Should The Google Penguin Update Hit Sites Like WPMU.org?

Site helped by Panda gets hurt by Penguin

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We recently told you about WPMU.org apparently getting hit by Google’s Penguin update. The site went from 8,580 visits (pretty standard for the site, having looked through the Analytics myself) to 1,527 a week later. It’s been hovering around similar numbers ever since, with a pretty clear dip right around Penguin time.

Do you think this site deserved to get hit by Penguin? Let us know in the comments.

Penguin drop

We spoke with James Farmer, Founder and CEO of Incsub, which runs the site. Farmer maintains that WPMU.org engages in no keyword stuffing, link schemes, and has no quality issues. In fact, the site has actually done well throughout Google’s series of Panda updates.

Farmer tells WebProNews, “We did great after Panda, it was like that update recognized we were decent folk… you can’t win them all huh?”

“Apart from not being able to guess what Google was going to do in April, 3 years ago, we haven’t done anything wrong,” he says.

Last week, Farmer received some second-hand info from Google’s Matt Cutts, who reportedly spoke with the Sydney Morning Herald about WPMU.org. According to Farmer, Cutts provided three problem links pointing to the site. These included a site pirating their software and two links from one spam blog using an old version of one of their WordPress themes with a link in the footer. Farmer reported that Cutts “said that we should consider the fact that we were possibly damaged by the removal of credit from links such as these.”

It’s pretty interesting that if such links were the problem that it could have such a tremendous impact. It’s no wonder there have been so many discussions about negative SEO (competitors attacking each other with these kinds of tactics) since Penguin launched.

The site has over 10,400+ Facebook likes, 15,600+ Twitter followers, 2,537 +1s and 4,276 FeedBurner subscribers, according to Farmer. Apparently not enough to outweigh some questionable links from third parties.

“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),” Farmer wrote in his article on the matter.

When asked how many links he has out there just from footers for WordPress themes, he tells WebProNews, “Given that we stopped adding links years ago, actually not that many at all.”

“However, the challenge is that given that we provided themes to a lot of multisite installs, which have since become overrun with splogs, there’s an enormous amount of links from not that many actual root domains,” he adds. “I’d guesstimate 1-2K, 99% of clearly low quality sites.”

We asked if he’s heard from other WordPress theme creators, having similar issues.

“Actually no, although that doesn’t surprise me that much,” he says. “Not many folk are as open as us, and in this field they probably have good reason to be. WordPress terms are very, very competitive so I wouldn’t be surprised if 9/10 competitors had something to hide!”

Like many webmasters, Farmer just doesn’t know what to expect from Google, in terms of whether or not Google will consider the site to be one of the innocent casualties of Penguin.

“I have no idea, I would love it if they did. I guess the thing I’m begging for is some sort of qualitative mechanism (NOT the manual webspam web, faster approach) that allows quality operators, like us, to survive and carry on providing Google users exactly the kind of helpful content they need!”

Google does have a form users can submit to, if they think they’ve been wrongfully hit by the Penguin update.

Google’s Matt Cutts recently told Danny Sullivan that Google considers the Penguin update a success, despite the large number of complaints from those commenting on blogs and in forums. Of course, the Penguin update, much like the Panda update, should be periodically coming back around, giving sites a chance to make fixes and recover. That also means however, sites will also have more chances to get hit.

We asked Farmer if he thinks Penguin has helped or hurt search results in general, outside of his site’s issues.

“Especially in the WP field they have gone wild,” he emphasizes. “For example our flagship site WPMU DEV – if you go to search for that now a competitor writing something ridiculous about us and copyright appears above our massively popular Facebook page. It even looks like our YouTube channel has been demoted. Crazy stuff.”

We’ve certainly seen some other questionable search results following the update, and others have complained aplenty.

Do you think the search results have improved since Penguin? Should WPMU have been hit by Penguin? Share your thoughts.

Should The Google Penguin Update Hit Sites Like WPMU.org?
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  • http://www.lolntroll.com/ Richard Johnson

    Even my site has been hit by penguin update and i want to update it as much as i can.

  • George Ikyeson

    No, i dnt think a site does not deserve to be hit by penguin. It should given second chances

  • http://www.bizsuccessguide.com Efoghor Joseph Ezie

    If the whole thing is exactly the way Farmer has presented it then I don’t personally think his site deserved to be punished.

    If Google is punishing a site and makes it lose over 6,000 visitors just bescause of 3 dangerous sites linking to it, what then happens to the thousands of good sites linking to it? How much value does Google attach to each established/authority site linking to the site?

    The whole thing seems so confusing. To an extent, I am even beginning to wonder myself if the people in Google are really fully aware of the parameter for punishing a site. It seems to me that so many things are happening by accident and then coming out to publicly accept this error is difficult.

    Since the Panda and Penguin updates a lot of controversial issues have ben raised and Google needs to let the site owners and webmasters know some of the actual parameters for passing or punishing a website.

  • http://ventadepisosenalcaladehenares.es/ Venta de Pisos en alcala de henares

    Seo will change… and we can see it

  • http://www.thegrizasonline.com/inmotion-hosting-review-inmotion-hosting-coupon Virak

    Google Penguin seam to be good at filter spam website, however that top 10 result websites are not the great contents as Google and Visitors want yet.

  • http://www.sv4.net Carlos

    In the past Google try to be everytime more “logic” and was great.. but with this lasted Penguin I think theys become to lose the “target”

  • http://www.backlinkbooster.com Backlink Booster

    Google is playing with fire with their latest algo changes. If Negative SEO is truly rewarded then they just opened Pandora’s box and their search results will suffer. And if their search results become invalid, then that is the first step in accelerating a mass exodus of users to Bing/Yahoo.

    I can’t believe the people at Google would be that stupid…would they?

  • http://www.captaincyberzone.com Cap’n Cyberzone

    I think that this has opened a Pandora’s Box for malicious behavior!

  • http://www.rebeccarachmany.com Rebecca Rachmany

    An interesting question one could now ask is: will a anti-SEO competitive industry develop. Given that you can hurt your competitor buy purchasing cheap and unreliable links to their site, what if aggressive competitors decided to get super-sleazy and do just that? You could beat your competition by paying sleazy SEOs to promote them.

    • stuart

      there are people who have already done ( and still do) that.
      its a tough world in the wild wild west.

  • http://www.edinburghcarrental.com Car Rental In Edinburgh

    There’s an awful lot of moaning from webmasters who are complaining because they are almost totally dependent upon Google.

    Yes, Google is the number one search engine but it is a business too and it doesn’t owe any website anything. If they want to change how they rank sites then they can do that.

    I understand how bad it can be to loose large amounts of traffic overnight but maybe it’s time to consider not putting all you eggs in one basket so to speak.

    • bob

      yes, it why you moaning here with car rental in edinburgh. spammer.

  • http://www.freesheetmusic.net Joey

    So … if a few sites copy large portions of yours, then YOU are the one penalized??? I know there are a couple of websites that have copied pieces of mine (at least one that’s copied the entire thing) … there’s no way I can stop them from doing so. If there were American, I could file a law suit — but they’re international sites that I have no way to affect.

    Seems to me an unscrupulous webmaster could target a competitor and create a couple of screenscraped sites … and then let his competitor get the penalty.

    This is a really, really, really stupid idea, Google.

  • http://liveonblogs.com Reeja Mathews

    sad to here penguin hurts
    so i simply leave these thing aside
    good blogs always deserve high rankings

    • bob

      but nobody not going to give high ranking to this good blogs. Because only links working for search engines now.

  • http://www.dewaldthuysamen.com Dewaldt Huysamen

    Well here is proof that Google has double standards when it comes to the penguin update:

  • stuart

    even before this latest update,
    I could never understand how google, with all its expertise and muscle returns some of its results.
    ie: I type in a product brand name, and insterad of going to the manufacturer/suppliers website, fully promoting that product, I am given pages of warez and pirate sites, affiliate or othewr dubious promotional sites, I know this is what google is trying to remedy,but surely they can find a way to recognize the rightful owner of a brandname and return them on page one.
    its even more mysterious when the brand/ product name is also the website name, and when you find it is professionally presented and ticks all the boxes ( except probably not for 1million spam textlinks!)

    ON other occassions I have typed in website urls, for sites I know have been live for sometime but never listed or promoted,
    instead of finding the correct url (that you search for) google will return domain who-is pages or some vague directory listing…surely when your search term is an url, google should find that url first?

    when so many depend on google to supply website traffic, and therefore a large slice of their potential income, we should at least have some consistency and commonsense in results.

    search for any online software or premium themes/templates by name, you are quite likely to get a warez or file sharing site before the proper owner of that product,
    the same type of sites that WPMU are being penalised because of third party backlinks from.
    (so these sites are bad, you cant have backlinks from them, yet google still returns page one listings for them for other peoples products)

    come on google, your powerful but if you dont get your act together soon, the market will look elsewhere!

  • http://www.knead.co.nz Jeff

    I empathize with webmasters that have been affected, but to be frank i think that much of the talk around the update has been a beat-up.

    In New Zealand we have a small saturation for websites. In our largest city business penetration sits around 50% that have websites. This number plummets in the regions to about 35%.

    Add to this the historic (though misguided) belief that keywords will help you rank. Kiwis have been taken for a ride for far to long in my opinion. The online space really is cowboy company.

    So then how does penguin sit in the NZ context? Very well i think.

    As penetration digs deeper into business behavior, smarter forms of localization that will occurs in search results (i suppose through future google updates), as this happens new sites will designed well. Above all they should have relevant and unique content.

    The biggest problem facing the sector here is the residual hangover from the keyword is king days.

    Thus this update should put webmasters firmly on notice.

    Oh and we are trying to grow your fledgling SEO company – check out our

  • http://www.spiralscripts.co.uk/ Fiona Coulter

    There are a lot of web design websites that built their business model around giving away free stuff like WordPress templates, with a link to the site in the footer. The positive effect on SEO, with the resulting traffic was used to sell advertising or commercial services. There are many businesses that will now find themselves in trouble as a result.

    I have mixed feelings about this. These kind of practices were for a long time considered acceptable, it seems deeply unfair that they are now resulting in penalties. My own site should not be affected, we never actually engaged in this sort of practice. We thought about it though.

    Maybe the long term effect will be that there will be fewer second rate ‘free’ templates available – for which I will be glad, we might actually see an improvement in general design on the web.

    • bob

      google changing game rules on the way. then less money them have – then tighter rules. it just ‘money spam’ update, google becoming MFA site, not good organic search results – peoples clicking on ads.

  • http://www.skin-care-solution.biz Ruby

    This whole thing about penguin is crazy. I wonder why a giant like Google should not test their algorithms well before launching it. I am a supporter of quality but we have seen highly reputable sites with professionally written contents being hit.

    If your site gets links which you can’t control, should your site be punished for that? I can hear malicious individuals laughing their heads off since this may be a way to destroy competition.

    I think things have gone out of hand.

    WPMU.org for Christ Sake!

    If they have been hit then what can we the small fishes hope for?

  • http://www.knead.co.nz Jeff

    Great post.

    I agree that Google is looking to reward positive (read unique and engaging content) over backlinked content. However i see that the trend is different depending on what part of the globe you are from.

    Our company based in NZ have dealt with several companies who were penalised in the penguin update. 3 were for keyword stuffing, the other had their links removed. Tellingly the backlink problem was from .co.uk tlds.

    It seems that across Australasia the online industry it us filled with ‘keyword = good’ amateur webmasters. This has lead to poor quality sites and results, which makes justifying the good work SEO professionals do, that much harder.

    I hope that this update scares the “keyword = good’ mentality out of the industry, but im fearful for all those companies who have no idea about the ongoing management of their site and the penguin effects that they havent even noticed yet.

    Thanks for the post!

  • http://cass-hacks.com Craig

    Matt Cutts only pointed out three links but that doesn’t mean there were/are only three.

    He’s supposed to do their work for them?

    Here’s a hint, when you want your name splattered all over everyone’s ‘site’ that uses your product or service, you can probably expect your name will end up places you might not want it to be.


    • bob

      it just show their profanity, and what google algorithm is so far from perfect one. Webmaster don’t have idea who link him if his links natural. Even if not-natural links, webmaster often not have ability to remove or do something about this links.
      this is absolutely google fault.

  • http://www.googleplus1king.com sam

    It’s a very confusing time right now, or it seems to be. I’m skeptical of those who say they have answers on many of the blogs and I like this list with your take.

    I guess I can infer something from your ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ answers, though more detailed answers as to why would be great, even if they would show up only on the paid newsletter to which I happily subscribed.

  • Ben Corke

    I strongly suspect all those moaning about Google or negative SEO are suffering from Bitch Slapped Syndrome, because all that spammy link building has been a waste of time. The reason in this case is highlighted in the post. “damaged by removal of credit from links such as these” WPMU lost longstanding link juice from spammy sites. That said, there is some research to suggest that having more than 40-60% of inbound links with “money term” anchor text can trigger a penguin filter tag on the domain. The comments around G doing this for extra adwords is partially true but G are just now getting revenue from sites that should have paid Google rather than Indian comment spam punks in the first place.

    • bob

      google just don’t know what to do next. their idea calculating links is really not working well. now them trying to create site & links & anchors models, and later will more and more strict on this model. But it way to nowhere anyway. them lost their potential with last penguin update.
      this is the best google spam update, get rid of good sites, show only agregattors. if remove wikipedia/yahoo answers and amazon – their search results will empty.
      but as them looks like happy about penguin update – it show what purpose of this update is only money from adsense. google become MFA (made for adwords) website (it even not search engine anymore, because it now not index all).

  • vic garbutt

    So, i would think that google itself has the most links to itself than any site on the planet. Did it get hit by the recent changes? Hmmmmmmmm.

    • bob

      no, them in special google white list. but google websites totally not follow ‘good website webmaster guidelines by google’.

  • vic garbutt

    So what my question is, if we can’t use keyword density to make sure google understands what the page is about? Or should we care. What are the main keys to its understanding of what a page is about? URL, page title and page content?, with a meta description to show in the results listings?

    • bob

      google want naked urls. later when everybody will link like this – him make new penalty not more than 50% of naked and 50% of anchors, max 10% of commercal keywords. Later google will make not more than 10% of naked and 10% of anchors and 80% of click here. Later them make no any commercial keywords allowed. because them only for google top3 adwords in organic search only and google affiliates sites.

  • bob

    it always be like this with new pandas/zebras/penguins/other google hates animals. most funny what google matts cutts show 2 some links from warez sites in footer. Looks like him was sure what it fault of wpmu webmaster what that warez sites link him. But it totally non-sense!

  • http://vidownloader.com Download Vimeo Videos Online

    Thanks in favor of sharing such a nice idea, article is pleasant, thats why i have read it entirely

  • http://hangupin.com hudixt

    Well, in such cases a Webmaster can’t do anything and Google should give this much control in the hands of legit webmasters.

  • http://hangupin.com hudixt

    Well, in such cases a Webmaster can’t do anything and Google should give this much control in the hands of legit webmasters.

  • http://hangupin.com hudixt

    This is a nice update which google do to improve its search result

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