What To Do About Google’s Penguin Update

There’s no doubting the story of last week – the latest Google update (originally called Panda 3.5 now called Penguin) having a seismic effect on rankings.


Google’s official line is that the update would penalize those who practice keyword stuffing and sites that have unusual linking patterns – such as links from spun content with anchor text that is unrelated to the actual page content. This official post gave two images of extreme examples of the above practices.

In actual fact the update was far, far more acute with many innocents getting penalized. Usually, with updates of this nature Google starts with the dial at max to show the strongest effects of the change and then after tracking the results it will hone and tone down the change to settle down to a new “norm”. And, of course, tweaks and changes to the algorithm will continue on a daily basis.

Who are the winners and losers?

The losers will be relatively new sites that have links pointing to their home page with similar anchor text. The winners will be older sites with more pages, lots of authority and a greater number of links from a variety of sources. So, Google is favoring big brands and individual webmasters will have to work harder.

The effect of Penguin on WPblogTalk

I’m actually coming up to the year’s anniversary of this site. I’ve really enjoyed writing about WordPress, blogging and how we can help our small businesses on the web. However, I’m seriously thinking about calling it a day now because of this…


And have a look at some of the ranking changes for various keywords. EMSPM stands for exact match searches per month according to the Google keyword tool and the dates are dd.mm.yy (I’m from UK).

Keyword EMSPM 24.4.12 25.4.12 28.4.12
wordpress seo 14800 29 160 176
wordpress seo marketing <10 4 175 -
setting up web 2.0 sites - 2 - -
customize youtube channel 720 4 - -

The above table shows two keywords I’ve tried to rank for (“wordpress seo” and “wordpress seo marketing”) and a couple I’ve ranked for by accident (“setting up web 2.0 sites” and “customize youtube channel”).

Now, when I say “tried to rank for” I’m talking pretty white hat here. I have optimized pages for these terms. I have created titles and headings on these subjects. I’ve written articles that I assume my readers have wanted to read – I’ve never keyword stuffed. I’ve also built a few Web 2.0 properties and did a little bit of article marketing. This was all done by hand, by me. I challenge anyone to find a spammy link pointing to this domain.

Instead of devaluing links Google is now penalizing sites with what they see as “over-optimized” links. If one keyword is seen to have been gamed then rankings for all other keywords will be lost (see above).

If you are a web designer from London and have put the anchor text “Web designer London” site-wide on the sites you’ve designed – you will be penalized.

Negative SEO

As things stand at the moment, negative SEO is perfectly possible and very easy – this is another reason I expect Google to tone down Penguin soon. Negative SEO is where a competitor “creates a mass of cr@ppy and spammy links to your site and/or web page with the intention of dropping your ranking” according to PotPieGirl.

There has even been an experimental negative SEO hit on a “pro-Google” member of the SEO community. Seeing how this site has been penalized with a handful of backlinks (guest posts, Web 2.0, articles, and people linking to me) it would seem a competitor with a new site could possibly be taken down with a Fiverr hit!

What this means for search results

As we’ve already seen, Google is favoring the large, old authority sites. These are precisely the sort of sites you’re not looking for in a Google search in my opinion.

“Part of the idea of the web was that it could connect supply and demand directly, but an excessive focus on domain authority leads users to have to go through another set of arbitragers. Efforts to squeeze out micro-parasites has led to the creation of macro-parasites (and micro-parasites that ride on the macro-parasite platforms).” Aaron Wall in SEOBook

Google would be better off concentrating on rating the content using metrics like time on site, bounce rate and social signals – backlinks was the idea that made Google in the first place but it seems to be causing them confusion at the moment.

What you can do

First of all if you want to get some good, quick search results, go to DuckDuckGo – I’ve been using it a lot recently and it seems to deliver good results without the Google hangups.

Secondly, it is a good idea to wait for the dust to settle as new changes like this take a while to bed down. However, if you have a site that is younger than two years old it may be an idea to change the anchor text in the backlinks to the domain name rather than a targeted keyword.

Google has a form if you think you have been affected unfairly by the latest changes. However, I won’t be filling it out just yet.

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Readers Comments

  1. Hi Rob,
    Thank you for all this interesting analysis. To those like me owning young sites, it looks pretty confusing how to get good rankings on SEs with all these changes.
    Thank you for the advise on what we can do and for your insights.

  2. Thanks Rob,this is an eye opener

  3. It’s ridiculous Rob, I had one site (ILoveTumblr.com) which never engaged in ANY blackhat link building get deranked for TONS of keywords for seemingly no reason.

    Pretty outrageous and an overall terrible update, my search results for many terms (unrelated to my sites) now seem more spammy than ever.

    • The more the days go on, the more white hat, great content writers like you voice their disapproval. It’s the same with this site. I’m racking my brains trying to think of some dodgy Fiverr scheme I did for this site but I don’t think I did. I only did high quality backlinks with original content.

      And you’re right, if you’ve too many links with the same anchor text they’ll penalize you for the ones you’re ranking for due to good content. The result is that people come to your site for the wrong reasons and leave. Everyone loses!

      I hope SparringMind.com is OK. Hang in there and we’ll see what happens this week. Hopefully things will improve.

      • I’m not sweating it too much, that site is the only one that “runs” on SEO, all other sites I build are community and email list focused, so it doesn’t faze me much at all, just annoying :).

        • Yeah, I like the organic SEO traffic because I think it can be really targeted, especially in the longtail. However, best to focus on Facebook and other means of getting traffic, as I’m sure you’re doing.

          I’m seeing some Google traffic return today, however.

  4. I can’t say that I’ve seen any impact on my traffic yet (touch wood), but it’s interesting to learn about the potential pitfalls of this latest update. Thanks for your insight Rob!

  5. I submitted a complaint because this appears to have stopped Google from even crawling my website. Other WordPress.com users have similar experiences. A thread in the WordPress forums suggests it has to do with the way that every WordPress.com footer refers to the maker of the site’s theme. Could this be a way for Google to get people to migrate over to Blogger? Probably not consciously so, but thanks for the duckduckgo recommendation as well, as I tried out a few searches and liked the results better than what I got in Google. Plus, they still actually crawl my small website!

    • I didn’t know about the WordPress.com angle. It would be a very, very strict indeed if they were to penalize all WordPress.com blogs. DuckDuckGo is really good and they’ve had a surge in usage recently.

  6. Thanks for the info on this Google update Ron — I never knew! Fortunately, I’ve been so SEO lazy over the past couple of years, I haven’t done too much optimising for a sitewide keyword. I got fed-up with Google ages ago!!!

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