Last month, on April 24th, Google had a new and major update. This update is called “Penguin” and is also known as the “Over-optimization” (albeit, this aka is inaccurate) update. It is likely that more businesses took a serious hit in rankings from this update than all of the previous year’s “Panda” updates combined. Some studies are showing already that as much as five percent of businesses on page one results of Google lost more than ten positions for their coveted keyword phrase rankings. This kind of change can ruin the traffic and findability of a site in organic search. If you were hit hard like this, do not despair, yet, as there is a way to rebound your rankings but it will take some serious work and it must be the right kind of work or you may as well turn back to traditional offline or social media marketing to salvage your business at all.
The problems associated with Google’s Penguin Update
If it is at all meet to suggest that Penguin is actually yet another “over-optimization” penalty… over-optimization can be broken down into two main areas: 1. On-page factors, and 2. Off page factors. It looks like Penguin attacks off-page factors heavier than on-page ones and that Panda hit and continues to hit on page factors.
On-page pertains to your copy and internal linking. The main problems here are with keyword stuffing and duplicate/respun/low-value content. But these can be corrected to help with your Panda woes. Think “NATURAL.” The way to naturalize your optimization is by dropping the black hat and embracing the white hat methods. There was a day when keyword stuffing and portal pages worked miracles at Google but that day is now gone. Today, your keyword stuffing is going to hurt you. Keyword stuffing now affects Google rankings negatively and is measured by metrics like anchor text, alt text, keyword densities, keyword frequencies, keyword prominence and keyword proximity. If your keyword phrase densities are above 4% you are likely feeling Panda on these pages. Optimization is page specific. You can use a KDA (keyword density analyzer) to determine your pages percentage of any keyword or phrase. If you are targeting a three word phrase and the density is over 4% you should probably act quickly to recover these pages rankings.
Pay special attention to the anchor text of the links to other pages on your site; anchor text counts as text, something many designers and “SEO’s” seem to ignore (or be ignorant of). The best way to deal with this is with mild rewrites of your affected pages copy, starting with your links, especially if you see your phrase or part of it in two or more of your internal links on any page. These rewrites must also lower your target phrases densities so that they are within acceptable ranges for your sites themes. When renaming your links, think “natural” and replace the keywords with semantically related words. And not any old rewrite will work, that is, just getting rid of some of the instances will not get the job done. You need to replace instances with semantically related words and phrases.
This is where it gets tricky, identifying the right words to use as replacements to your over used exact match phrases. This is also where I can be of great assistance to you. I can provide you with the right words that are not the exact match phrases but help Google to know that your page is about your target phrase even if you are not using the exact target phrase on the page. This is thanks to my understanding of Natural Language Processing and Latent Semantic Analysis. I have very elite tools and libraries which are based upon Google’s whitepapers and algorithm patents that help with this job. Good luck finding these tools and libraries on your own as there are only a handful of seasoned SEO’s who even know about true “theming” and how to use it to benefit in Google’s rankings.
To check if you have content duplication problems try entering your URL into the tool at www.copyscape.com. Sometimes it is easier to rewrite your page than it is to get all the plagiarizers to remove their duplication of your thought out text. If you think you’ve been hit by Penguin, make the call soon before your new rankings become imbedded.
The other problem that may need fixing is your inbound link profile. It looks like this is the main thing Penguin hits hard. IBL’s (in bound links) have become the Google bane of late and have gained the attention of over aggressive and black hat SEO’s. That is they over worked the weighted areas and manipulate Google by artificially increasing a sites number of IBL’s. Believe it or not, your aggressive link building strategies of the past may be hurting your rankings at Google today. Yes, your link popularity may be too high and too keyword anchor text rich for today’s new algorithms/penalties. This can be fixed but if your new problems are related to artificially inflated link popularity and more importantly artificially/crafted link reputations, this fix is harder to correct than the on-page solutions. If you are buying links from brokers or are using link building services, for instance from India, you need to cease and desist these practices first then work on “naturalizing” your profiles. I can help you accomplish this also.
It looks like what is really happening now, with the Penguin Update, is that Google is clamping down on the “Specific” quality guidelines, with emphasis on linking advice detailed in their Webmaster Guidelines. These have been online for you to read for many years and a couple years ago Google even expanded this sections content to be more educational for the public. These guidelines are primarily spam fighting measures and many sub-routines have been implemented into Google’s algorithm which automate finding pages in violation of them. These are the first things you need to look at if you suspect you’ve been hit by the Penguin Update. From Google (I will annotate some comments in italics):
Quality guidelines – specific guidelines
- Avoid hidden text or hidden links.
Duh, no brainer, don’t hide text from users or search engines. Panda update harshly addresses this rule!
- Don’t use cloaking or sneaky redirects.
You are probably not doing this but if you are it could be the main source of your woes. BTW, Google uses cloaking techniques themselves but the call it “IP Detection” (think about how they geo-target and deliver personalized search results). It is best for the long-term to avoid these practices of showing the search engine one thing and your site visitors something else.
- Don’t send automated queries to Google.
This is a tough one to get around. If you must do so try and do this work late at night when Google’s bandwidth usage is lower.
- Don’t load pages with irrelevant keywords.
This should be obvious. And it skews you optimization efforts and has almost always hurt more than helped sites in ranking anyways. As anchor text is text, Panda update hits sites violating this rule too.
- Don’t create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content.
This has historically been one of the biggest reasons Web content is penalized or devalued. “Substantially Duplicate?” If your pages content is 40% or higher duplication of another page that has been online longer, expect your page to be algorithmically devalued.
- Don’t create pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware.
This is an obvious no no, wouldn’t you agree? (unless you sell antivirus software)
- Avoid “doorway” pages created just for search engines, or other “cookie cutter” approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content.
Google has been hot against this practice for a while now but it seems to help sometimes as long as the problem is not rampant. I am not recommending the practice, rather, I recommend constantly increasing your content equity with helpful and useful new content for the user.
- If your site participates in an affiliate program, make sure that your site adds value. Provide unique and relevant content that gives users a reason to visit your site first.
This is a newer addition to the specific guidelines. It has always been an important part of Google’s “spam raters guide.” Affiliates, make sure you have good value adds that are unique to your affiliate site. And this is where a good programmer comes in especially handy.
You can read all of the guidelines here: Google Webmaster Guidelines. Review this first and then check for messages to you directly from Google by checking your Google Webmaster Tools. Fix these issues first and then if you are still having problems, or if the task is just too daunting for you, give me a call.
If you’ve taken a hard hit lately at Google you may be facing both on-page (Panda) and off-page (Penguin) problems that require expert help to repair. If Penguin hit you hard, you should audit your links as a starting point to recovery. I stand ready to help you with this endeavor. You just need to make the call.
I look forward to helping you naturalize your over-optimized site using today’s most cutting edge semantic sciences and tools.