Living in a Post-Penguin World


Living in a Post-Penguin World

It’s been a while since I posted here, but it seems to me that I promised you some useful tips on optimizing your websites to make them easier to find via the search engines. For most of us, that activity centers mostly around Google. Some recent developments in the search world make me want to give you a little heads-up on some potential issues.

Some history on Panda/ Penguin Updates

A little over a year ago, Google released the Panda update, which knocked a lot of sites down in the rankings. Its main focus was on poor content, content farms and high advertising to content ratios, among a few other quality issues. A dozen or so expansions on that have left many SEOs and webmasters reeling in shock.post-penguin

What a surprise…. Things that have worked well for so long are suddenly no longer acceptable practices, at least in the eyes of Google.

Then, about a month ago, the Penguin update hit. This one was aimed primarily at webspam, which covers a lot of territory. Probably the largest slice of that pie is that of links, dealing specifically, it appears,  with the source of the links, the destination and the anchor text used.

Again, a common and previously acceptable practice is suddenly sufficient to get your site slapped hard, causing it to lose several pages in rankings. Many more SEOs and webmasters cried in their beer the last week of April.

That’s what this post is about. To give you some perspective on what the present Google landscape looks like and what it means to you and your website. And to give you some safe means of proceeding.

What can you believe?

As is usually the case when major updates hit, there’s no shortage of opinion and conjecture about what it means, how to detect the effects, avoid getting hit or recover if it’s already too late. Sadly, much of that advice is misguided or misrepresented as “tested”.

Hard Truth #1: The vast majority of SEOs, journalists, bloggers and pundits that profess to have conducted “testing”, have no more idea of how to properly set up and conduct a scientifically reliable test than I possess of the intensity of labor pains.

It stands to reason, then, that you should question anything and everything that you read on the internet. That includes me, obviously. What I’m telling you here can best be described as anecdotal evidence. Correlation does not amount to causation! I’m simply going to tell you what I and some of my colleagues have found to be true, and the probabilities that we are seeing.

So… moving along…

Much of the Panda dust has settled now, so let’s focus primarily on Penguin. As I said, Link building is the most affected by Penguin, and you should discard anything you previously believed to be true, because the landscape has changed dramatically.

A little background is in order.

  • Google has never appreciated efforts to manipulate their ranking algorithms, and the most common method of manipulation has long been the use of deliberate link building. They prefer to see links that are natural, or organic, in nature. Basically, that means unsolicited.

 A commonly stated fallacy is that paid links will get you in trouble with Google. That’s actually not true. If a paid link is given with a nofollow attribute, meaning it won’t pass any pagerank, Google has no problem with it. Nofollow negates any manipulation attempt whatsoever, even though it’s bought and paid for. Failing to use nofollow, however, is a sure path to hot water.

  •  For a long time, anchor text (“Google Australia” in this example), Google Australia has been a perfectly acceptable (and very effective) means of tying the content of the destination page to the keyword used as anchor text, as a means of boosting relevance to a search query using that keyword. There seem to be limitations now in place for this practice.

Link profiles (the spectrum of all of your site’s inbound links) now need to be as diverse as possible, as the sites hit hardest were those that had many of the same sort of links or from the same sort of sites. In other words, your profile should consist of many different kinds of links, such as:

  • Blog comments;
  • Forum signatures;
  • Directory links;
  • In-content links (articles, posts, etc.);
  • Social Media content;
  • Profile links.

It’s important to achieve and maintain a balance between many different types of links, as if you are too heavily invested in one or two types, it can set off alarm triggers in the algorithms.

What we found in our collective observations was this:

  • Sites that had 20% or less of their total link profile consisting of one particular sort of link didn’t get hit;
  • Sites that had less than 20% of their anchor text identical didn’t get hit;
  • Sites that used raw links (no anchor text, just http://example.com.au) didn’t get hit;
  • Sites that used the destination page’s title as anchor text didn’t get hit;
  • Sites that used generic anchor text such as “click here”, “more info”, “details”, etc. didn’t get hit;
  • Sites that had link profiles comprised of a great percentage of directory, forum, blogroll, footer and/or sidebar links seemed to get hit most often.

It’s important to note that the sites referenced here, while not hit by the Penguin update, may have been “safe by a mile” or may have barely escaped – there’s really no way of knowing. And as I pointed out earlier, this is anecdotal, so while I personally feel it’s a fairly strong indication of what are some safe boundaries, it still isn’t enough to bet the farm on.

Recommendations to assist your SEO:

  1. Achieve a balance in your link profile, with no more than 20% of your inbound links being of the same type;
  2. If you’re going to use anchor text, use it sparingly, or use the meta title of the target page. Otherwise, use a raw link;
  3. When you do use anchor text, vary it. As a general rule, I try to never use the same anchor text on more than 5% of my links with anchor text.
  4. If you presently have a lot of links from forums or a social media platform, change those links to either no anchor text at all, or to the meta title of the target page;
  5. Stay away from directories. Partly as a result of the Panda update, but overflowing into Penguin, directory links have become very questionable. I suggest staying away from them entirely, until we know more.
  6. Don’t forget the opportunity to use images for links. An image placed on a guest blog, linking to a RELEVANT page on your site (and with relevant alt tag) can further diversify your anchor text profile.

This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive guide on how to manage a post-Penguin link building campaign. It’s simply meant to make you aware of some practices that seem to have caused problems for many sites that were hit by the Penguin update, as well as a few that appear to be safe.

As a parting shot… diversification is the key. Even if you acquire some links that put you in Dutch with Google, you can minimize the impact of a Google-slap by having a link profile that’s sufficiently diverse that a loss of value of all the links in any one area can’t really hurt your site badly. And while you’re thinking about diversification, you might as well apply that to all your on-line marketing efforts.

Doc Sheldon
Retired business management consultant, turned SEO and content strategist. A curmudgeon by nature, with a soft spot for horses, dogs and children, in that order of preference. Visit Doc Sheldon's website TopShelfCopy.com
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  • At the very first I was just like others. I hated Google and their algorithm updates. But later I realized good content and good link profile can stand out with any of these as Google trying to wipe out low quality sites. Even my self-started to loving it because most of my competitors were wiped away after this as they concentrated only on Link building not the content. Make your site more useful to users and you’ll never get affected by Google.

  • Thanks for the great post Doc- the world of SEO is unknown to the majority so there’s plenty of snake oil salesman touting their skills. We need more no B%$^it information like this.

  • This article says it all. I wanted to thank you on the points you’ve mentioned on the recent panda update. And i totally agree with your recommendations using the same keyword over and over and over will really get you penalized by google.

    • Thanks for the comment, Advia. I hope it’s useful to you.

  • I’m no SEO guru but from what I could tell I saw a big jump with Panda (30% boost?) and no change with Penguin. I suspect that part of that was because I blog about babies and there are TONS of spam sites out there because baby search terms are huge volume terms. So while I have zero scientific basis for this I like to believe that Panda “punished” a few of these which helped my Google rankings/traffic out a bit.

    I have an anchor text question for you – most of my backlinks are from people kind enough to mention me on their blog. So I have no control over the anchor text. Same goes for commentluv links (such as the one here) and even directories just link to your home page (also with no anchor text). So I hear you about how important it is but I feel like it is largely out of my control. Am I missing something here?

    Thanks so much!

    • Hello, Alexis-

      A 30% boost is certainly nothing to sneeze at. Good for you!

      You’re right, of course, that some of your gain may be a by-product of your competitors being slapped down. All too often, I see webmasters scurrying around trying to figure out what they did wrong/right to cause the changes in their rankings, and they forget that sometimes it’s what the competition did, instead.

      In all probability, the links that folks are kindly putting out there for you are going to be safe, for the most part, Alexis. Most will use terms like “blog” or “website”, which shouldn’t trigger any filters. Of course, they won’t do much for your search results, either, but depending upon the nature of your site, search results may not be your biggest concern. In your case, the links are probably more valuable to you. Raw links (those with no anchor text at all) appear to be perfectly safe, just as those that have the page’s title or the site name as the anchor.

      As far as I’m concerned, the jury’s still out on CommentLuv links. Frankly, I’m a little uneasy about them, but I haven’t yet had an opportunity to do any testing. So I just deactivated that plugin until I can take a deeper look at it.

      By the way, getting people to change links is a notoriously difficult task. Traditionally, a VERY small percentage will even acknowledge the request, much less do anything about it. So no, I don’t think you’re missing anything, Alexis. Again, I think the most important thing to remember is to be diverse in both anchor text and in the sort of sites from which you receive links. In your case, you probably get a lot of your links from blogs and blog comments, so I’d suggest you start trying to add more to your profile to balance that out.

      Thanks for commenting. Hope to see you around more often.

    • Great to see you back Alexis.

      I’m so glad your blog is doing well- it really deserves to. One of the other reasons why your website maybe doing so well is the level of community on your blog is far and away superior to most other parenting blogs i’ve seen.