Have I Just Discovered How the Penguin Penalty Works?
The first thing I did was find out what Penguin was NOT. Contrary to everyone else, I don’t think Penguin has anything to do with over-optimised anchor text at all.
There are way, way, way too many sites that are still ranking with heavily optimised anchor text (seriously, ask yourself how many other sites should have been penalised based on anchor text optimisation). We can’t assume their “brand authority” metrics have prevented them being penalised either, since Penguin was a spam update and not an overall quality update (unlike Panda).
Remember that Google already had an anchor-optimisation penalty before Penguin, which makes it strange to think that Google would have to bring out a whole new periodical penalty for this. The periodical update might be required to create a spam flagging process for the website origin of the link, which might take into account a number of things.
I’ve also ruled out user-metrics, social signals and content being the issue becuase many big, excellent sites were hit hard by Penguin. From first-hand experience at AffiliateFYI.com, I can also assure you that none of my articles are optmised, spammy, or have low engagement. The only think I’ve done wrong is buy lots of very poor links from digitalpoint forum link sellers.
So What Exactly is Penguin?
In layman’s terms, I think Penguin is a link-based penalty for sites with too many links from flagged, spammy domains. I also think that unnatural site-wide links can be at fault, however I think for most of us it is mainly the first reason.
There might be a filter, such as 30%+ links from flagged domains = Penguin penalty. For arguments sake, “flagged” domains are those that Google has found to be pure spam (link sellers and blog networks). I also think the timing between Google de-indexing the major blog networks and then releasing the Penguin makes it highly likely that they are related.
It makes perfect sense too. Before Penguin, you could build thousands of shitty links to your site to get it ranking without a penalty. I could show you plenty of these types of sites. The Penguin update is the first time that Google is penalizing you for building bad links rather then just devaluing the links themsevles.
So Why Do Some Blackhat Sites Still Rank?
There’s two reasons for this. Firstly, the really clever blackhat SEO webmasters use complex pyramid schemes and post blogs on high DA (Domain Authority) sites such as WordPress.com and HubPages.com. Because some blackhat webmasters only link to their site directly from these high DA blogs, the links are not flagged as spam because the domain is an authoritative one. This is in contrast to blog sellers and link networks, where the link seller’s domains will be flagged as spam.
The second reason blackhat sites may be ranking now is becasue they are either too new for Penguin to assess (e.g. less then 3 months) or because they have done manipulative 301s.
What Should you do to Recover?
I’ve written an entire article at IGBAffiliate.com here which explains everything. There’s no point in me writing it all here again. Just bear in mind that I wrote that article a few days ago before I worked out what Penguin was.