Since my last post about the Google Penguin update which was implemented on 24th April I’ve been doing a fair bit of research into what may cause a page or website to be affected by it. Whilst it’s far to early to have any conclusive answer, there does seem to be some agreement about what factors are most likely to have effected peoples sites and it seems to revolve around over optimisation of specific pages, however, it seems likely that this could drag the rest of the site down with it.
Please bear in mind that these are initial thoughts and it will take significant testing time before this can be confirmed, so bearing in mind that there could be an update before hand and that these ideas could be only partially right, please apply any site changes with extreme caution.
What caused my site to drop?
Before we talk about specifics, it does appear that Penguin is a rather over zealous spam filter. So what does that mean? Well, it doesn’t seem to be a change in the algorithm itself as Panda was, but more likely a filter which sits over the top and filters sites out. So your page, according to the algorithm, should be ranking, but then before it’s displayed it’s filtered out by Penguin for being potential spam. I say potential, because it does seem that many legitimate sites have been affected, which is why I expect there to be a significant update to it soon.
So, what is this filter doing?
Whilst it’s far to early to be specific, it’s highly likely that things like keyword density and overuse of synonyms, use of keywords in too many obvious places such as repeated in the title tag, alt images, body text etc, or possibly too many keyword repeats in anchor texts, having too many similar pages is another likely suspect, so for those with multiple pages targeting different regions, which each have titles along the lines of “London Security Systems”, “Manchester Security Systems”, Birmingham Security Systems” etc all with very similar text on the pages, especially if there is no physical address for each are likely to be targets.
What can be done?
Before you do anything, be absolutely sure that you were hit by Penguin and not the panda update which hit in April. To do this log into your webmaster tools account and see if the impressions dropped significantly on the 24th April, if not then it was not Penguin, because this was a filter applied to pages in results, everyone who was hit, saw the drop immediately that it was implemented.
If you are sure it was, then you need to be thinking about why the pages affected could be considered as spam. If you have been playing with a specific keyword density, try reducing it for a couple of pages which were affected, or if you have used excessive synonyms lose some of these. Check the grammar on your site, remember Google is about delivering what it’s users want to find (and selling a mass of advertising) so bad grammar is another possible culprit. You could also try varying your anchor text significantly, try to make it look much more natural, try to avoid simple keywords and use links like this one to a previous post I wrote about punctuation in fact, it’s even possible that poor punctuation could be included, especially seeing as that’s often a giveaway for spun articles. Speaking of which, you should already know not to spin content, it’s a very old technique and you certainly don’t want it on your own website.
Finally links, consider a web page which is perfectly optimised, title, text, alts, the works, then a load of links all point towards it from both inside and outside of your site using the exact same keyword, that hardly looks natural does it? If those links were gained organically there would be a huge variation, so as many of us have been saying for several years now, try to write some content which actually attracts links, that’s the only way to get a really natural looking back link pattern.
There has been talk of links from blogs being devalued, I personally think this is highly unlikely for a number of reasons but mainly because there are a lot of good blogs out there which are still ranking very well. However, what is likely is that those in link networks, which have very low quality content (typically spun) or have as many tags as there are words in the content have been.
Do you have a site which has been hit by Penguin and lost a lot of traffic? If so, I would be keen to have a look and see what we can do to resolve it, just get in touch through the contact form.
There has been talk of resubmitting your site to Google once you have corrected it, I suspect that these requests will be filed away and never actioned, they said that less than 4% of websites were affected, however it seems much higher than this, so they simply don’t have the resources to manually review them all. The good news is that if this is indeed a filter, once corrections have been made, the page should pass through once more, so I doubt a re-inclusion request is required at all anyway.