Penguin Diagnosis and Solutions for Penalised Sites
Last month was a bit of a horror show for a number of people. The Penguin update killed a lot of Webmaster’s sites (far more then Panda did according recent SEOMoz analysis) and now everyone is looking for the answers.
The annoying thing about this update is that everyone has tried to explain the synopsis and what went wrong.
I find it really irritating when major SEO blogs such as SearchEngineLand.com and SEOMoz.org write up posts on “Penguin Diagnosis” and “How to Fix your Site” etc when they don’t have any solutions or knowledge of what is going on. It’s like they feel compelled to write about it, even though they don’t know what to say. “Don’t panic” seems to be the main advice, which isn’t exactly advice in my opinion when people have been losing their jobs.
My Own Penguin Recovery Advice and Post-Penguin SEO Tips
First of all, the Penguin penalties for most webmasters were because of poor quality links. People are arguing about anchor text, analyzing why specific pages moved up or down, but the fact is this Penguin update just penalized web spam with tons of low quality links.
People keep going on about how it’s “anchor text optimization”, “on-page optimization”, “a penalty against affiliate sites”, blah blah. At the end of the day most sites that have bought spammy links all fit these profiles, which is why there’s so much correlation. I think a few other factors might have been involved (e.g. brand signals increasing in importance, domain age), but in general this update was all about targeting web spam, not promoting high quality sites.
Just to end the debate, my own affiliate blog was hit by this update. I have 100% original content, a range of loyal followers (including daily type-ins), my brand name AffiliateFYI.com in all of my Page Titles, tons of excellent, natural links, excellent user metrics (average 5 mins on site, 30% bounce) etc…So you can’t say any of that was the issue.
So what did I do wrong? I bought a ton of shitty links from DigitalForums over the last few months, which I now regret. Regardless of whether you have a good site, Google has penalized any sites that have bought poor quality links, which is outside of their Guidelines. Top sites have gotten away with it for obvious reasons (i.e. they are good enough for Google to ignore these things).
Advice for Webmasters Affected by Penguin
My personal advice is don’t wait around like all the SEO blogs suggest. They don’t really know what they’re talking about and just aren’t confident to give advice on this update.
1) Since this update targeted low quality links, you need to work out if you can remove those low quality links you bought. If you can, great, and I’d hope that this rolling algorithm would de-penalize your site after a month or two (I don’t think there will be any re-inclusion request).
2) The chances are you can’t, since most low quality links will be from automated SEO programs, directories, forum profiles, auto-generated web 2.0 blogs, and webmasters with no contact address. If this is the case, I’d personally take your site down, wait for it to de-index, the re-launch the entire site on a new domain (and switch the quality links to the new domain). This might not seem a perfect solution, but it will get you back on track and remove the risks of future updates that target web spam.
Is it Worth doing a 301 for a Penalised Site?
301’s tend to work for penalized sites, for a while anyway. I’m currently doing an experiment with one of my penalized sites and so far the 301 has worked and restored rankings.
The problem with performing a 301 is that it’s a short-term solution, like a ticking bomb. It might re-rank your penalized site for a month or two, but I think eventually the penalty will pass through and you’ll be back in the same position. Hence, if you have old sites you don’t really care about then I think it’s definitely worth considering doing a 301. On the other hand, if you have a site that you invested a lot of effort and content into then you’re better off starting on a new domain with a fresh start.
In terms of planning new sites for the future, I would now focus 100% on brands (.com/.co.uk sites) with lots of excellent content, social media following and coding. Yes, links will still be important, but you’ll need to rely on high quality links from good sites, rather then low quality links from spammy sites.
Going forward, change your expenditure from links into great content and social media, since these are risk-free assets that Google cannot punish you for. Lots of content will lead to lots of traffic. Even if your site gets penalized you can recycle great content so it’s good to have most of your value in it. Penalized exact-match domains on the other hand will just become garbage. Top EMD domains are still valuable in terms of SEO, but I just think the risk in buying them has increased, plus it’s less risky to develop a brand for free in my opinion.