Google Penguin Update: More On That Recovery Story From WPMU

    May 31, 2012
    Chris Crum

One site that got hit by Google’s Penguin update has managed to make a comeback, thanks to Google’s most recent data refresh of the algorithm update. WPMU’s story has been in the spotlight as an example of where a legitimate non-spammy site was hit by an algorithm update designed to attack webspam. We spoke with James Farmer who runs the site (which distributes WordPress themes) about the situation before the recovery, and now he’s shared some more thoughts about the whole thing with WebProNews.

“I’m going to stick my neck out here and say I think we’re going to see a recovery *far better* than the traffic we experienced before,” Farmer tells us. “Which makes me wonder if we were being ‘kind’ [of] penalized before, but that the new penguin update has actually used something (like our social signals, for example) to really stamp that out.”

“Needless to say I’m super happy,” he adds.

Earlier this week, Ross Hudgens from Full Beaker, who provided some assistance and advice to Farmer, blogged about the recovery at SEOmoz. In that post, it mentions that Farmer did some other things to improve quality, beyond the Penguin-specific advice he was given.

“Well, because we didn’t want to appear at all self-promotional we didn’t mention that one of the things we did was to actually eat our own dog food and implement the Infinite SEO plugin we make at DEV (instead of all the other bits and bobs we were using). This gave us a nice clean and unbroken sitemap.”

“Plus, and this one may be significant, given that we’re a WP site, we were getting a bunch of warnings in Webmaster Tools (and via our SEOMoz report) about dodgy URL paramaters (? queries etc.) and so we implemented, finally, canonical URLs from all of the various comment permalinks etc. etc. to the actual posts themselves.”

In the SEOmoz piece, Hudgens wrote:

The most perilous piece of WPMU’s link profile came from one site – EDU Blogs is a blogging service for people in the education space, allowing them to easily set up a subdomain blog on EDUblogs for their school-focused site – in a similar fashion to Blogspot, Typepad, or Tumblr, meaning that each subdomain is treated as a unique site in Google’s eyes. Coincidentally, this site is owned by WPMU and Farmer, and every blog on the service leverages WPMU theme packs. Each of these blogs had the “WordPress MU” anchor text in the footer, which meant a high volume of subdomains considered unique by Google all had sitewide “WordPress MU” anchor text. In what might have been a lucky moment for WPMU, this portion of their external link profile was still completely in their control because of WPMU ownership.

In what I believe is the most critical reason why WPMU made a large recovery and also did it faster than almost everyone else, Farmer instantly shut off almost 15,000 ‘iffy’ sitewide, footer LRDs to their profile, dramatically improving their anchor text ratios, sitewide link volume, and more.

We asked Farmer if the situation was the biggest factor in the recovery in his opinion, and whether he thought if that were the only thing that was addressed, the site would have still recovered.

“A commentator on SEOMoz pointed out that WPMUD EV – our main business – is still linked to on Edublogs! And widely too!” he says. “However, as I responded to them, WPMU DEV has actually seen a significant growth (12%) in Google traffic in the last month, the second biggest monthly unseasonal bump there in the last couple of years.”

“So I think that the removal of edublogs links may have been a factor, in fact I reckon it was a factor, but I think that Google identifying the strength of the site through our social presence and tweaking Penguin appropriately was the real deal,” he adds.

“As we’ve been 100% above board with everything we’ve done and have to offer, I really hope we were a poster child for how Google could improve its results,” Farmer says.

When WPMU first came into the spotlight, Google’ Matt Cutts had pointed out some specific problem link examples, which came in the footers of some WordPress themes that appeared on spam blogs. Part of Farmer’s post-Penguin strategy has been to request the removal of these links.

“I don’t think anyone gets good referrals from footer links, apart from possibly great designers who insist on credits,” he says. “To me it was always just a ‘part of the same company’ thing. Iit just made sense, [but] clearly not!”

“I think that if we do add them back it’ll be 100% branded and on relevant pages only (ie. the homepage, about page for the company). I think that given the relevance we’ll dofollow them,” he says.

While he’s certainly a little biased in this department, Farmer says he thinks Google’s results in general have gotten better with the most recent Penguin refresh, saying “it’s like manna from heaven. Thank you for listening Google!”

In a new post, Farmer says he’s getting record referrals since the latest Penguin update.

Image: Batman Returns (Warner Bros.)


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.