The latest Google Penguin refresh began rolling out worldwide on Friday, October 17 and search industry websites such as Search Engine Journal have reported that the update has still not completely finished, as webmasters are still seeing fluctuations in their organic search traffic. This has led some experts to suggest this may be due to Google trying to reduce the amount of collateral damage.
The SEO industry has named this refresh Penguin 3.0 and Pierre Far from Google advised that this roll out would affect less than 1% of US English Search Results and a couple of weeks prior to this at SMX East Gary Illyes of Google had advised that this update would be “softer” than previous versions of Penguin.
Since then Google have announced another update to the Pirate algorithm which looks at the number of DMCA reports to a website and filters out sites due to this date. The Pirate update saw many of the large torrent websites drop from the search results for terms related to movie and music downloads.
Search analysts have recently reported that around October 24th there was a refresh to Google’s Panda algorithm although this has not been confirmed by Google themselves.
All in all this has marked a very turbulent period in the search landscape.
What is Google Penguin?
First, for those who are not familiar, a little bit about the two major algorithms: Panda and Penguin.
Panda is an algorithm that rolls out regularly (every few weeks) that deals with thin content and some common on site issues. If your website is not providing a good user experience then at the time of a Panda refresh you may see your site lose traffic and rankings however if you have invested in your websites content and you are providing users with a good experience you may see noticeable increases in organic traffic at this time.
Penguin is an algorithm that mainly deals with “over optimised” links but there are a few on site issues that Penguin takes into account. The goal of Penguin was to devalue sites that were violating Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. The last update was more than 12 months in the making and the one before that more than 6 months.
Who are the winners?
The biggest winners we have seen in this latest Penguin update are sites that have:
- received an algorithmic penalty in Penguin and suffered significant drops
- pre-emptively removed and disavowed significant links in compliance with Google’s webmaster guidelines
In general, these sites have come back into the rankings lower than they were before but significantly above their positions a few weeks ago.
Of course many big brands and publishers have weathered the storm fairly well too.
Who are the losers?
We have seen many sites that have seen moderate drops due to competitors recovering from previous penalties.
Affected sites tend to be:
· in competitive niches
· in SERPs not dominated by big brands
· in areas in which competitors have recovered from previous Penguin or Panda penalties
What should we do if we lost traffic due to Penguin?
The worst thing that you can do is sit and do nothing. Make sure that you definitely were affected by Penguin the key roll out date was 17th October so look in your ranking reports and analytics packages for any significant change over that weekend.
The site below lost almost 80% of organic traffic that weekend.
Start by trying to recover some of that traffic via other means such as search or social advertising, as you will be losing revenue and potentially damaging your businesses future.
Next you will need to analyse your backlink profile and remove or disavow any links which are against Google’s webmaster guidelines such as paid links, guest posts with lots of keyword rich anchor text or links you control such as a PBN (Private Blog network). This article is a good place to start when trying to assess which links Google may or may not like.
Matt Cutts also confirmed that focusing on fixing unnatural links is the best place to start:
@joshbachynski saw your comment on Barry's post. Certainly links are a primary area to monitor. Been true all this year; expect to continue.
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) August 16, 2012
If you are not familiar with backlink analysis and disavow files then it would be good idea to hire a reputable SEO consultant to take a look at your site and get their opinion on what the next steps should be. If you are not sure where to start then contact one of our team as we would be happy to help you find someone.
Once you have taken the necessary steps to make sure that your website is no longer in violation of Google’s guidelines then you have to wait until the next Penguin refresh or update. Google have advised that Penguin updates will become more regular in the future so with swift action, and a little luck, you may find your organic search traffic start to improve again in a few weeks.
How can I reduce my website’s risk to Penguin?
The main thing to do to reduce the risk of something like Penguin affecting your business is to diversify your site traffic whether that is PPC, display advertising, referral traffic from blogging or social media or having an extensive mailing list of customers. Being overly reliant on one form of traffic to your website is quite concerning.
That being said organic search traffic often converts very well so these points may help:
- Stop buying cheap link building packages, many of these packages can harm your website
- Talk to your SEO team, start looking at the reports they send you more closely, just because organic traffic is growing it doesn’t mean the links they’ve built are good for the long term success of your website
- Get to know your link profile, there are automated tools out there such as Link Risk and Cognitive SEO which will help you to understand which links to your site could cause issues in the future.
- Devise some link guidelines for to make sure that everyone knows what types of links pose the lowest threat to penalisation. Lots of people these days are no longer looking at traditional metrics such as PageRank but at newer industry metrics such as Trustflow (Majestic), Domain Authority (Moz) or are using tools such as SEMRush to look at the overall organic visibility of a site.
- Spend some time every few weeks looking at the new links that have been built to your site and ask for the links which don’t meet your standards to be removed, nofollowed or add them to your disavow file.
If I am buying a site what should I look out for?
You can use our free Google Penalty checking tool to look for any drops in organic visibility around the times of the announced updates.
As with all online business investments you need to very vigilant and take time to look at a website for potential issues from algorithmic penalties such as Penguin or Panda. During the due diligence process you will need to look very carefully at the backlink profile of the website to see if there are any obvious paid text links or large amounts of commercial anchor text links to the website’s key landing pages.
At FE International we recommend having access to backlink analysis tools such as ahrefs or Majestic for carrying out your due diligence on a website’s link profile. For example if you are planning to buy an online business which was drop-shipping expensive jewellery you would want to be aware of lots of links to the site which mention jewellery or watches.
The screenshot below would be a cause for concern for some investors:
As always when there is a lot of uncertainty there is a lot of opportunity. For the more experienced buyers out there the next few months could be fruitful for acquiring distressed assets.
We will be keeping track of the effects of the latest Penguin update as it continues to roll out, but please let myself or any of the team know if you have any particular questions regarding how this might affect you and we would be more than happy to help.