Google shook the SEO world when it released what are known as the Panda and Penguin updates to the Google search algorithm. Panda came out in February 2011, affecting 12% of all search results. Penguin was released in April 2012 and it affected 3.1% of the 1.2 trillion search queries, which is less than Panda, but still a significant number. Both of these updates are algorithmic, not to be confused with a Google manual action.
What is an algorithmic penalty and why do we have them?
Simply put, Google got fed up with webmasters who were delivering a low-quality user experience to websites and were trying to game the system. To combat the issue, Google developed two algorithms that would help automate the process of rewarding high quality sites. It released two different algorithm updates, both targeting different areas of quality.
How do you tell if you’re in an algorithmic penalty?
Google typically announces all algorithmic penalties that they push. You can find an accurate timeline of algorithmic penalty pushes in Moz’s timeline that can be cross-referenced with your own site analytics. If you saw a drop in traffic at the time time that Google released an update, you may have been hit.
Once you’ve identified the penalty as Panda or Penguin, it is time to diagnose why Google thinks your site is not up to its standards. Here are some things to look out for.
Recovering from a Panda update
The Panda update focuses on increasing the ranks of high quality sites with great user experience. Low quality sites are sites that do not offer value to your users, scrape content from other websites, or are generally not useful at all. A low quality website would have the following attributes. Be sure to avoid or fix them.
- Bad user experience: Your website should be easy for the user to navigate
- Lots of affiliate links and intrusive advertisements: Google sees excessive affiliate links and advertisements as low quality
- Content farms, ie duplicate, scraped or low quality content:
piece of content on your website should have a purpose for the site not just for a search engine
- Serves no purpose: Your site should provide useful information to the person who lands there
Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to recovering from Panda. You just have to learn from it and move on. Do things for the sake of the user. Make changes for the sake of improving the user experience of your visitors. Create great content on your website to help cater to your visitors, and offer the most value you can. Go through every page on your website to see if it, in fact, delivers a good user experience. Are the pages useful? Do they serve a purpose other than driving organic traffic? These are things you must look out for when recovering from Panda.
Recovering from a Penguin update
The Penguin update focused on decreasing the ranks for websites that have spammy links around the web. These spammy links do not follow Google’s quality guidelines. A site hit by Penguin would likely have the following attributes:
- Over-optimized anchor text links: Websites with high amount of non-branded anchor texts look suspicious and unnatural
- Unnatural links: Links that are not organically placed by the webmaster are considered unnatural by Google
- Unusual linking patterns: Links from irrelevant websites or websites with a suspiciously high amount of outbound links are considered an unusual linking pattern
Penguin penalties are link-based so you need to remove the low quality links that were built. The process of removing the links is the same process you would follow when getting out of a manual action penalty, minus the reconsideration request. This involves finding the links that you believe are low quality, such as article directories, web directories or blog networks and reach out with a request to remove or disavow.
Once you make the necessary changes to your website, don’t expect overnight results. Your website will only recover when Google pushes a new update to the algorithm. Keep track of algorithm updates using Moz’s algorithm timeline. Most importantly, make sure to continue catering to the user in the future.