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Still waiting for a Penguin penalty to be removed?

Thursday, April 18th, 2013 by Kerry Dye tagged , ,

Google PenguinThere is a lot of talk about the Penguin and Panda updates – in and out of the SEO industry – and the reduced search traffic seen by websites affected, which webmasters have worked hard to remedy.

Where Penguin in concerned, this has generally meant looking at the backlinks for your site and removing them, or using the Disavow Tool to devalue them.

Apart from the subject of the penalties, the main difference between Panda and Penguin is timing. Panda updates have been released semi-regularly, almost every month (update history here) with a total of 25 confirmed updates. Panda is about to change to be rolled out automatically. Penguin was initially released on April 24th 2012, and has only been updated twice since – once a month later in May and again five months later in October. Here we are over five months after that, still waiting for another one. For a good explanation of Panda, Penguin and the Unnatural Links Penalty, see here.

So what is the effect?
If you have been hit by a Penguin Update, you may have fixed the problems months ago, but your site won’t pick up traffic again until the algorithm is run again. If you lost a significant portion of your website traffic, then this won’t return until the penalty is lifted.

When are we expecting the next update?
Google has not released a date, but Matt Cutts said at SMX West that there is one coming in 2013 (although not exactly when). The only other thing we know is that it is supposed to be a major update – although all the Penguin updates have been major if you have been a victim! Cutts described it as a significant change that will be much talked about this year.

So what can you do?

  • Ensure that you have cleaned up your link profile
  • Make sure you have done a reconsideration request to determine that it is an algorithmic penalty
  • Continue to produce good content to improve your post-Penguin results
  • Be aware that individual rankings may not be as high as pre-Penguin levels – traffic won’t recover to the same level as it was before
  • Continue with a PPC strategy to cover the missing traffic or start PPC if you haven’t been using that channel – more sources of traffic make you less vulnerable to changes in any one of them.

And what if you don’t recover?
This one probably sends shivers down the spines of affected webmasters and keeps them awake at night. Given the huge delays between the rollout dates of Penguin, if you don’t recover at the next rollout date it could be another five or six months after that. At this point, you could have been affected for a year already, which in monetary terms is a big issue if you were dependent on the site’s income generation.

Can you prepare for the next one?
Hopefully you have learned the lessons from the previous three Penguin updates and have already changed your SEO processes so that they are not likely to get you into deep water in the future.

You should evaluate your link profile so that you can identify any problem areas. You could pro-actively use the Disavow Tool or send removal requests for particularly spammy links. Look for potential anchor text triggers (like more hero keyword backlinks than company name backlinks) and work to address the balance.

Monitor your Google Webmaster Tools account so you are aware if you receive an unnatural links warning. Although this is a sign of a manual link penalty, many sites are affected by both.

Consider the content of your website and make sure you are creating good, linkable material to attract traffic from social media sources as well as search engines.

Work out how reliant on organic traffic you are; if SEO drives the majority of your traffic, explore ways to increase traffic via other sources, such as social media, PPC, email marketing, affiliate marketing etc. If you do these and don’t get penalised you’ll be improving your online marketing and your bottom line.

One year on
Penguin has certainly been one of the most significant things to have happened to the SEO industry in the past few years despite affecting probably less than four per cent of searches so far. If you have been unlucky enough to be affected it will have taken a great deal of effort to work towards the recovery – and the delay in rollout means you don’t know yet if the work has paid off, which leaves you in limbo until it happens.

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About the author

Kerry Dye

Kerry Dye

Kerry joined Vertical Leap in 2007 and currently runs the SMB SEO department, which specialises in niche websites and local search. Kerry started as a web designer in 1996 and has worked both agency and in-house roles, including content and internet marketing before becoming a full time search marketer five years ago. Follow on Google+ or Twitter.