On May 10th 2013 Google launched their second version of the algorithm update called "Penguin". This update affected roughly 2.3% of all searches and is aimed at targeting websites with low or manipulative SEO characteristics.
With the roll out of this new update, thousands of websites shifted in the search results, some for the worse and some for the better. In today's blog we are going to explain what you need to do if your website dropped in ranking post penguin to help regain a top ranking on Google.
The world of SEO has drastically changed over the last 2-3 years and for those who are not on top of these changes, there's a good chance you're hurting from all the updates. If you are not familiar with how SEO has changed and where it's going, I would take the time to review this resource: Critical Info You Need to Know About SEO in 2013
Step 1: Identifying Your Problem Areas
As the famous saying goes, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. In this case it's identifying the problem. Although there have been many udpates recently and many factors have changed in important,there are two main factors that are very common in most websites that have recently dropped in rankings.
Poor On-Site SEO:
For years it was a generally accepted principle that one way to better your SEO for a particular keyword was to place that keyword in as many places as possible.
People would place long keywords in the titles, URLs, link anchor texts, image alt texts, footers, etc. The result was a website that was not very user friendly, was very "in your face" with that keyword but ranked high in searches.
With the Penguin 1.0 and now the Penguin 2.0 Google algorithm refreshes, this was one of the main factors it was trying to stop. Thus, websites that had a very "keyword stuffed" contents were dropped lower.
Do a website audit and see how user friendly your website is and how much your forcing keywords on the page, URL, menus, footers, etc. Put yourself in your audience's shoes. If they would get annoyed at seeing too many keywords, you probably have too many.
If you're still unsure after you do your website audit, perform user testing or simply gather 5-10 participants to review the website and fill out a simple questionnaire. In that questionnaire you can ask them questions regarding keyword usage. Just be aware they may not be aware of non-visible keyword stuffing like alt text, anchor text or URL.
Spammy Link Profile:
The second major reason websites have been dropping for the Google Penguin update is because they have a spammy link profile. This can mean a few different things:
- Too many Links for Low Quality Sources: If the vast majority of your links are from comments areas, forums, overseas sites or link networks there's a good chance your ranking dropped. These links are typically built from black hat link buying or spamming. Google hates these kinds of links because they hold very little value for the users and is seen as spam.
- Exact Match Anchor Text: With every link you get, you have the ability to add in additional, non-visable text called anchor or title text that explains more about what the link is about.
For years people would cram in exact match keywords to help boost their ranking. Now, Google looks at your links and if there are too many exact match keywords in your anchor text, they look poorly on it.
What you are looking for is to have 60% branded alt texts, 30% with various keywords and only 10% exact match keywords. You can review your link profile in your Google webmaster tools or by using various tools such as Open Site Explorer.
There are a handful of other factors that have hit websites after the recent Penguin, EMD and Panda updates done by Google, however, the two listed above are probably the most common reasons for drops. You can learn about all the Google algo updates on this helpful resource by our friends at Moz.
Step 2: Plan & Implement a Clean Up Effort
Once you have identified some of the critical things you'll need to clean up, you will then need to create a good plan of action.
If you've Identified poor on-site SEO:
Take the time to pick through every single page and revamp your current on-site SEO. I would suggest completely deleting your current meta information and starting fresh with the user in mind.
Create a good naming convention for meta titles, we typically use something link: product name | category name | brand name. However, it really will vary depending on company and webpage. You can learn more about meta writing at these blogs:
If your website is older and is in really bad/spammy SEO shape, it honestly may make more sense to simply start fresh. Creating a completely new website can be a great way to completely revamp your site's effectiveness, usability and SEO. Make sure to take your time to perform some research to ensure you do everything correctly this time around.
Whether you've created a new website or simply cleaned up your old one, you will want to submit it back to Google for re-indexing. This can easily be done in Google webmaster tools by using the "Fetch as Googlebot" tool and then choosing to reindex page plus (do the homepage) all links. I would also suggest resubmitting your sitemaps as well.
If you've identified spammy link profile:
This scenario is more common and unfortunately takes way more work to help clean up. Once you've examined your link profile using Google webmaster tools or Open Site Explorer, you will need to download the CSV's of one (or both) of these.
Then painstaking comb through the list to remove all the good links, leaving only the poor quality links. Then you will need to visit each link, one-by-one, and request the removal of the link.
Once you have as many links possible removed manually, then you can take whatever links you have left and submit them into the Google Disavow tool. This tool is a request for Google to basically turn these links into no-follow links that don't pass credit on. You can learn how to do this at this blog: The Ultimate Guide to Using Google's Disavow Tool
Step 3: Start the Long Journey of Rebuilding
Just performing step 2 of cleaning up your current website will only shed all the "bad karma" and help you from dropping lower due to poor SEO. It will not help you increase your rankings much.
The last and most important thing you can do to help start rebuilding after a drop in rankings is to start developing a high quality strategy for building new, top quality links from great websites.
This is a whole art in itself which I'm not going to get into great detail. The global concept to keep in mind is that you need to create amazing content and resources that people will get excited to share, link to and promote. If you look at this blog, I've linked to a number of resources simply because they are great quality and hold value for my audience.
Once you have a good internal content creation strategy rolling, then you will want to start looking at expanding out for other ways to build great links. These include, but are not limited to guest blogging, infographics, speaking at and/or sponsoring events, etc. You can learn more about modern link building here.
These are the basic steps that should be taken if your website was hit by the penguin Google update. Please note that your exact strategy will really depend on what signals your website was giving Google and what industry you're in.
If you have any questions or have additional comments, please post in the comments below.