This article is a step-by-step strategy to recover from the Google Penguin algorithm update.

On 24th April 2012 many websites lost significant ranking due to Google “Penguin” update which according to Google was released to target web spam.

It is important to note that the Google Penguin update is an algorithmic filter that seems to negatively affect the website ranking for certain (usually “money”) keywords. If targeted by Penguin, it seems a website will be affected on a site-wide basis for these keywords. Penguin is not a manually imposed penalty and for this reason you should not contact Google by filing a reconsideration request or otherwise after addressing any issues your website should have.

This article explains step-by-step what individuals should do in order recover a website that lost significant ranking due the Google Penguin Algorithm Update.

Potential Problems

Firstly, it is important to read (not just skim) and fully digest the information that Google has released in light of the penguin update. The main source of information is from this overview article.

A very important paragraph within this article reads as follow:

In the next few days, we’re launching an important algorithm change targeted at web spam. The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines. We’ve always targeted web spam in our rankings, and this algorithm represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce web spam and promote high quality content.”

If you follow the “quality guidelines” link, it is fair to conclude that Google is targeting the following types of problems:

Let us be clear on this: Some of these points are just ethically wrong. For example, the act of phishing or installing a virus is simply inexcusable. However some are legally and ethically sound even though they are not in compliance with Google’s Terms and Conditions.

The Dilemma

As Google have deliberately kept the specifics of their Penguin algorithm change secret, it is difficult to know what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in their eyes. For example:

  1. You might trade links with a single friend or indeed more than one friend. At some point Google will draw the line and say you are involved with Link Exchange. The difficulty is in knowing how many friends you can trade with before getting into trouble.
  2. You might put certain keywords in the body of your pages to help the search engines understand what you think is important about a particular webpage on your site. Again, Google has a cutoff point of what it regards as acceptable before it regards you webpage as being keyword stuffed.
  3. You may prevent the search engines indexing certain web pages on your website (for example, those that contain legal content). You might do this to indicate to the search engines that you do not consider these documents friendly enough for the majority of people searching for your goods or services. Google may however penalize you for cloaking (hiding content from the search engines while showing it to users).
  4. As a final example, you might have a landing page which allows the reader to compare and contrast a number of your products before clicking through to one of them and buying. The goal of this page may be to help enlighten the potential customer as to the strengths and weaknesses of each product and help to build trust with your potential purchaser. If however, you have too many of these landing pages then Google may regard them as Doorway Pages.

Whiter than white?

It would be easy to create multiple similar examples like those above for most of the specific quality guidelines that Google say websites should adhere to. Let’s face it… as the Google algorithm is secret and forever changing, it is not a black and white problem and it does not have a black and white solution!

Tony Blair stated in the 1997 election victory speech “We have got to be whiter than white to rebuild trust”. Would a whiter than white approach work with regards to optimizing your website? It would probably result in removal of the site-wide Google Penguin penalty that is being applied to your website. However, imagine your competitors have websites that have exactly the same quality of content on it as yours. If your competitors carry out some SEO but remain within the boundaries of what is acceptable practice to Google, your website will not compete and will still probably be banished to the bottom of the SERPS. This is just as bad as having the Penguin on your tail!

For these reasons, it is important to listen to what Google is saying and correct your website just enough to keep within the acceptable limits.

Off-Site Optimization – The Likely Problem

If you put yourself in Google’s shoes, it is very easy for them to discover over-optimized websites that have manipulated the search engine rankings using link building practices. Here are three instant giveaways:

Evidence is starting to show that overdoing your link building is the most likely cause for being targeted by Penguin. For example, Micrositemasters have conducted a thorough analysis of their data and they suggest that the percentage of links containing your “money keywords” should be less than 50%. This is quite a generous threshold when you think about it, as the anchor text of incoming links that have accumulated completely naturally should be much lower than this. Many links are naturally created using naked anchor text. Examples of naked anchor text include:

It also stands to reason that a red flag could be raised if too high or low a percentage of websites that link to yours contain related content. Evidence suggests that links from related websites should make up between 10 and 60% of your total incoming links.

Finally, if you have high quality content on your website, it makes sense that some people will link directly to some of these deeper pages as well as the homepage. For this reason ensure that a good percentage of your incoming links are not to your homepage. It is fine for the homepage to take the majority of the links, but not all.

So, how do you correct all the problems? It is almost certainly going to be a case of trial and error but you should have a strategy in place right from the start.

Step-By-Step Strategy to Recover from Penguin

So, no-one said it was going to be easy but a plan and a strategy is necessary.