Has your business recently disappeared from Google searches?
Three years ago Google began the process of changing the way their search results were determined.
The change was in fact the first iteration of their anti-link spam filter called ‘the Penguin update’ which was released in April 2012.
SEO has not been the same since.
By its very definition, SEO is the science of employing various methodologies to ensure that Google (and other search engines) see your website clearly and positively. Google uses these indicators to provide a relevancy score, upon which your position on any given search is determined.
If you think of SEO as a game, Google unquestionably makes the rules. And they hold the formula for success very close to their chest.
The Penguin update, which has been followed by several subsequent releases on the same vein, targets websites that have in Google’s eyes, unnatural link profiles.
Why websites are penalised
Typically, it is websites that have a large number of links pointing to them from sites such as ’just for SEO’ web directories and article directories that have been penalised.
Webmasters employing SEO agencies to do this sort of work for them in the past had very likely profited from the strategy for some time, however the tactic is, essentially, a means of artificially inflating website rankings.
Another popular SEO method that Google has hit hard is the over optimisation of ‘anchor text’ (the clickable text that links one site to another). If everyone that links to your site uses one of your commercial keywords to link rather than, say, your brand name then this is a pretty big flag to Google that you’ve been manipulating the links to your website for SEO gain.
How websites are penalised
Google tackles these types of link spam in 2 ways:
1) Manual action: If someone from Google takes a look at your link profile and decides you are acting in violation of the guidelines they apply a penalty to your domain and you are informed via your Google webmaster tools account. They may even give you a few examples of the links you need to deal with to help get you started in recovering the situation.
2) Algorithmic Penalty: This is basically the effect of the Google Penguin update kicking in, meaning the algorithm which determines your Google rank identifies that the website has been doing SEO which is deemed to contravene the guidelines.
When did this happen?
Google has released several iterations of their Penguin update since April 2012. Below is a list of the previous dates on which Google has refreshed the penguin algorithm. If you’ve been penalised by Penguin then the negative results will have invariably come shortly after one of the following:
•Penguin 1.0 (Penguin #1) | 24/04/2012
• Penguin 1.1 (Penguin #2) | 25/05/2012
• Penguin 1.2 (Penguin #3) | 05/10/2012
• Penguin 2.0 (Penguin #4) | 22/052013
• Penguin 2.1 (Penguin #5) | 04/10/2013
• Penguin 3.0 (Penguin #6) | 18/10/2014
What Penguin looks like
We have worked with a number of sites negatively impacted as a result of both Penguin and manual penalties and understand it can be a worrying time when the flow of leads and sales generated by organic traffic halts over night. Below is an example screenshot of a site impacted by the October 2013 update as you see effects were quite dramatic and devastating to the website involved:
The road to recovery
We have successfully provided Google Penguin penalty recovery services for more than a year, and have helped dozens of websites that have approached us with exactly the issues outlined above.
The recovery process requires patience and a strong understanding of exactly what Google is trying to achieve with the penguin algorithm.
Firstly we audit the links pointing to your existing website. Some may have been earned naturally and will be beneficial, others won’t. So we manually check each link to determine its relevance, anchor text and generally the legitimacy of why the site is linking to you. It’s a labour intensive but necessary process in understanding which links are causing the problem so you don’t throw out the good with the bad.
Next we go through the process of finding contact information and manually reaching out to all webmasters on your behalf requesting (very nicely!) that they remove the link as it is no longer benefiting either party. We recommend at least 2/3 attempted contacts to each webmaster in order to get the best chance of having the links removed.
Unfortunately not everyone will respond, and sadly some unscrupulous webmasters have deemed these issues as an opportunity to profit and will request payment for removal of the links (something that Google discourages). In these cases we produce something called a disavow file – basically a list of links pointing to your website. This has two benefits:
1. We ask Google to no longer count these links in determining their results.
2. It demonstrates to Google that you’re playing by the rules and trying to address the problem in the right way.
Once the disavow file has been submitted to Google via your webmaster tools account if your penalty is manual we can submit a reconsideration request to Google with supporting evidence of our efforts to remove the links and await their response (usually a couple of weeks). If your penalty is algorithmic i.e. Penguin, we need to wait until the next time they refresh the Penguin filter before seeing the fruits of our labour, at this point the site’s rankings and traffic will begin to recover.
Previously Google was refreshing their Penguin updates every 4/5 months, however the latest update took over a year to be released.
Good times ahead – What recovery looks like
Whilst I hope the above all makes sense and helps you understand the issues you face, the important question I’m sure you are asking yourself is – does it work? Below is a snapshot from our internal ranking software that shows a client we have been working with on a Penguin recovery strategy over the past few months. This example demonstrates just what happens once the above process has been followed and Google once again feels confident that your site is working back in line with their guidelines.
The website in question was heavily impacted by the previous update in October 2013 so the business came to us for help. As a result of the work we carried out we have now seen the site bounce up an average of 61 positions across over 25 search terms, with the majority back where they belong on page 1. Needless to say they’re pleased with our efforts and the hard work has paid off.
A change in approach
Whilst Google have suggested they are working on ways to ensure updates come more regularly, we strongly advise you invest in other areas to help generate traffic to replace what you have lost during this period.
We offer Pay per Click Marketing services for both Google and Facebook, these can both provide your business with excellent visibility online and measurable returns.
Remember, Google has changed the rules of the game and SEO now places much greater emphasis on relevancy, fresh content and social sharing. Simply removing the back links that you’re penalised for offers no guarantees that your Google rank will return.
If you would like help with SEO recovery or developing an ongoing SEO strategy for your business then get in touch and speak to a member of our team by calling us on: 0161 662 5145.