Note: I did a Google+ post on this earlier, but I wanted to go a little bit more in depth here.
If you’ve read any major SEO blogs lately all you seem to read about is the so-called “penguin penalty.” Mere hours after the penguin update hit several articles titled “how to recover from the Google Penguin penalty” started showing up all over the web.
Isn’t it amazing how so many people are willing to show you how to fix something before they’ve even fixed it themselves? I’m sure those quickest to log in to WordPress and spew out something with the word Penguin in it were rewarded with lots of panicked clients, but I worry about the advice those clients received.
Penguin Isn’t a Penalty
There’s that word again. You keep using it but I do not think it means what you think it does.
For starters, it’s time to stop thinking about Penguin as a penalty. It’s a change to the ranking algorithm designed to not reward spammy techniques. Penguin most likely isn’t penalizing you as much as it’s just not giving any weight to some of your links or keywords on the page if it deems them likely to be spammy.
Unlike how most true Google penalties work you can’t just remove the spammy things, file a reconsideration request, and expect your rankings to immediately bounce back. They most likely won’t.
Simply removing bad links is NOT the way to recover from Penguin
In the rush to become the Penguin experts several SEOs posted Penguin recovery articles that suggested if you remove the spammy links everything will be fine. This caused many other SEOs to obsess about every one of their incoming links to the point where they even started serving takedown requests on questionable sites who linked to them. Those people are idiots.
Think About It Logically
Let’s think critically here: if Penguin were a penalty based on bad links it would completely open the floodgates for negative SEO and anybody would be able to take down any site they pleased. I don’t want to debate the whole concept of negative SEO. I’ll just say that yes negative SEO is possible but it’s not possible by just firing up scrapebox or xrumer and pointing a ton of links to a quality site. That won’t work – and it won’t work because Penguin isn’t really a penalty; it’s a ranking factor.
So then, why did my site lose rankings?.
Chances are, your site stopped ranking because many of your links stopped counting. It looks and feels like a penalty, but it’s really just a change in your link graph. When @rhea from Outspoken Media put up a Penguin Poll on Facebook a few minutes ago (yes, I wrote this post in 20 minutes) we started chatting and she gave a great example. I’m lazy so I’m just going to copy and paste that. Here’s what she said:
Devalued is the key. It’s what we’ve seen [specific example removed]… When you hack out the spam network, it makes sense that the value of the entire site would fall by X% vs a -30 penalty or something else like that, which isn’t applied site-wide.
That makes perfect sense to me. Suppose pre-Penguin you had 1,000 links pointing to your site and 300 of them were all forum signatures with the anchor text of “knockout gas umbrellas”. Penguin comes along, notices those 300 forum links that all look the same and stops giving them weight. It’s only natural that you’d no longer rank for the term “knockout gas umbrellas” since you just lost 30% of your incoming links! Or to look at it another way, the main reason you ranked for that term was probably because you had 300 spammy links.
Your Expert Is Wrong
If you hired one of those “experts” who wrote about penguin recovery on day one there’s no doubt he’d notice those forum links too (after all, he IS an expert.) According to the blog posts though, his advice would probably be to immediately remove them all. That’s not a bad idea and it won’t hurt you in the long run, but it also won’t bring your rankings back. Even if you remove all the bad links, you still have 30% less links than you had before!
If you want to ensure your rankings to come back you’ve got to make up for those spammy links that Penguin hacked off.
Chances are if you were hit by Penguin you weren’t hit sitewide. If you were (and no longer rank for your company name or website URL for example) it’s probably something other than Penguin at play. If you look at the keywords you were hit on, you’ll most likely discover that the only reason you ranked for them in the first place is because of your spammy links or keyword stuffing. Now that the spam isn’t counting your rank is back down to where it would be without them. (and likely where it was before you did your spamming.)
So what would I do if I were hit by Penguin? If there were spammy links that I controlled (like forum signatures or link wheels) I’d probably go ahead and remove them since they’re clearly not helping me. If there were links I couldn’t control though I’d ignore them and focus my efforts on building more high quality links to replace the low quality ones that Google’s no longer counting.
Of course if you were doing that from the start you wouldn’t be worrying about the Penguin update at all now would you?