By: Barrie Smith, Receptional
The Penguin update rolled out by Google in April 2012 was one of the biggest algorithmic updates in search engine history. More than a year on and a number of webmasters and marketing companies are yet to work out how to combat it, and some are still putting their websites at risk of being penalized by the “black hat” SEO tactics they continue to employ.
Working for an internet marketing agency, we were contacted by a large UK retailer who had recently been hit by the Penguin penalty and saw their traffic plummeting. Over the course of the year we worked on tidying up their backlink profile and getting them back into and to the top of Google. Here is how we helped them fully recover.
The website had been getting 7,000+ organic visitors on a daily basis before Google released their Penguin algorithm update, and then shortly after the release, their traffic levels fell through the floor. With it came thousands of pounds worth of potential business on a daily basis.
An “unnatural link” warning message was received in Google Master Tools, prompting us to overthrow a link spam penalty and not an algorithm penalty (Penguin) as later discovered. Traffic had plummeted by 62% and rankings for traffic-driving keywords including their brand name had dropped by as many as 50 places in Google search engine results.
According to a survey conducted by Barry Schwartz at the start of this year, 94% of Google Penguin victims had not fully recovered. That survey was run off the back of another one that Mr. Schwartz carried out in May 2012, asking his readers how they had been affected by the initial Google Penguin update. 65% of the 1,000 polled said they had been negatively affected by the algorithm change—that puts our success story amongst the 6% of Penguin victims who say they have fully recovered.
Our team agreed upon two main objectives:
- Replace lost revenue with alternative traffic sources.
- Resolve penalties to regain lost positions in search engine results.
- Our PPC team created a dedicated “brand only” campaign with the aim of recovering lost brand traffic.
- Build a new website on a fresh domain using “white hat” SEO techniques to rank for our key traffic-driving terms and then redirect traffic to the penalized brand domain using clear calls to action.
- Investigate the backlink profile and on page issues of the penalized site to determine the exact nature of the penalty.
With the criteria laid out, our team began work on investigating the link profile of our client against Google’s quality guidelines to ensure best practice was untaken throughout.
Our investigations led us to discover that this drop in traffic was not solely due to the manual “link spam” penalty. On top of this, the client’s website had received a search algorithmic penalty too, later confirmed as “Penguin” on 24 April 2012 by Matt Cutts, Google’s head of search spam. So, we were dealing with not one, but two penalties.
Whilst going through the backlink profile of our client’s site, we discovered a group of sites that were hosting paid links. Further investigation into these sites helped us find that other websites had dropped in the rankings using the exact same terms. However, these sites were not suffering a brand name penalty as our client was. Speculation within our industry pointed to an algorithmic penalty, which was later confirmed as Penguin.
Adapting the Strategy
The main purpose of the Penguin update had been to improve the quality of Google’s search results. Websites with an unnatural backlink profile—due to employing black hat techniques—were penalized by losing positions in the rankings. To adhere with Google’s emphasis on quality, we decided that a “back to basics approach,” involving a manual review and categorization of all backlinks was needed to recover.
Pre-Disavow Tool Removal
Manually reviewing 30,000 links may seem like an unnecessary and long-winded task to many, but in this circumstance, it allowed us to find out where all of our links were coming from. This gave us greater control. For the second re-inclusion request to succeed, we wanted to create our own link categorization process.
The process was as follows:
- Manual review of the 30,000+ backlinks.
- Deal with the blackmail (some webmasters wanted cash for the removal of malicious links from their websites).
- Uncooperative and non-communicable webmasters.
The second re-inclusion request submitted to Google documented everything as follows:
- All links found—categorized by type and given a quality rating.
- All links for removal—including emails and responses, contact times, and webmaster contact details.
- All links they had managed to remove.
- A list of links we couldn’t remove so we asked Google to please ignore these links.
- A list of paid banners and links that webmasters refused to mark up as “no follow.”
Once again our request was turned down. This made us believe there must be a threshold of removed links needed to be surpassed for re-inclusion to be granted. At this stage, removal of further links was becoming a very challenging task with the lack of cooperation from webmasters of the third party websites on top of the low quality web spam links that were out of our control.
Many webmasters were highlighting the unfairness of this penalty on the forums, and aware of these inconsistencies, Matt Cutts announced in July 2012 that Google would be releasing a disavow tool.
Disavow Tool Released
After the launch of the Google Disavow Tool within Web Master Tools, our off page team put together a list of links at both domain and link level into the file. We allowed six weeks to pass whilst Google re-crawled all of the links in our submission. Almost to the day, the client received a message in their Web Master Tools account notifying them that their manual penalty had been revoked.
Shortly after being re-included, traffic started to return to the website as it began ranking on the first page of Google search results once again. All of our efforts had given our client’s website a clean bill of health and the search terms that had previously been directing the most traffic were no longer penalized, and once again sending them lots of visits.
For more information on how Receptional can help you recover from Google’s Penguin Penalty, visit our site at http://www.receptional.com.