If you didn’t know, Google shook up the search engine world in late May 2012 with their Penguin update.
Sure, Google has always pushed out algorithm updates- it’s nothing new- and Panda was an issue for companies with massive amounts of low quality content (think: article websites). But Google hasn’t shaken things up this much since the 2003 Florida update, in my opinion.
To make it worse, there’s already been a huge amount of discussion about Penguin, what happened, what it means, and how sites that were hit can recover. In other words, there’s so much information out there about it that understanding Penguin is a day-long project for the average CMO or business owner. Probably the most annoying thing, to me, is how many blogs rushed to publish about this within just days of the update- as if the rankings had settled out, and as if they’d had any time to really analyze what the changes were. Boo.
The 30,000 Foot Takeaway on Penguin
To me, the most clear takeaway from Penguin is that content will remain king. We might debate whether it was really king over the last several years (when it seemed like Google was more interested in AdWords profits than fighting spam to maintain search result quality), but now it’s clear the SEO will inevitably move closer to content marketing.
And what does SEO have in common with social media? Content! The mandate in Internet Marketing is now, without question: high quality, inspired, original content.
10 Penguin SEO Recovery Tips
I’ve compiled a list of tips from the rest of this blog post and others:
- Create high quality content and distribute via social media to get higher quality links
- Claim sites you contribute to in Google Plus
- Add the rel=author author snippet to your websites
- Remove keyword-heavy blogroll links you control
- Request that spammy links be removed
- Use link disavowal tools as they become available
- Get more links from websites in your own niche
- Make sure anchor-text-heavy links comprise less than 50% of your links
- Stop using repetitive keywords on or offsite
- Consider 301ing pages receiving a lot of over-optimized keyword link juice
If you like the infographic to the right, feel free to share it! You’ll also find it on my Pinterest page. And you may realize it’s an example of the first tip!
My First Penguin SEO Audit
I recently completed an extensive SEO audit of a company with a 12 year old website. The client switched agencies, and of course the old agency wasn’t telling the new agency what they’d done in the past, so my job was to do some forensic SEO to track down what they’d done in the past, how Penguin had affected them, and what they needed to do going forward. This was no small effort.
Most of my strategy audits come out with more than 50 pages- and often these cover social media and SEO. This SEO audit produced more than 80 pages of data and insights, and required about 25 hours of research, analysis and discussion.
Keyword-Focused Sitewide Blogroll Links
Then I moved on to my own websites (I’ve created and maintained more than 20 of my own websites and blogs since 1999) to further analyze how they’d been affected by Penguin.
One of the most obvious changes is that whereas, in the past, having sitewide blogroll links to my sites from my blogs had helped many of my websites, now they seem to hurt it. The voices on this seem to be divided as to whether these links should be taken down completely, or whether it’s simply overly repetitive anchor text that needs to be changed.
My action was to change all the links from keyword-oriented anchor text to simply the domain name. So, instead of linking to a site with the anchor text “social media speaker”, it now links with just domain name itself. If this change isn’t enough, I’m going to remove a lot of those sitewide links, which people I know have claimed fixes the ranking problem.
Text vs. Image Links
My audit of the 12-year old site mentioned earlier had turned up something interesting along those lines- several of the sites used images as the link in many places and were less affected by Penguin than the ones that used anchor text links. I don’t think the sites that were using the image-linked widgets really had SEO in mind. Or they were extremely savvy and almost clairvoyant.
In other words, be careful with anchor text links, and image links are a nice alternative.
Take It On a Keyword By Keyword Basis
Another thing you can see with Penguin is that for many sites, some keywords are ranking worse, others better, and some unaffected. What I saw, which agrees with this insightful article from micrositemasters, is that when you look at a website’s anchor text profile, some sites have completely over-optimized certain keywords. If you have 1,000 links and more than 300 of them link to one keyword, that’s you. So, unless you can get those links removed, you have to get more links that are not over-roptimized for those keywords.
The other upshot from this is that your website’s Google rankings may be only partially affected by Penguin. You need to study your site on a keyword by keyword basis. Of course, chances are, if you’re affected by anchor text over-optimization, it probably is for your most beloved keywords- chances are you or your SEO company worked the hardest on these keywords, and they are the most over-optimized. That’s why sites that were affected by Penguin were so hard hit, and why so many people felt their business legs had been cut out from under them.
Disclaimer: I’ve also heard tales of people finding that reducing their onsite keyword density from 6% to 2% helped after Penguin- most of the sites I reviewed didn’t appear to be optimized for keyword density, so I haven’t examined this issue yet.
Let Google Know What You Write
There’s some promise of more search prominence, and getting your Google Plus profile picture next to the search result, if you let Google know you did actually write your own blogs- and if you contribute to larger blogs, you can claim those blog posts and articles too. I was a bit shocked to realize that Google might not know I wrote all the posts on this blog right here… so I claimed that and my posts on Mashable, AllFacebook, SearchEngineJournal, etc. I also installed AuthorSure to try to get rel=author into this blog. The theme didn’t cooperate, and I’m overdue for a redesign, but later!
Here are some more great posts about Penguin, if you want to dive deeper.
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