, then you need to audit your content and fix anything that may be spammy.
You can certainly use the file reconsideration request in Google Webmaster Central to get Google to look at your account and site to determine if they might have made a mistake:
That won’t, however, help you because this algorithm change is across the board for all sites and not an action performed by a Google engineer who saw something fishy on your site.
You can use the form that Google has set up to report search terms that produce erroneously poor results for your website as a result of the Penguin update.
And if you want to report spam that you think Google missed, you can report that on their standard spam report form:
Just click on the “Report webspam” button.
How to tell Google you think they are wrong
Now, it could be that Google got you for all the wrong reasons. In that case, use the feedback form. Alternatively, use Google’s Webmaster forum to suggest that you think the update has wrongfully punished you.
When doing so, follow these tips to get the best possible response:
- Provide an example – Explain how you were doing in a particular search query and how those results have now changed.
- Explain your website – Give them a brief rundown of your site quality, e.g., the number of pages you have, average word count of each page and average quality of each page, which you create based on the new Panda guidelines.
- Share your actions - Finally, tell them what you have done to your site to update it and what you are willing to do. This may involve removing low-quality pages, rewriting those that may come across as pages with unreasonably high keyword density or deleting the spammy links you have built to your website.
Google is interested in the results searchers get, so you need to present a case, showing that a mistaken penalty against you is robbing searchers of good content. You also need to present a case that shows you are a legitimate web content producer.
If your traffic dropped on April 19
On April 19, Google launched another phase of Panda – 3.5. What’s the difference between these two updates? Penguin is designed to punish spam pages while Panda is designed to punish low-quality pages.
It’s the difference between bad SEO and poor SEO.
Now look at your analytics: did your traffic drop on or near April 19? If so, then you were hit by Panda 3.5 and not Penguin. This is important because you now need to recover based upon the Panda guidelines and not the Penguin.
If your traffic dropped on April 17
If you saw that your traffic dropped around April 17 and then suddenly recovered the following day, then that was probably due to the mistake Google made when they labeled a bunch of sites as parked domains that were not parked.
However, if your traffic didn’t recover by April 18, then either Penguin or Panda may be at fault, and you’ll need to follow those guidelines to recover.
If your traffic dropped in mid-March
Google took aim at link-blog networks that were used to drive links in unnatural ways to increase rankings. These networks allowed blogs to sign up and then drive links back to their sites. One of the biggest sites to get de-indexed was BuildMyRank.com.
What’s surprising is that a lot of these companies were still in business and people were actually using them despite Google’s history of outing them.
If you were one of those sites receiving links from link-blog networks and you lost traffic around the middle of March, that means that the links that were coming from those networks stopped carrying any more weight. Google worked their magic behind the scenes and took those benefits away. There is nothing you need to do, and this is not a penalty from Google.
Why you shouldn’t worry about negative SEO
Negative SEO is the strategy of using techniques to ruin your competitors’ websites. For example, many people have complained that a competitor can now send a bunch of links from a blog network to his or her competition and get them penalized and knocked out of the rankings.
This concern has always been around and is not justified. Nothing like this has really become rampant in the past, and it’s not likely to become a problem in the future.
In addition, good SEO on your site will improve its signals so that Google can tell the difference between legitimate links and artificial links. The only sites at risk would be those without much authority.
Don’t get mad if the Penguin update has dropped you in rankings. Google’s goal is to provide an excellent search experience for users, and one of the ways they do that is by indexing excellent content on the web. When you make updates to your site that can improve the quality of your content and improve the quality of user experience on your site, you will benefit in the long-run and will not be penalized.
So, what do you think about the Penguin update?