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What Google’s Penguin update means for your website

So by now you’ve probably heard a little bit about a little guy Google unleashed on search results in late April named Penguin. The Google Penguin update is one of the largest rolled out by Google in recent memory and has devastated the rankings of thousands of Australian businesses that Google caught using spammy techniques to climb the rankings. 

Over the next few week’s we’ll be taking an in-depth look at the update to help businesses recover from a Penguin ranking hit and explore how you can make your site less susceptible to an update ranking slide.

In this week’s blog post we’re going to be running through some of the more common questions we’ve received from our newsletter community (which you can sign up for here) that will help you understand the basics of Google’s Penguin update. If we’ve missed a good question or you’ve got your own, feel free to drop us a line on our Facebook page for answers!

Now, on to the questions:

What did Penguin target?

Penguin was Google’s latest algorithmic update in their war against spam, targeting websites using spammy, black-hat SEO techniques to manipulate Google’s rankings. The primary target was ‘unnatural links’ that were either bought or exchanged in order to artificially inflate a website’s authority. Other reported targets included keyword stuffing and comment spam, which Google also houses under the umbrella term ‘webspam’.

How do I know if I’ve been hit?

Google took a more open approach to the Penguin update than they have with previous updates, sending notices to website owners warning them that Google had detected ‘unnatural links’ pointing to their site. Website owners were then asked to submit a reconsideration request once the links have been removed.

Aside from the email sitting in your Google Webmaster Tools account, you’ll have seen a sharp decline for your rankings in late April. Many businesses affected by Penguin tend to drop entirely off the first few pages, losing a huge chunk of their visitors in one fell swoop. Taking a look in your Google Analytics account for an irregular drop in search referral traffic is a good indicator that something’s gone wrong. 

Doesn’t everyone buy links?

Truth is, many SEO providers do still buy links on behalf of their clients, often without the client knowing and with the understanding that it’s against Google’s guidelines. Many of the businesses we’ve assisted post-Penguin were either entirely unaware that the link buying was occurring via their SEO agency or were under the impression that everything was above board.

The truth of the matter is that as with everything else in life, with SEO you get what you pay for. Lower cost SEO usually means fewer resources to perform the same job, leading to spammy black-hat techniques in order to get your site ranked. Unfortunately you’ll end up paying more in the long run to undo the damage done to your site with cheap SEO.

So in short yes, many people buy links. But rolling the dice on techniques that are a blatant violation of Google’s guidelines isn’t a good way to go about earning Google’s trust.

Can my competitors take out my website by buying links for my site?

Google says it can’t be done, but we’ve never been one for trusting Google blindly. Sure they’ve placed the necessary precautions in place to ensure negative SEO doesn’t ran rampant post-Penguin but with the right strategy it would be incredibly hard for Google to tell the difference between legitimate spam and negative SEO.

To combat negative SEO make sure you keep an eye on your backlinks in Google Webmaster Tools. If you start seeing unfamiliar spammy links pointing to your site you may want to look into removing the link manually and reporting the offending site to Google.

What’s the difference between Panda and Penguin?

While both updates targeted webspam, the targets and methods used by the Panda and Penguin updates are vastly different. The Panda update focused on article spam, duplicate content and websites with thin content whereas Penguin focuses on unnatural linking and spammy content.

Another point of difference is how Google enforces Panda and Penguin offences. If you’re targeted by Panda, Google will place a manual penalty against your entire site that drops your rankings across all key phrases. Penguin however is an algorithmic update (meaning it runs automatically) and only drops rankings for key phrases and pages that have been artificially boosted by unnatural links or with spammy content.  This algorithmic approach means an easier recovery once a Penguin issue is resolved as opposed to Panda’s wait-and-see approach.

Overall, Penguin is a much more tempered approach to fighting webspam that only damages a site to the extent that they’ve been found to be manipulating rankings. Panda on the other hand is almost like getting placed on a Google blacklist that is very hard to get removed from.

Can I contact Google for reconsideration?

Unless you’re absolutely certain all your links are natural, contacting Google will not yield any desirable outcomes. Get your house in order and show Google you’re making an active effort to remove links and they will look far more favourably upon your reconsideration request.

And then there’s the most important question: 

How do I fix it?

Stay tuned for next week’s post where we’ll take a look at how you can help your website to recover from a Penguin beat down and how you can make your website immune to Google’s algorithm changes!

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Jim Stewart

Jim Stewart

Jim Stewart is the CEO of <a href="http://stewartmedia.biz/">Stew Art Media</a>, a Melbourne-based online marketing agency specialising in SEO &amp; Search Engine Marketing.

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