Google Penguin Update Punishes WordPress Theme Creators?

    May 16, 2012
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

James Farmer at WPMU.org wrote a very interesting Penguin-related article, which doesn’t make the update look too great, despite its apparently honorable intentions.

The update hit WPMU.org, sending it from 8,580 visits from Google on one day pre-Penguin to 1,527 a week later. Farmer shares an Analytics graph illustrating the steep drop:

Penguin drop

Farmer maintains that WPMU.org engages in no keyword stuffing, link schemes, and has no quality issues (presumably Panda wasn’t an issue).

According to Farmer, the Sydney Morning Herald spoke with Matt Cutts about the issue (which may or may not appear in an article), and he provided them with three problem links pointing to WPMU.org: a site pirating their software, and two links from one spam blog (splog) using an old version of one of their WordPress themes with a link in the footer. According to Farmer, Cutts “said that we should consider the fact that we were possibly damaged by the removal of credit from links such as these.”

That raises a significant question: why were pirate sites and splogs getting so much credence to begin with? And why did they make such an impact that this site with a reasonably sized, loyal audience appears to be a legitimate, quality site, with many social followers?

Farmer wonders the same thing. He writes, “We’re a massively established news source that’s been running since March 2008, picking up over 10,400+ Facebook likes, 15,600+ Twitter followers and – to cap it all 2,537 +1s and 4,276 FeedBurner subscribers – as measured by Google!”

“How could a bunch of incredibly low quality, spammy, rubbish (I mean a .info site… please!) footer links have made that much of a difference to a site of our size, content and reputation, unless Google has been absolutely, utterly inept for the last 4 years (and I doubt that that’s the case),” he adds.

Farmer concludes that the site was punished for distributing WordPress themes. That is, specifically, for creating the themes that people wanted to use, and being punished because spammers also used them and linked to the site. He suggests to others who may have this issue that they remove or add nofollow to any attribution link they put in anything they release.

Hat tip to SEOmoz CEO Rand Fishkin for tweeting the article. Fishkin, by the way, has acknowledged that Penguin hasn’t been Google’s greatest work. He recently told WebProNews, “It’s done a nice job of waking up a lot of folks who never thought Google would take this type of aggressive, anti-manipulative action, but I think the execution’s actually somewhat less high quality than what Google usually rolls out (lots of search results that look very strange or clearly got worse, and plenty of sites that probably shouldn’t have been hit).”

The whole thing speaks volumes about what many have been saying about Penguin’s effects on negative SEO practices – the kind that Fishkin has challenged the web with. For Fishkin, however, everything seems to be going well so far.

Google is usually quick to admit that “no algorithm is perfect,” and I’m guessing they know as much about Penguin. It will be interesting to see if sites that shouldn’t have been hit are recovered in reasonably timely fashion, although at this point, it’s hardly timely anymore.

  • william


    There are 12 GOOGLE “board of directors”
    3 are formerly affiliated with AMAZON.

    L. John Doerr: previously a director of Amazon.com

    Ann Mather: previously Zappos.com which was aquired by Amazon.com in 2009

    K. Ram Shriram: served as Vice President of Business Development at Amazon.comIT IS OVER!

    On April 24th 2012 GOOGLE, which accounts for almost 70% of all online search, released the PENGUIN update.
    While they say it was a “webspam” update it was really the change that exposes their relationship with AMAZON and now sends all PORN and PRODUCT searches to AMAZON and it’s subsudiaries to include the IMDB.com and Zappos.

    Not only does AMAZON control the #1 ranking on GOOGLE for “books”, it is #1 for almost every english word from “jewelry boxes” to “XXX” and “sex toys”.

    What Does This Mean?

    GOOGLE and AMAZON have cleverly manipulated you, the average person, into a direct buying path for basically every product in the world killing off their competition. Google controls 70% of all search online which now means AMAZON controls 70% of all online purchases. THAT’ IS ALOT OF MONEY!

  • Scott Reinhold

    Google has jumped the shark and penguin is quite the knee jerk reaction. It was obviously pushed through without much thought, which probably means there is a lot of pressure internally on Google’s search team. Either A. Google only wants big corporations to come up in the SERPS or B. Google is using whatever excuse possible to only show their own properties in the SERPS. Either way, Google search is becoming a members only crowd. I predict in the next year or two that Matt Cutts will have enough and leave the company. The BS that’s currently going on inside Google will eventually erupt like a volcano. Watch and see.

    • http://www.php-developer.org Codex-m

      Surprisingly today, two weeks after Penguin update. Google still have some very stupid search results especially for extremely competitive terms such as viagra. Kudos to Matt Cutts and Google Web Spam team. Negative SEO is easier today than before.

      More details on this post: http://www.php-developer.org/why-google-penguin-update-is-too-risky-for-negative-seo/

    • http://www.consultancymarketing.co.uk Ian Smith

      “Either A. Google only wants big corporations to come up in the SERPS or B. Google is using whatever excuse possible to only show their own properties in the SERPS.”
      I could not agree more Scott.

  • http://www.junkaria.com Fahd Altaf

    Google Penguin Update is not good for bloggers … it can effect badly to all bloggers community… I don’t know why google do this?

  • Mr Sun

    This is really unfair. I was wondering whether Penguin was just not counting links of bad quality, or actually punishing for them. This makes it pretty clear, and it seems unfair, because it opens up another massive loophole, far worse than the one they were trying to close. A fair solution would be to just not count spammy links, simple. Because in reality we don’t have control over who links to our site do we.

  • laura o

    This just further validates that Google is a completely faulty product. Get off the Google crack pipe people!!!

  • http://clearupmyface.com Keek

    It’s not just footer links, it’s also links in sidebars. I was doing some backlink snooping the other day on a web hosting site that had a PR5 rank. I followed the backlink trail to tons of blogs where they had links in the sidebars. Just like the footers, if you have a blog with lots of pages, that’s a lot of low quality links and all of them with the same anchor text.

  • http://www.linkorama.ch Mike

    It is really true that many WordPress sites were hit by Penguin. Funny that suddenly are so many forums at the top. Also, my site has been hit hard (even wordpress). The problem could be in the double content (Tag archives, and so on)… I’m still hope for some updates and i pray to recover…

  • http://themesforge.com Ed

    Wow – that is a serious drop off in traffic. As a regular WPMU reader I would have thought this type of site is precisely the kind of site Google would be looking to reward rather than penalize.

    I think it further validates the fact that Penguin is a bit of a disaster.

    Expect another major algo change in the next few weeks to undo some of the damage.

  • Steve

    That is just not right ! But history tells us Google WILL take down the good sites along with the not so good and not really care who is harmed. I hope it can be fixed…

  • http://www.clippingpathindia.com Shumi

    Google Penguin update is really a sudden update. Before this update we got ranking for having good backlink and using anchor text and after this update we are getting for using the same tactics. I think Google should make a warning update before make this sudden dropping update so that the webmasters can be aware of doing such things.

  • Renaldo

    If a theme designer is dropping his link in every theme he distributes, that’s the sort of link that Google doesn’t want to influence the search results. Google only wants to pay attention to links that are actively put in place by real editors, not links that are snuck onto a site by some theme designer’s self-promotion scheme. If the site in question got its 8500+ uniques per day by using these footer links, it stands to reason that it doesn’t deserve that sort of popularity.

    • http://westcoastbiker.net Bruce

      I have to disagree with your comment Renaldo. I am not a theme designer or developer, but I do have several WordPress.org sites. I quite often look at the footer of a WordPress theme that I like, hoping to see who designed it. I can then follow the link to see what else that theme developer offers.

      As most of the WordPress themes are inexpensive or free, I don’t see a problem with a link back to the designer or developer, nor do I think of them as being as you said “some theme designer’s self-promotion scheme”.

      • http://www.exacttrading.com Paul

        Agreed I also do this, I am always looking for cool themes and if I find one I like I use the footer to see who wrote it.

  • http://www.freefxbonus.com/ Dejan

    This update is a big mess. I’ve lost a lot of traffic too and the search results for some keywords are ridiculous. My website got from top #5 to nowhere and websites without any content at all are now before me…

    • http://www.tightlineproductions.com Tight Line Productions

      I completely agree. I’ve seen some drop in SERPs and have no reason why. We had just started to do well, and BOOM — Penguin steps in.

      Hopefully things even out.

  • http://www.filipinocooking.net David Hood

    We too were hit hard with this update and still trying to recover. We have gone from 5000 page views a day to about 1800. we have discovered one spammy link in webmaster tools. They were asked to remove the link apparently did so. We have removed anything that might appear to be keyword stuffing. In general, we have done entire overhaul yet things seem to be worsening. In other words, were baffled.

  • http://www.asifnkhan.com/about Asif Khan

    The search results are getting worst day by day. They are filled with forum posts, blogspot blogs, Amazon products and even fiverr gigs. This is just ridiculous.

    Today, i’m going to write a post on my blog recommending Bing/Yahoo for searches instead of Google. Google just misusing its power.

  • Matt M

    It looks like Google have devalued incoming links from what it considers to be “spammy” sites. If you write articles as I do to promote your sites, the links from syndicated pages may have been devalued. Result – your site will go down in the indexing.

    It has been suggested that Google could now be using backlink profiling to decide where a site ranks, although this would be open to abuse from competitors, so I am not convinced on this one.

  • dev

    It’s very bad for those who hit by GP. Google should be very clear about this algo. Majority people did not know why their site goes so far away from search results. I am also waiting for any tool which tell us about why. GP hit.

  • http://www.localsearchspecialist.co.uk Gary

    If google keeps changing their minds about what results they are going to show so drastically overnight, we need to stop obsessing with google and get traffic from other sources.

  • http://www.boholwebdesign.com dave

    I have noticed old outdated thrown together incomplete websites with content even copied, keyword stuffed, bad grammar, markup (W3C) and tons of misspelled words on the competitors site, getting higher ranks than my correctly spelled, original content, Google compliant (nofollow on external links), W3C compliant up to date well written content.
    So the conclusion i have come to realize that Google is STILL A “BIG DUMB COMPUTER”!!! and getting dumber by the day!

    What Google is saying is if you want to destroy your competition just put up a link farm, spam website with tons of links back to the competitors site and you have them cornered.
    This is being done on a massive scale already!
    To think that Google cant figure out why “its new search changes are just not working” because now this makes it easier than ever to destroy your competition!

    Google has taken a turn for the worst!
    I would love some feedback on this comment!

    • http://none google manipulating us

      I think google is manipulating the search result that they are showing to us. They have the push button to take a website down is just a matter of true or false on there algorithm to pull down all website, probably they already have a separate databases for website that they want on top of there result and another database for website that they don’t like on there search result. I think google is not being fair anymore they are keep on changing there algorithm to get the search result what they want not the users experience they are just using “users experience” result as there excuse to manipulate the result. Google is not good anymore for business they will turn your business upside down. Google is change how the internet works firstly not all people who build personal websites is instant SEO wizard so the chances of getting traffic to your website zero chances. Google keep changing the methods on how to build a good traffic to your website, they are making it very difficult to build traffic to your website.

  • http://wredlich.com Warren Redlich

    We suffered a small hit (maybe 25%) on one of our sites. We don’t do anything spammy. It didn’t affect our other sites and I can’t tell if it’s related to Penguin or not, though the timing fits.

  • http://Www.latestenglishmovies.com David

    I have been slowly building my traffic over 12 months and it peaked in mid april to 2000 uniques per day – i even upgraded my hosting plan. I am now back to 700 uniques :-( i am at a loss to understand it i am strictly white hat and our seo was non- agressive. Fortunately the site is a hobby but even stiill i feel the penguin pain.

  • Big Aussie

    Your investment in time, money and effort, slowly getting your site discovered and recognized by Google; then being smashed so easily goes to show like any investment —- Do NOT put all your eggs into the one basket.

    Spread your risk. Even Google Penguin seems to identify this. The more diverse your back link spread, the less chance you will be smashed with the next round of Googlemania.

  • rober7

    so … now anyone can create a spam website/splog and ruin other websites by adding a backlink :)) good thinking on the “algorithm”

  • http://elegantwatchshop.newsintechnologys.com John Fisher

    I think Google will eventually bite the dust and Yahoo! and Bing will be the dominant forces in the search engine arena. Google has clearly gotten to big for its britches and they don’t care who they hurt or help. Just my opinion.

  • http://www.expothemes.com/ Pradosh

    Penguin slashed most of heavily linked sites mostly those who’s low quality is way more compared to natural links.
    And to theme developers who mainly used to build PR from footer links, this seems to be end of that era. I agree, now its better to add nofollow tag to which should be profitable to both, users and developer.

  • http://lots0cash.com lots0

    My sites ranking is tanking.
    We have spotted over 5k ‘bad’ inbound links that have sprung up in the last few weeks.

    We asked google for some help, through WMT re-inclusion request.

    We pointed out the ‘bad’ links (created by xrummer) and our drop in rank.

    Four days later, we get this is an email from google;
    “We reviewed your site and found no manual actions by the webspam team that might affect your site’s ranking in Google.”

    I never reported a manual action, I reported someone trying to crash my site with xrummer links… and that would not be a ‘manual’ action.

    Obviously, no one at google is even reading the re-inclusion requests.

    And the bad links are still piling up on my site over 2k new bad links just showed up last night and my ranking is still tanking…

    Obviously google majorly screwed up with this ‘update’ and I got a feeling they don’t know how to fix it…

    Instead of hurting the Spammers google gave them the keys to my bank… Thanks Google.

  • http://Www.google.com Raman

    Thats very correct that google is giving preffernnce to sites belonging to large corporations….google results after the penguin update have become more unnatural ….it seems that they have basically killed optimization overnight…..I manage 20 client sites ranging from portals, ecommerce, immigration sites, blogs and music site….they well all hit except the music site (maybe because the music site was affiliated with YouTube which is a google company). I personably believe if google doesn’t fix this issue, their downfall may have started.

    • Dejan

      Yeah apparently no SEO is now better than good SEO. I’ve noticed some websites with keyword domains first search page and they have no content at all! Just a default wordpress theme installed and that’s it.

  • http://westjavazone.blogspot.com westjavazone

    it seems difficult to raise the ranking
    by links exchanging, since google
    penguin update

  • http://topsavings.net Aaron Siegel

    I don’t even know what to say anymore. With 4 kids and working, I no longer can keep up with my own site. I these days have to go to a food bank just to keep afloat. Thank you Google.

  • http://www.DotCrucible.com Richard A. H.

    If your rankin is tankin,
    the Penguin be thankin.
    Ole Googles now senile,
    with vision so pea nile.
    Look, the Brin Page wonder,
    algorithmed into a corner.

  • https://plus.google.com/u/0/111853529715819049371/about Hamilton

    I don’t think Google care about anyone.

    As long as they have their own business going, they are done for the day. Either way, I think that we should find another way to build our business, because if we keep on depend on Google; we still going to get hurt over and over again.

    Thanks for the post though, really appreciate it.

  • http://www.strategicrevenue.com John

    Maybe it was point 2 from this idea here:

    2.The irrelevant, low quality links begin to out weight the links which appear relevant and natural. In other words, when a site has [more garbage links than quality links], say 65% – 70%, the penalization hits.

    the rest:

  • Michele

    So, how do you fix this? My site tanked in just over a 24 hours period. I’ve been highly ranked for 6 years and now I fallen off the rankings. I’m not an SEO expert. I built my site up on my own based on googles instructions. How do I found out if a spam site is linking to me and causing these problems? I’m a super small company and the drop in rankings will put me under. I need some serious help in getting them back up. What should I do? Any help will be much appreciated.

  • http://www.gogi.in/ Gogi Rana

    Okay assume the theme creator will now add nofollow on the credit links, what if the spammers removed those made it follow links?

    Now competitors / spammers have got a good tool to bring down any site. Just start many blogs with the same theme load it with spammy content and add a do follow link to the target site even if they are not the theme creator.

    If someone is following such techniques its better to ignore it rather than penalizing the target sites.

  • http://notordinaryblogger.com Okto

    If many people disapointed with google performance will Bing rise?

  • http://www.ipl5news.com Ravinder

    Yeap its some how give a positive impact to the web search too. its not only reduce the black had seo practice but also increase the chances for the organic search for the genuine seo’s or websites.

  • http://buyseoarticlesnow.con Andrew

    Me thinks Penguin is just another dagger thrust into the mighty beast.
    I’m expecting yet another big change in the coming weeks to try and undo this mess. Will it make it better or worse?

  • http://notordinaryblogger.com Okto

    I have a big question on the sentence “Spam blogs link to WordPress theme creator, ruin creator’s Google traffic”.

    How can we stop other blog to link to our content? If our content is good enough doesn’t it make sense if there are many blogs want to link to us?

    Can we decide which blog is spam and which is not?

  • http://www.motocms.com/ Sandra

    Only people in Google know what’s going on:) We can only guess. Will see what’s next:)

  • http://none google manipulating us

    I think if you want to have a good internet business don’t put them on google because they will just kick your ass good bye on their search result..
    We have to find another way of finding good traffic to our website that are not coming from google traffic, because google is now more of a business killer, your business will die eventually if it depends on google.

  • http://none google manipulating us

    if you want to kill your competitors make a links spam to website that you hate this is what google want us to do.
    Thank you Google

  • http://none google manipulating us

    if google always released update on there algorithm who knows what will be the next algorithm again.

    But i’m putting a wild guess it would be a “Google Piranha” algorithm that will target new websites that where below 2 year old and it will remain unpopular until the website mature to 3 years old and it will target website that has a competitors advertisement on there websites.

    Google can do anything to our website traffic you know, because we are at there mercy.

  • http://none google manipulating us

    my guess is that WPMU.org sites lost traffic because it is a competitors from Google blogsite website blogspot.com.

    With this result they just showed us that they can manipulate the Traffic to your website. My question is now if Google can be trusted

  • http://europeforvisitors.com Durant Imboden

    For every site that loses, another gains. Our information site got hit by Panda back in February and April of 2011 after years of doing well in Google, but in the wake of Penguin and Panda 3.6, our Google referrals are rising again. (They’re currently up 10 to 15 per cent over their pre-Penguin and Panda 3.6 levels.)

    It’s important to remember that a loss (or gain) isn’t always about penalties; sometimes it’s just the result of a different emphasis in the algorithm, or a loss of “link juice” from inbound links that no longer have as much value as they once did.

  • http://seo-mentoring.ca Reg-NBS-SEO

    Lots of folks, WPMU.org included do not understand the mechanics of the Penguin update.

    You do not have to be doing anything bad to get hit.
    In fact, it is the exact opposite in some cases.

    WPMU.org publishes an excellent site which generates a lot of links.
    Good or bad links, these generate traffic.

    If a 3rd party publishes a page with a link to WPMU.org on it, and this page is deemed spam by Google and delisted, the traffic to this page is reduced and so are the people clicking on your link.

    The net effect is diminished traffic through no fault of your own.

    Do some research into the amount of links WPMU.org has.
    At one point, the site was getting over 150,000 links a month.
    If you look at WPMU.org’s link to domain ratio, it is 160/1 or 160 links on each domain. This is a VERY high ratio which shows that link spamming has been done.

    This does not mean that WPMU.org has been doing it, as organic linking can have this effect if the linker uses spammy methods in their promotion of their page.

    However, the net result of removing these spammy pages is a reduction in referral traffic.

    I have a small site that used to generate about 500-800 uniques /day and it built links at the rate of about 2000-3000 /month.
    When I say “it built links” I mean that in 100% organic mode, my users built this amount of links, and aside from me making the occasional link to the site when asked by discussion groups, (Perhaps a few times a month) absolutely nothing was done in the form of link building.

    My referral traffic has dropped significantly as all the scraper sites that linked to my site were removed.
    Traffic has declined to an average of 91 visitors a day.
    My conversion rate has climbed to 28% and sales are also up.

    My stats show that my direct address origins (bookmark / link in email) are about the same.
    My Search Origins are up by 65% and my referring sites down by 56%

    My SERPS have not changed at all.

    Google is going to reduce the amount of links it has to follow regardless of the fallout.
    This is not so much a link “purity” issue as it is a cost cutting factor. It costs Google mega bucks to run their servers. Every link followed costs them.


  • http://www.ilifegeeks.com Ankit @ iLifeGeeks

    i’m having the same situation :(

  • Mbrun

    What if everyone who was hit by Penguin pledged to use Bing for searching? In 13 years of honest, hard work, this has been the most frustrating and uncertain time . . . We do almost all of our work for non-profits and fundraising for non-profit events (most run by volunteers) – by the rules work, nothing intended as spam etc. simple, good, rich, content. – Why were these sites also caught in this update mess? Very Very Very frustrating . . .

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