Posted by Sam Battin, Senior Natural Search Specialist
Since Google’s initial launch of its “Penguin” update on April 24, 2012, Google has updated its release to version 1.1 on May 26, 2012. In this blog post we’ll look at what’s new and provide some additional advice if Penguin is still a concern.
First, let’s discuss the so-called “1.1 update.” Technically, this was a “data refresh,” and not a true update. While an algorithmic update changes the values by which Google decides ranks, a data refresh is the process of replacing existing information in Google servers with the latest information. According to Matt Cutts, this latest refresh affects less than .01% of searches. Perhaps the best way to think about Penguin is that its primary function is to reward high-quality sites rather than punish the bad ones. By re-focusing your natural search efforts around what Google is telling us it needs to see, you’re making your site better for your visitors.
GET GOOGLE WEBMASTER TOOLS
Now is a better time than ever to put your site on Google Webmaster Tools. A couple of days before Penguin was launched, Google sent the following email through GWT to certain sites (some of whom were, perhaps un-coincidentally, hit by Penguin):
“Dear site owner or webmaster of (Company Name)
We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.
We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results.”
Isn’t that nice of Google, to give you a heads-up? Seriously, it’s better than never knowing what you did wrong. If you’re not on Google Webmaster Tools you’re missing out on a lot of insights into your natural search performance, so we recommend you sign up and take advantage as soon as possible.
LINKING SCHEMES ARE STILL BAD
How can you recover from Penguin? This article at Search Engine Land may provide a better idea of what Google thinks are suspicious linking schemes. In a nutshell, the legitimate, non-spam site WPMU.org got hit by Penguin. What WPMU.org did was create a WordPress theme which got downloaded and used by a bunch of different people, and this WordPress theme happened to have a link pointing back at WPMU.org with the anchor text “WordPress MU.” WPMU.org is not affiliated with WordPress, but its linking scheme produced about a half million links to their site designed to improve visibility for queries that included the word “WordPress.”
When Penguin was released, WPMU.org lost a lot of traffic, but when it got rid of the WordPress theme with the misleading anchor text, its traffic started to come back. This indicates Google may have created this algorithm to penalize sites with inbound links that repeat the same anchor text.
It’s likely that the best value you’ll get from inbound links is when they’re truly organic, e.g. the linkers decide what’s in the anchor text, not you. The more similar your inbound link anchor text is, the less value Google will give it. Take a close look at your inbound links; if there are lots and lots of links with the same anchor text, set to work deleting them right away.