By Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Journal
Struggling to know what to do in the wake of Google’s Penguin Update? Judging from all the comments and forum discussions we’ve seen, plenty are. We’ve got a little initial advice from Google on the topic, mixed with our own.
What Was Penguin?
The Penguin Update launched on April 24. It was a change to Google’s search results that was designed to punish pages that have been spamming Google. If you’re not familiar with spam, it’s when people do things like “keyword stuffing” or “cloaking” that violate Google’s guidelines. To learn more, see these pages:
Is Penguin Fully Live?
Sometimes it can take a few days for an update to fully rollout across all Google’s various data centers, which in turn means impacting all its search results. In this case, the rollout is complete. Google confirms that Penguin is fully live.
Was I Hit?
It’s easy to run some search, see that your site has gone and assume the worst. While Google does report some spamming offenses through Google Webmaster Central, it tells me there’s no way currently to log-in and know if the Penguin Update hit you.
My advice to people worried has been this. The update launched on April 24. Look at your search-related traffic from Google immediately after that date. Do you see a major drop compared with a day or two before? If so, you were probably hit by Penguin. See a rise in traffic? You probably benefited from Penguin. See no change? Then it really had no impact on you.
I ran this advice past Google; I was told it was good advice. It’s also exactly the same advice we and others have given people trying to understand if they were hit by the various Panda Updates over time.
How Do I Recover?
Since this was targeting spam, you need to remove any spam you might have. In some cases, Google may have sent messages to you about spam activity in the past. Messages may even be waiting for you in Google Webmaster Central, if you’ve never verified your account.
Obviously, correct anything that Google has flagged as spam with your site. If nothing’s been flagged — and you’re sure it was Penguin that hit you — then correct whatever you can think of that might be spam-like.
Within Google Webmaster Central, there’s the ability to file a reconsideration request. However, Google says this is an algorithmic change — IE, it’s a penalty that’s applied automatically, rather than a human at Google spotting some spam and applying what’s called a manual penality.
Because of that, Google said that reconsideration requests won’t help with Penguin. I was told:
Because this is an algorithmic change, Google has no plans to make manual exceptions. Webmasters cannot ask for reconsideration of their site, but we’re happy to hear feedback about the change on our webmaster forum.
There is, however, a new form that you can use to report errors, if you think you were caught by mistake. See our separate story, Penguin Update Peck Your Site By Mistake? Google’s Got A Form For That, for more details about using this.
What If Google’s Wrong!
Feel like Penguin has nabbed you for spamming incorrectly? As explained above, you can use the new Penguin Feedback form. As Google’s statement above also explains, you can post feedback through Google’s webmaster forum.
If you do this, my advice is not to go in with the attitude that Google has wronged your site. Maybe it did, but Google’s more interested in whether its search results that are doing wrong by searchers.
Give an example of a search where maybe you were previously listed. Explain the quality of your site. Explain what remains, especially if what remains seems to be benefiting from spam or is of low quality.
Of course, giving examples like this is also seen by some as “outing,” and there’s a belief among some SEOs that it should never be done. Others disagree. If this bothers you, then at least explain the quality behind your site and what’s being missed by searchers, not an emphasis on things like how much traffic or business you’re losing.
What About The Over-Optimization Penalty?
Google had initially warned that an “over-optimization” penalty was coming. This is the penalty it was talking about, but it has clarifiedthat it’s not meant to target some hard-to-pin down “over-optimization” but rather outright spam.
What About Panda 3.5?
Yesterday, Google confirmed that it also released an update to its Panda algorithm, Panda 3.5, on April 19. Unlike Penguin, which is meant to target spam, Panda is designed to target pages that aren’t spam but aren’t great quality.
The date is important. If your traffic dropped on April 19 and never recovered, then you were probably hit by Panda rather than Penguin, and you need to follow advice for recovering from Panda, such as these:
- Your Site’s Traffic Has Plummeted Since Google’s Panda Update. Now What?
- Hit By Panda Update? Google Has 23 Questions To Ask Yourself To Improve
- 5 New Tactics For SEO Post-Panda
- Can You Dig Out Of Your Google Panda Hole By Offloading To Subdomains?
- Yet More Tips For Diagnosing & Fixing Panda Problems
- Google: Low PageRank & Bad Spelling May Go Hand-In-Hand; Panda, Too?
What About That Parked Domains Mistake?
Around April 17, a number of sites reported lost traffic. That turned out to be a problem with howGoogle was incorrectly classifying them as being parked domains.
If your traffic dropped around April 17, it’s probably related to that, especially if you recovered by April 18. It shouldn’t be responsible for any drop you might see after April 18. Rather, Panda and Penguin are more likely culprits.
What About All Those Link Warnings?
Around mid-March, Google began taking action against some blog networks that seemed chiefly designed just to generate links to those participating, in hopes of boosting rankings. Then around the end of March, Google also sent warnings about “artificial or unnatural links” to a variety of sites. The stories below explain more:
- Google Eliminates Another Link Network, BuildMyRank.com – Just One Of Several?
- Google Sending Warnings About “Artificial” Or “Unnatural” Links
If you saw your traffic drop in mid-March, it could be for one of two reasons. First, Google might no longer be letting the traffic from the link networks you were in carry weight. You’re not penalized. You’re just not benefiting any longer. Second, Google might have actively attached a penalty to your site.
It’s really not clear which has happened to people. Getting a warning doesn’t necessarily mean you got a penalty, it seems. But we’ll try to confirm this more from Google in the coming days.
What About Negative SEO?
Especially in the past week, there’s been a huge rise in forum discussions that “negative SEO” is now a serious problem. The idea is that if being in a blog network or having paid links could hurt you, then anyone could point bad links to harm another site.
This fear has existed for years. It’s not new. It’s even something Google acknowledges can happen in some limited cases. The fact that we’ve not had many sites over the years complaining that negative SEO has hit them should be reassuring.
For most sites, it’s not a problem because good sites have enough good signals in their favor that bad ones stand out as an oddity. It’s more a liability for smaller sites that haven’t built my authority, in my view.
I’ll be following up in more depth on the current round of worries, and I’ll try to get Google to weigh in more on the fresh concerns.
Is Penguin Bad For Searchers, Small Businesses….
If you read forum discussions, the Penguin Update has ruined Google’s search results. The reality is difficult to tell.
Make no mistake, it’s easy to find plenty of weirdness in Google’s results, as I covered in yesterday’s post, Did Penguin Make Google’s Search Results Better Or Worse?
However, these still remain anecdotal reports. It’s always been possible to find oddities like this.
There’s been no mass outcry from ordinary Google searchers that it’s suddenly gotten worse. There’s also typically outcry mostly from publishers who have been harmed by updates and not from publishers who have gained. Those who’ve gained have no reason to speak up.
As a result, after any update, it’s always possible to come away with a skewed view that the sky is falling in terms of relevancy. The reactions I’ve seen to the Penguin Update? They could have all been drawn directly out of reactions from the Florida Update of 2003. This presentation I did for concerned publishers at the time are equally applicable today.
After that update, Google was accused of trying to do everything from put small businesses out-of-business to trying to get more AdWords cash out of big brands. And SEO was dead yet again.
If SEO is dead, it sure has been taking its time dying, as I’ve written in the past. If Google really does have a grand master plan to wipe out small businesses, then it’s going on 10 years now that it hasn’t managed to do it.
The reality is that I’d say the vast majority of small businesses are getting plenty of traffic from Google, real small businesses that make real things or provide real services.
Of course, if the definition of small business is someone who writes hundreds of articles for a blog, to carry Google’s or someone else’s ads alongside, then “spins” those articles using software into slightly different versions for three other blogs to carry more ads, then yes, those types of businesses are in danger. They were from the beginning, actually, and it’s surprising they’ve lasted so long.
None of that is meant to take away from anyone with a quality site who has been harmed by latest update. If Google’s screwing up on listing relevant sites, we want to know, and we sure want that corrected. But as someone who has witnessed Google updates for as far back as we’ve had Google — who can remember panic over updates with Excite that existed before Google — this seems fairly normal.
Search didn’t suddenly stop sending everyone traffic. Google didn’t just stop sending sites tons of traffic. A bunch of people were definitely hit, some of whom probably should have been hit. A bunch of people were rewarded, some of whom should have been rewarded. Most people probably noticed no change at all. Here’s hoping the people who were hit mistakenly, or who weren’t rewarded as they should have been, get corrected in future updates.