Recovering From Google’s Penguin Update

    April 30, 2012
    Chris Crum

First, before you start your campaign for Penguin recovery, you should probably determine whether you were actually hit by the Penguin update, or by the Panda update (or even some other Google algorithm change).

Shortly after the Penguin update rolled out, Google’s Matt Cutts revealed that Google had implemented a data refresh for the Panda update several days earlier. This threw off early analysis of the Penguin update’s effects on sites, as the Panda update was not initially accounted for. Searchmetrics put out a list of the top losers from the Penguin update, which was later revised to reflect the Panda refresh.

Google also makes numerous other changes, and there’s no telling how many other adjustments they made between these two updates, and since the Penguin update. That said, these two would appear to be the major changes most likely to have had a big impact on your site in the last week or two.

According to Cutts, the Panda refresh occurred around the 19th. The Penguin update (initially referred to as the Webspam Update) was announced on the 24th. The announcement indicated it could take a “few days”. Analyze your Google referrals, and determine whether they dropped off before the 24th (and around or after the 19th), and you should be able to determine if you are suffering the effects of Panda or Penguin, at least in theory.

If it looks more likely to be Panda, the best advice is probably to focus on making your content itself better. Also, take a look at Google’s list of questions the company has publicly said it considers when assessing the quality of a site’s content. We’ve written about these in the past, but I’ll re-list them here:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
  • Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • How much quality control is done on content?
  • Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
  • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
  • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  • For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
  • Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
  • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
  • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
  • Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  • Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
  • Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

Penguin is different. Penguin and Panda are designed to work together to increase to the quality of Google’s search results. Whether or not you think this is actually happening is another story, but this does appear to be Google’s goal, and at the very least, that’s how it’s being presented to us.

Google’s announcement of the Penguin update was titled: “Another step to reward high-quality site“.

“The goal of many of our ranking changes is to help searchers find sites that provide a great user experience and fulfill their information needs,” Cutts wrote in the post. “We also want the ‘good guys’ making great sites for users, not just algorithms, to see their effort rewarded. To that end we’ve launched Panda changes that successfully returned higher-quality sites in search results. And earlier this year we launched a page layout algorithm that reduces rankings for sites that don’t make much content available ‘above the fold.'”

If your site was hit by Penguin, you should, again, focus on quality content, and not trying to trick Google’s algorithm. All that Penguin is designed to do is to make Google better at busting you for abusing its algorithm. It’s designed to target those violating Google’s quality guidelines. The guidelines are not new. It’s not some new policy that is turning SEO on its ear. Google just found a way to get better at catching the webspam (again – at least in theory).

So, with Penguin, rather than a list of questions Google uses to assess content, as with the Panda list, simply look at what Google has to say in the Quality Guidelines. Here they are broken down into 12 tips, but there is plenty more (straight from Google) to read as well. Google’s guidelines page has plenty of links talking about specific things not to do. We’ll be delving more into each of these in various articles, but in general, simply avoid breaking these rules, and you should be fine with Penguin. If it’s too late, you may have to start over, and start building a better link profile and web reputation without spammy tactics.

Here’s a video Matt Cutts recently put out, discussing what will get you demoted or removed from Google’s index:

Assuming that were wrongfully hit by the Penguin update, Google has a form that you can fill out. That might be your best path to recovery, but you really need to determine whether or not you were in violation of the guidelines, because if you can look at your own site and say, “Hmm…maybe I shouldn’t have done this particular thing,” there’s a good chance Google will agree, and determine that you were not wrongfully hit.

By the way, if you have engaged in tactics that do violate Google’s quality guidelines, but you have not been hit by the Penguin update, I wouldn’t get too comfortable. Google has another form, which it is encouraging people to fill out when they find webspam in search results.

To report post-Penguin spam, fill out and add “penguin” in the details. We’re reading feedback. 2 days ago via web ·  Reply ·  Retweet ·  Favorite · powered by @socialditto

They’ve had this for quite a while, but now that some people are getting hit by the Penguin update, they’re going to be angry, and probably eager to point out stuff that Google missed, in an “If what I did was so bad, why not what this person did” kind of mentality.

Another reason not to be too comfortable would be the fact that Google is likely to keep iterating upon the Penguin update. We’ve seen plenty of new versions and data refreshes of the Panda update come over the past year or so. Penguin is already targeting what Google has long been against. I can’t imagine that they won’t keep making adjustments to make it better.


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.