4500 Words on Everything We Don’t Know About Penguin and What Not to Do About It

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 4500 Words on Everything We Dont Know About Penguin and What Not to Do About It

How we feel about Google’s Pen­guin update and you prob­a­bly do too.

Cyn­i­cal title, ain’t it? Frankly, I’ve been putting off writ­ing this “Pen­guin post” for 2 weeks.


Because I have a prob­lem with talk­ing about things I don’t actu­ally know about.

The unfor­tu­nate state of affairs right now is that nobody really knows much about what’s going on. Sure, there are plenty of gurus writ­ing blog posts on “how to recover after Pen­guin,” but the irony is that there are almost no blog posts called “How I Actu­ally Recov­ered After Pen­guin” (hint: link bait oppor­tu­nity, nerds. Get on it.). In other words the vast major­ity of what the gurus and pro­fes­sional SEO jour­nal­ists are say­ing is the­o­ret­i­cal fluff, much of it con­tra­dict­ing, with very few real case stud­ies behind it.

With our shared sen­ti­ments on the table, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work. My goal is to give you a glimpse into what we’re see­ing, what oth­ers are say­ing, what kind of data is out there, what it means, and what to do about it.

Edit #1: Despite the pas­sive aggres­sive head­line, it appears that the dis­cern­ing folks on Twit­ter have deemed this arti­cle help­ful. Yay.

https://twitter.com/MatthewJBrown/status/203587647174754304 https://twitter.com/eppievojt/status/203584603439632384 https://twitter.com/RossHudgens/status/203585206450532352 https://twitter.com/potpiegirl/status/203888320428781569 https://twitter.com/RavenTools/status/204936481029095424

Edit #2: This post was intended to be shared with our clients only. To our sur­prise, it went pretty huge on Twit­ter (see con­ver­sa­tion) and inbound.org. As a result, some unin­tended read­ers have brought up a con­cern that this analy­sis is biased, some­how favors our own link build­ing prod­uct, etc.

To be clear, this is not the case. This arti­cle was writ­ten for peo­ple who already bought our prod­uct. It does offer some per­spec­tive on what the update means for them, the cul­mi­na­tion of which is “there is no notice­able cor­re­la­tion” and “there are no sil­ver bul­lets,” not “buy buy buy!” 

In short, this arti­cle is not intended to sell any­body any­thing. It is intended to help our com­mu­nity, and based on the above feed­back from Twit­ter, it appears to have done just that. The goal is to pro­vide value and con­text for the sit­u­a­tion. We try to do this when­ever we can, like with our Ulti­mate Guide To Google Algo­rithm Change His­tory.

If you are not a user of our prod­uct and have con­cerns about it, first make sure you watch our home­page video so you actu­ally under­stand it. Next, if you still have prod­uct related ques­tions, please con­tact us.

Nei­ther I nor any mem­ber of my team will be field­ing sales ques­tions on this blog post. 

Step 1: What Are We Deal­ing With Here? (In The­ory, Anyway)

Pen­guin is the long awaited “over-optimization penalty” and rum­blings of its com­ing were appar­ent months ahead. If you watched our Panda 3.3 webi­nar, we were already advis­ing our cus­tomers to diver­sify their link pro­files heav­ily with nat­ural anchor texts (i.e. click here, more info, learn more, etc.) and naked anchor texts (i.e. <a href=“http://mysite.com”>http://mysite.com</a>).

Almost unan­i­mously, we’ve heard this to be the case. If your anchor text pro­files are heav­ily over opti­mized for your “money key­words” you may have got­ten slapped or the anchor text rel­e­vancy fac­tor may have merely been deval­ued. Which of the 2 it is tough to deter­mine, but since we know that neg­a­tive SEO works now, we can bet its a penalty, which is good because penal­ties are reversible.

It seems that Google is less inter­ested in par­tic­u­lar key­words, and more in their mean­ings. Applied, this means much bet­ter treat­ment of syn­onyms (this offi­cial state­ment uses the word syn­onym 20 times alone). Ide­ally this would mean that when I search for some­thing like “emer­gency room chicago,” the search engine would be smart enough to look at avail­able results for terms like “hos­pi­tal chicago,” “emer­gency care chicago,” “ambu­lance chicago” and deliver me a SERP con­sist­ing of the most qual­i­fied sites from all of them. For us as SEOs, this is a sig­nal, more than ever, that we should be diver­si­fy­ing anchor texts heav­ily, not just on 2–5 terms, but upwards of 10–30 terms in the long run. With all of this said, whether this syn­onym recog­ni­tion is actu­ally in effect is still ques­tion­able and its qual­ity even more so (more on this below).

That’s half the story any­way. Accord­ing to the won­der­ful wiz­ard of Google, aka Matt Cutts (see offi­cial state­ment), Pen­guin is also intended to devalue/penalize sites for links from irrel­e­vant pages. To be clear, the sever­ity of irrel­e­vance that Matt sug­gests they’re look­ing for is absurd. The out­right stu­pid­ity of some­one who’d build links this way is beyond my comprehension.

For your con­ve­nience, here is Matt’s exam­ple of build­ing irrel­e­vant links in 2012.

link spam 4500 Words on Everything We Dont Know About Penguin and What Not to Do About It

An Exam­ple of Links Com­ing from Irrel­e­vant Con­tent. Who Does This Anyway?

I’m not sure if this is a joke or not. I’ve inter­acted with over 1000 SEOs in my career and I’ve lit­er­ally never met any­one that know­ingly built links like this.

No wor­ries, Matt’s announce­ment is a full on retro party, fea­tur­ing throw­backs such as “we don’t like key­word stuff­ing,” screen­shots and all.

As I’ve pre­vi­ously described, this is what I call the world of appear­ances. It’s the song and dance Google puts on and expects us to believe. There are 3 main groups of peo­ple who believe this stuff — the media, investors and sheep. Don’t get taken to slaugh­ter. There’s a lot more here than meets the eye.

The World of Reality

Right now the SERPs are awful.

I mean, truly abysmal. I don’t mean this from an SEO’s per­spec­tive, I mean it from a search engine user’s per­spec­tive. The crap that I see pop­ping up for search terms is worse now than it was 5 years ago.

Chris Rem­pel says it fan­tas­ti­cally in his very thor­ough Pen­guin analy­sis -

Any­one with half a brain can plainly see that Google’s cur­rent SERPs, span­ning almost every ver­ti­cal, are some of the low­est qual­ity results that we’ve seen in years. Decades, even. There are lit­er­ally forum pro­files and empty blogspot/web 2.0 pages rank­ing for some of the web’s most com­pet­i­tive key­words in every major com­mer­cial market…

I’ve spent the past week pour­ing over hun­dreds SERPs, and I’m con­sis­tently see­ing low-quality, and in many cases out­right non­sense, rank­ing on Page 1 for basi­cally any high-comp key­word. Of course, there’s the nearly-guaranteed pres­ence of WikiPedia/Squidoo/eHow/YouTube/BlogSpot (and equva­lents) across the gamut – irre­spec­tive of qual­ity or even rel­e­vance. Clearly, the domain-authority fil­ter has been jacked up, way too much.

Maybe that’s the “3%” that Matt Cutts had men­tioned was affected by Pen­guin. Per­haps the other 97% of Google’s results com­prise searches like “Why do hip­pies smell?”, “Who would win in a fight Chuck Nor­ris or Moby?” and other com­pletely unprof­itable key­words that sim­ply don’t mat­ter, to anyone.

Although I can give exam­ples for days, here is a great one from Jen­nifer Led­bet­ter, a for­mer Google fan­girl who really used to believe all of Google’s hooplah about sites rank­ing just because they have great con­tent and struc­ture (which def­i­nitely does help, but obvi­ously isn’t enough). Below is a screen shot from Jeniffer’s analy­sis on how bad the SERPs are right now.  This is the SERP for “make money online,” an absurdly com­pet­i­tive term with lit­er­ally thou­sands of active competitors.

mmo ff 4500 Words on Everything We Dont Know About Penguin and What Not to Do About It

Out of thou­sands of qual­i­fied, active com­peti­tors, Google some­how chooses to rank this no-name blogspot blog on page 1.

Amongst some ques­tion­able results on the front page, the dodgi­est by far is a no-name Blogspot blog. But maybe we should give Google the ben­e­fit of the doubt? Maybe this blog­ger is a ris­ing star being awarded for his incred­i­ble con­tent and mete­oric rise to pop­u­lar­ity? Or not…

makemoneyonline blogspot site 4500 Words on Everything We Dont Know About Penguin and What Not to Do About It

This site ranks on the first page for “make money online” after Pen­guin. Wow.

Yes, it is a blank Blogspot with­out so much as a sin­gle post on it that ranks for “make money online,” one of the most com­pet­i­tive terms out there. Note: if you per­form this search right now, you won’t find this rank­ing any­more, but based on the fact that folks like Chris Rem­pel and I con­tinue to see this crap over hun­dreds of SERPs, I’m pretty sure this one was a man­ual fix from the folks at Google.

This is the real­ity of the SERPs right now, and it’s not you who should be scared.

Here’s the thing, this is far more dan­ger­ous for Google than it is for SEOs.

To under­stand why, you have to under­stand the core of Google’s busi­ness model.

Google’s key asset is the qual­ity of its search results. The more peo­ple search, the more search result pages are shown, the more oppor­tu­ni­ties Google has to sell those eye­balls to adver­tis­ers. Searches are Google’s inven­tory, just as any web­site that sells ads treats its page views as inven­tory. Decreased qual­ity of search results means users (sooner or later) begin to lose faith in the search engine and begin to look else­where. As searchers, we’re already doing it with sites like Yelp for local infor­ma­tion and this scares the crap out of the folks at Google.

The One Equa­tion Google Man­age­ment Under­stands Bet­ter Than Any­thing Else

Lost Faith = Lost Eye­balls = Lost Inven­tory = Lost Rev­enues = Lost Stock Val­u­a­tions = Lost Man­age­ment Seats = #$%^&*

AdWords (aka PPC adver­tis­ing) is Google’s pri­mary rev­enue engine and always has been. To date, they have yet to cre­ate another indus­try lead­ing, mon­e­tized prod­uct. Yelp is beat­ing them in local. Groupon and Liv­ing Social are beat­ing Google Offers in daily deals. And Face­book is absolutely oblit­er­at­ing the joke known as Google Plus+. YouTube is cer­tainly not the king money maker in the build­ing (extremely rough esti­mates sug­gest 6%). Search is where it’s at for them (and con­tent net­work as well, although that has much lower margins).

Google man­age­ment is aware that search is their golden goose, and the vital­ity of their search prod­uct is vir­tu­ally syn­ony­mous with the com­pany as a whole.

Right now, search is in trouble.

While Google puts on its pretty face for the media, claim­ing that this update is a huge improve­ment in SERP qual­ity, this is the first time we’ve seen them setup a “holy s#*%! What’d you do to my site?!” form (whether you should fill out this form is dis­cussed in the “Action Items” below).

With absolutely abysmal SERPs for so many key terms, something’s gotta give. There has to be another update coming.

Our Opin­ion: Don’t Panic. Lots of Great Sites Got Hit. We Have No Clue What’s Com­ing. But Some­thing Has to be Coming.

I think invest­ing a ton of time, resources and money into chang­ing ship right now is kind of insane. The SERPs aren’t good. That’s not a sus­tain­able sit­u­a­tion for Google. Who knows where you’ll rank after the next update or what kind of dif­fer­ent strate­gic changes you’ll have to make then.

Also, based on updates com­ing out every cou­ple of weeks, its prob­a­bly safe to expect another change com­ing sooner than later. Yippee.

But What About Over-optimization, Sites Are Being Penal­ized For That, Right?

Yeah, but hon­estly, the data is a lot mud­dier than you’d think. There are a TON of “over opti­mized” sites that show per­fectly fine rank­ings and no penalization.

The folks at MicrositeMas­ters, a rank track­ing com­pany, put together their before-and-after Pen­guin data for thou­sands of sites they track rank­ings for to make sense of this. To date, it is the most insight­ful dataset we’ve seen come out about the Pen­guin update. With this said it has some seri­ous flaws, which I’ll explain below.

First of all, we see that there is a decent dis­tri­b­u­tion of sites of all lev­els of anchor text opti­miza­tion, from 0% to 100% “money terms,” amongst those that did not get penal­ized.

anchor text diversity not penalized4 4500 Words on Everything We Dont Know About Penguin and What Not to Do About It

Amongst sites that did not get penal­ized, there is a sur­pris­ingly even dis­tri­b­u­tion of anchor text optimization.

In order to con­clude that sites with less anchor opti­miza­tion were safer, we’d expect to see a down­ward slop­ing trend, with the high­est level of sur­vivors at 0% and the low­est level at 100%. We don’t see that here at all. Like­wise, why the 0% and 5% columns are empty is unclear. In gen­eral, there are no con­clu­sions to be drawn from this graph.

anchor text diversity penalized5 4500 Words on Everything We Dont Know About Penguin and What Not to Do About It

Around 65% anchor text opti­miza­tion for money terms, we begin to see sites get­ting penal­ized. With that said, the more pre­dictable penal­ties only seem to kick in around 90%.

This data is a bit more insight­ful. Amongst the sites that did get penal­ized, we see a thresh­old of about 65% anchor text opti­miza­tion before penal­ties begin to hap­pen. Even so, it seems to be a fairly small per­cent­age of sites. It’s only at 90%-100% that we see pretty con­sis­tent penal­ties. Again, due to issues with this data that I’ll explain below, I’m reluc­tant to state either of these casual obser­va­tions as con­clu­sive claims. With that said, it’s prob­a­bly smart to keep your anchor text opti­miza­tion at 60% or below (shame­less plug: HOTH users can eas­ily do this by sub­mit­ting 2 or more natural/naked anchors for any URL targeted).

differences2 4500 Words on Everything We Dont Know About Penguin and What Not to Do About It

This chart shows that sites with branded anchors and naked anchors (e.g. URLs as anchors) sta­tis­ti­cally were less likely to be penal­ized than those with­out any.

This chart con­firms what we told peo­ple back in our Panda 3.3 webi­nar, use branded, nat­ural and naked anchors to stay on the Google’s good side. It makes your anchor text pro­file look nat­ural. And Google likes natural.

So yeah, clearly more sites are get­ting penal­ized for over opti­miz­ing than not, but there’s still a huge per­cent­age of over-optimized sites sit­ting pretty. Like­wise, count­less content-leaders in their cat­e­gory have had their rank­ings absolutely smashed. There clearly are a ton of con­found­ing fac­tors here, based on how many 100% anchor text opti­mized sur­vivors there are alone.

In Chris Rempel’s words -

many salt-of-the-earth pub­lish­ers (like AskTheBuilder.com, Dani­Web, and count­less oth­ers) were severely affected by Pen­guin. Sites that are in some cases over a decade old, com­prised of thou­sands of pages of qual­ity, unique con­tent, and plenty of social/brand sig­nals – and they’re tank­ing, hard. These are sites that pro­vide an awe­some user experience.

Google claims that they are reward­ing high qual­ity sites. Their SERPs make it clear that they are reward­ing scrap­ers, irrel­e­vant, out­dated web 2.0 pages, generic “slightly rel­e­vant” domains, and YouTube.

The Other Sup­posed Piece of Puz­zle — Irrel­e­vant Links

Based on their dataset, Microsite Mas­ters con­cluded that hav­ing links from irrel­e­vant sites is actu­ally a big­ger pre­dic­tor of whether a site would be penal­ized by Pen­guin or not.

Unfor­tu­nately, I view this as a total mis­read of the data.

similar niche not penalized4 4500 Words on Everything We Dont Know About Penguin and What Not to Do About It

Tons of non-penalized sites have 0% links from rel­e­vant sites. This data sug­gests that hav­ing a higher per­cent­age of links from rel­e­vant sites doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily keep your site safer.

Like the pre­vi­ous graph that showed a huge num­ber of 100% anchor text opti­mized sites rank­ing just fine after Pen­guin, this one shows that plenty of sites with 0% links from rel­e­vant sites are rank­ing fine as well. The dis­tri­b­u­tion above and below 50% link rel­e­vance looks vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal. Based on this data, we can­not con­clude that more links from rel­e­vant sites means addi­tional safety from Penguin.

similar niche penalized6 4500 Words on Everything We Dont Know About Penguin and What Not to Do About It

Finally, it seems we can con­clude that the less links you have from rel­e­vant sites, the more likely you are to get penal­ized by Pen­guin. Unfor­tu­nately, this data doesn’t say that. Expla­na­tion below.

If you’re like me, upon look­ing at this graph, you think “look, pages with 0% links from rel­e­vant sites obvi­ously get penal­ized, and there’s a height­ened prob­a­bil­ity of get­ting penal­ized until you reach 30%!” Unfor­tu­nately, you can­not arrive at this con­clu­sion from this data.

Warn­ing: $#*% is about to get mathy.

In order to make a com­par­i­son like “sites that have 20% of links com­ing from rel­e­vant sites are 3x more likely to get penal­ized than sites with 30% of links com­ing from rel­e­vant sites,” we’d have to know what per­cent­age of sites at the 20% level got penal­ized and what per­cent­age at the 30% level got penal­ized. THIS DATA SET DOES NOT TELL US THIS. Instead it tells us what per­cent­age of all penal­ized sites in this sam­ple had 20% rel­e­vant links and what per­cent­age had 30% rel­e­vant links. This does not allow us to make any com­par­a­tive claims regard­ing like­li­hood of get­ting penalized.

Ok. I prob­a­bly just con­fused the crap out of you. Here’s a sim­ple metaphor to clarify.

Imag­ine I have 50 very short bas­ket­ball play­ers and 5 very tall bas­ket­ball play­ers. I have each player attempt a slam dunk. Of the 50 short play­ers, 25 can do it. Of the 5 tall play­ers, all 5 can do it. We can make a com­par­a­tive claim here (sam­ple sizes aside) that since short play­ers can dunk 50% of the time and tall play­ers can dunk 100% of the time, tall play­ers are twice as likely to dunk than short play­ers. If we treated this data the way Microsite Mas­ters treated theirs, we’d report that 83% of suc­cess­ful dunkers were short, while 16% were tall. While this is fac­tu­ally accu­rate, it tells us noth­ing about the like­li­hood of a tall player dunk­ing com­pared to a short one. So when you see that huge bar at 0%, that tells you noth­ing about it’s actual like­li­hood of get­ting a site penal­ized in com­par­i­son to higher lev­els. Sucks, huh?

I know what you’re think­ing right now.

Ugh! Sci­ence is so annoy­ing! I’m obvi­ously look­ing at a com­pelling graph. Can’t I make some conclusion?”

For the most part, no. But let’s humor our­selves and pre­tend like we are look­ing at data that can speak some­what prob­a­bilis­ti­cally (note: the only rea­son it would is if we invented this con­ve­nient rea­son­ing). The chart for penal­ized sites shows us that as long as you have 10% rel­e­vant links, your like­li­hood of get­ting penal­ized is way less than if you have 0% (which is weird because, again, 0% is the cat­e­gory of high­est sur­vivors as well). Any­thing more than 10% of rel­e­vant links only pro­duces a mar­gin­ally bet­ter chance of not get­ting penal­ized. Like­wise, we see no short­age of sites at 50–90% rel­e­vant links, which most peo­ple would call “squeaky clean,” still get­ting slammed.

Ultra Unsci­en­tific Con­clu­sion: Get At Least 10% Of Your Links from Rel­e­vant Sites.

Why I Think The Rel­e­vant Site Fil­ter Can’t Be Right

As one com­menter in the MicroSite Mas­ters arti­cle pointed out, an “irrel­e­vant sites” fil­ter would effec­tively value a New York Times link less than some blog roll from any indus­try friend. Log­i­cally, this is kind of nuts and I don’t think Google would want to do this. Often, non-subject mat­ter spe­cific sites (aka “irrel­e­vant sites” or at least “not par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant sites”) are the most influ­en­tial and inde­pen­dent. If links from irrel­e­vant sites really do pro­duce a rank­ing drop after Pen­guin (which, again, based on the data, we have lit­tle rea­son to believe), I’m fairly con­fi­dent it will either be rolled back or heav­ily toned down in the long run.

The other sacred cow that Google would be slay­ing if it did intro­duce an irrel­e­vant sites filter/penalty is that of viral­ity. Matt Cutts has said “just cre­ate great con­tent and peo­ple will link to it!” so many times it makes my ears bleed when I hear it. But that’s just the thing. Pages, as they become more and more pop­u­lar, increas­ingly get more and more irrel­e­vant links. Like­wise, if you’ve ever got­ten a link from Huff­in­g­ton Post, Tech Crunch, Wall­street Jour­nal or any other huge pub­li­ca­tion, you know that its going to be syn­di­cated by hun­dreds of sites. These sites, are likely “irrel­e­vant” as well. Are we sup­posed to believe that there is a Wall­street Jour­nal penalty? Per­son­ally, I think that sounds totally nuts.

What Does This All Mean For The HOTH & Our Users?

(Dis­claimer: I’m going to speak about The HOTH prod­uct in this sec­tion. As such, it may be biased, but my goal is to be as hon­est as pos­si­ble and address our cus­tomers’ con­cerns.)

To date, we’ve worked on over 4000 cam­paigns, and roughly 8000 web­sites. If I told you that not a sin­gle site we’ve worked on was affected by Pen­guin, I’d be lying through my teeth. Like­wise, for you to have that expec­ta­tion would be a bit unrea­son­able as well. With that said, it’s with some relief that we have not heard a unan­i­mous cry from our cus­tomers that their sites have been penal­ized. Some cer­tainly have, but noth­ing above indus­try aver­age, which is the best any of us can ask for when even the squeaki­est of clean sites are get­ting hit.

In short, we don’t see any cor­re­la­tion between HOTH link build­ing and penalization.

As far as diver­si­fy­ing your anchors, The HOTH is kind of the per­fect tool to do that with. We give you 5 key­word slots per URL and you can sub­mit nat­u­ral­ized anchors (i.e. click here, more info, learn more, etc.) or naked anchors (i.e. http://brandname.com, brandname.com, brand-name, etc.) in them. This means you can use The HOTH to nat­u­ral­ize your anchor text distribution.

We’ve heard dif­fer­ent the­o­ries, but there seems to be a con­sen­sus that you should have 50%+ non-optimized anchors.

Like­wise, from the per­spec­tive of rel­e­vant pages, all of the pages that link to you from The HOTH are rel­e­vant. Lit­er­ally, every last one has cus­tom writ­ten con­tent that is rel­e­vant to your sub­ject mat­ter. The top-level prop­er­ties are specif­i­cally on sub­do­mains opti­mized for your sub­ject mat­ter, mean­ing they have site-wide rel­e­vance. Mean­while, the rest of the links, fol­low­ing from our viral link struc­ture, mimic the kinds of links you’d get as a result of a Huff­in­g­ton Post arti­cle being syn­di­cated. Again, the the viral­ity con­cept is one of the most sacred cows for the search algo­rithm. To penal­ize sites that have got­ten links as a result of some sort of viral dis­tri­b­u­tion or syn­di­ca­tion would effec­tively cre­ate a Wall­street Jour­nal Penalty. But clearly, that’s not happening.

We’re keep­ing our foot­print squeaky clean while we move towards bet­ter ver­ti­cal­iza­tion of our links. Like­wise, with HOTH Plus+, you can now have con­tent writ­ten by 100% US edu­cated, tal­ented writ­ers who pro­duce SEO copy to the high­est stan­dards of read­abil­ity. All of this means that you can con­tinue using The HOTH confidently.

As always, we advise that you use it as a tool in your tool­box and not as a sil­ver bul­let. In SEO, there are no sil­ver bul­lets, and with time, as the algo­rithm becomes increas­ingly more com­plex, there will be fewer still. Use us as a fan­tas­tic tool, but if the Microsite Mas­ters data tells us any­thing, those 10% of links from relevant/authority sites that are the biggest dif­fer­ence between penal­ized sites and safe sites are still on you.

Action­able Items

  1. Keep calm. Don’t panic. Change will come again, prob­a­bly soon.
  2. Rough rules of thumb (based on Microsite Mas­ters’ data analy­sis above): Keep 10% of your of your link pro­file from rel­e­vant sites and and at least 35% of your anchor texts natural/not-optimized.
  3. Ana­lyze your actual SERPs. Use Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs, and Majes­tic SEO to ana­lyze who is rank­ing in your niche. Do you see any trends for sites that are rank­ing? What is their anchor dis­tri­b­u­tion like? See what you can learn about what Google is actu­ally favor­ing in your SERPs by ana­lyz­ing the win­ners and adjust your SEO strat­egy accordingly.
  4. Use a well rounded link build­ing strat­egy, such as the one we taught in our Link Build­ing Pyra­mid webi­nar ear­lier this year (full webi­nar unfor­tu­nately not avail­able due to cor­rupt record­ing, but here is a con­densed ver­sion via Pub­Con). Don’t put all your eggs in 1 bas­ket. Like any invest­ment, build­ing all the same kind of links is not sound.
  5. Max­i­mize the value out of every vis­i­tor that comes to your site. STOP SQUANDERING YOUR TRAFFIC. If you don’t already live the age-old adver­tis­ing adage “the money is in the list,” now is the time to start. This means you should be retar­get­ing your vis­i­tors with ser­vices like AdRoll, split test­ing the liv­ing crap out of your site, and doing every­thing you can to get vis­i­tors on your mail­ing list (whether they buy or not). So many mar­keters squan­der their traf­fic by only giv­ing them­selves 1 shot with vis­i­tors. Find ways to turn a visit into a rela­tion­ship that may yield many touch points and many pos­si­ble sales down the road, not just 1. I know for a fact we’ve got­ten some of our biggest cus­tomers because they vis­ited us once, saw us all over the inter­net for a while thanks to retar­get­ing and finally became curi­ous enough to give us a shot. If the only part of the fun­nel you’re inter­ested is the mouth (i.e. traf­fic gen­er­a­tion) you will find your­self extremely frus­trated over time and ultra sus­cep­ti­ble to quirks that come up with dif­fer­ent traf­fic sources. In my opin­ion, under­stand­ing, build­ing and opti­miz­ing sales fun­nels ver­sus merely get­ting traf­fic is the defin­i­tive dif­fer­ence between a bonafide inter­net mar­keter and an SEO tech­ni­cian. There is noth­ing wrong with either, but the prior has a career even if Google gets nuked tomorrow.
  6. Look for guest post­ing and press oppor­tu­ni­ties. There are a bil­lion arti­cles writ­ten about the art of guest post­ing so I won’t waste your time beat­ing a dead horse. Just do it. This will get you really solid author­i­ta­tive links and, if your guest posts are at least decent, you’ll get great qual­i­fied traf­fic back to your site. In many cases, the mar­ket value of a guest post can eas­ily be hun­dreds or thou­sands of dol­lars, while the return may be higher than any ban­ner ad. The only thing it costs is brain­power and time. Like­wise, press is eas­ier than ever with ser­vices like HARO that will send you emails every day packed with requests from jour­nal­ists for qual­i­fied sources. Pitch the ones that you feel you’re qual­i­fied for and you may get some press. Again, this is super smart because it dri­ves qual­i­fied traf­fic, builds rep­u­ta­tional assets, and depend­ing on the qual­ity of the sites you get pub­lished on, will likely result in a ton more syn­di­cated links from else­where. Don’t have time to reply to HARO? No prob­lem. There’s an app for that.
  7. Watch our Panda 3.3 webi­nar. We basi­cally called all the warn­ing signs of Pen­guin, over a month before its release and adjusted our prod­uct accord­ingly. Many of those ideas are shad­owed in this arti­cle, but you can get more depth on what’s been going on with Google over the past few months, what we’re doing about it and what you can too.
  8. A huge por­tion of SERPs now con­tain results linked to a spe­cific author. Whether this is causal or cor­rel­a­tive is hard to tell, but its pretty safe to say that Google is going to give more credit to con­tent asso­ci­ated with trusted author accounts over time. Now seems like a good time to set yours up. Here are the offi­cial Google instruc­tion on how to setup your author pro­file.
  9. Stay curi­ous. In the words of Chris Rem­pel, “the fat lady has not sung.” Pay atten­tion to the SERPs. Ana­lyze your com­peti­tors. Notice changes. And give your­self the ben­e­fit of the doubt that it’s not nec­es­sar­ily you who is screw­ing up, but Google (at least some­times). This will keep you sane, but more impor­tantly, it will give you the per­spec­tive not to ditch every­thing you know every time there’s a bump in road and over-invest into appeas­ing Google’s lat­est tem­per tantrum. This update has lit­er­ally been out for 3 weeks now. Our stan­dard advice to any­one doing any kind of SEO work is to watch for changes in the SERPs for 3–6 weeks from the time of the ini­tial change — even for some­thing as sim­ple as link build­ing. For some­thing as major as this, I’d def­i­nitely rec­om­mend the same.
  10. Evolve.  As you look at the serps, you may find many new oppor­tu­ni­ties to exper­i­ment with.  Right now, large web 2.0 sites (i.e. tum­blr, blogspot, word­press, youtube) seem to be rank­ing abnor­mally high.  If you have the band­width, move quick and exploit these oppor­tu­ni­ties. If you don’t, don’t fret. This prob­a­bly isn’t some­thing that’ll make or break you in the future.

What NOT To Do

  1. DO NOT file a re-inclusion request unless you’ve been de-indexed. This seems to be a pop­u­lar move amongst pan­ick­ers. If you can type in your sites URL into the Google search bar and it finds your site, you haven’t been de-indexed. In this case, fill­ing out a rein­clu­sion request makes about as much sense as fill­ing out your death cer­tifi­cate when you have the flu.
  2. DO NOT assist Google on its cru­sade. Google has cre­ated a page for you to assist them in screw­ing over sites. The rea­sons why you shouldn’t do this are end­less. First there is the karmic fac­tor. You can bet its a mat­ter of time before some­one does the same to you. Then there is the fact that just because Google slaps one of your com­peti­tors doesn’t mean you will nec­es­sar­ily rank any higher. Gen­er­ally, this is a huge waste of time and only invites greater scrutiny into your par­tic­u­lar SERPs, which is some­thing that almost never ben­e­fits anyone.
  3. This one is not a strict “do not,” but I per­son­ally wouldn’t fill out Google’s Pen­guin Feed­back Form (aka “AHHH! WHAT’D YOU DO TO MY SITE?!?!?!?!” form). First of all, as a rule of thumb, any time you ask for a man­ual review, you are usu­ally ask­ing for trou­ble. Review­ers are not inter­ested in help­ing you. Just because you requested it doesn’t mean they’re mag­i­cally on your side. And more impor­tantly, I just haven’t heard of it help­ing any­one yet, so it seems like a waste of time. Pro­ceed at your own risk.

12 thoughts on “4500 Words on Everything We Don’t Know About Penguin and What Not to Do About It

  1. Sam Applegate

    Regard­ing the first chart, titled:

    Per­cent of Inbound Links With Anchor Text Match­ing Key­words (Sites That Weren’t Penalized)”

    You ask the ques­tion, why 0% and 5% columns are empty.

    I think they are empty because these web­sites don’t exist? How many web­sites do you know which have absolutely NO (or less than 5%) inbound links with key­word opti­mised anchor text? This would actu­ally be dif­fi­cult to achieve.

    I’m not sure I agree with you, when you say we should expect to see a down­ward slop­ing trend on this chart. With most sur­vivors at 0% and with least sur­vivors at 100% (opti­mised anchor text). Here’s why:

    There is surely a sweet spot which the algo­rithm looks for (which will depend on other fac­tors and be dif­fer­ent for each indi­vid­ual website).

    For exam­ple, if I had a web­site which had no (0%) key­words in my inbound link anchor text, I don’t think that fact alone would make me ‘safer’ than a web­site which had, say 20% key­words in its inbound link anchor text, or even one which had 80% key­words in its inbound link anchor text.

    There is no indi­ca­tion of the total num­ber of inbound links. So 80% could just mean a tiny site which has 5 inbound links, 4 of which con­tain key­words. This is extremely unlikely to result an over-optimisation penalty.

    Actu­ally, on this chart, I would expect to see exactly what I see — a com­pletely even spread (with no data for <5% as no sites exist with this level of key­words in their inbound link anchor text).

    Woo — waf­fled on a bit there. Bet­ter leave my views on the other charts for now!

  2. Bruno

    Well said mate — I like your view on how things are way too hec­tic right now to come up with any con­clu­sion and to also wait a bit before doing any­thing drastic.

    One thing though that I believe you are hyp­ing up HOTH:

    Like­wise, from the per­spec­tive of rel­e­vant pages, all of the pages that link to you from The HOTH are rel­e­vant. Lit­er­ally, every last one has cus­tom writ­ten con­tent that is rel­e­vant to your sub­ject mat­ter. The top-level prop­er­ties are specif­i­cally on sub­do­mains opti­mized for your sub­ject mat­ter, mean­ing they have site-wide relevance”

    Well, from what I see from your pack­age, you mean just because you set a THIS-IS-A-RELEVANT-SITE-FOR-GOOGLE.blogspot/wordpress.com you think that you have site-wide relevancy!?

    I won’t even men­tion Squidoo.

    You are sim­ply talk­ing about the eas­i­est places for any­one to get all sorts of kind of links — so yeah, you bet while peo­ple cre­ate man­ual prop­er­ties on those things black hat­ters are rang­ing all around automat­ing all this stuff — FOR YEARS!

    When I started read­ing your arti­cle (BTW, I did not know you guys before) and you hap­pen to men­tion your ser­vices, I thought I’d see some kind of REAL link build­ing ser­vices — i.e. get­ting real links that are not just for the sake of Google and are damn hard to get i.e.2 real edi­to­r­ial links.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I also get the kind of links your pack­ages offer, so I’m not point­ing fin­gers here — but I know their place! I get for my affil­i­ates sites, some which I couldn’t care less and oth­ers where I have indeed invested a time on it — but def­i­nitely not for clients!

    In a way I agree with what you say, but when I see what your link build­ing pack­age offers, I can’t help but won­der :)

    Cheers and thanks again!

  3. Kieran Flanagan

    In 4,500 words on Pen­guin and a sec­tion on what no to do, it was a lit­tle con­fus­ing you didn’t men­tion some of the iffy link build­ing prac­tices that peo­ple should prob­a­bly refrain from doing, that was until I saw your link build­ing pack­ages. Basi­cally the pack­ages you offer are a good exam­ple of the type of pack­ages that will get users into trou­ble with these kind of Google updates. It’s dif­fi­cult for you guys to have author­ity on a sub­ject when the ser­vices you offer are the type of links Google is try­ing to clean up.

  4. Murat Yilmaz

    I have a ques­tion. Is it wise to change some of the incom­ing blogroll links to “Click here” or “Click to learn more” to diver­sify link pro­file even bet­ter? Or sim­ply make it like website.com. What do you think?

  5. Alex Pyatetsky Post author

    Thanks for the kind words, Nicole. I blame it on an unre­lent­ing 10th grade his­tory teacher named Mark Bessi­ada, a lot of rounds of edit­ing, and the abil­ity to dis­cern when words sound good together.

    Based on your web­site, it looks like you’re not too bad at mak­ing things engag­ing yourself.

  6. Brett Slansky

    Wow. Finally some­one who looks like he knows what he is talk­ing about. It’s no won­der that you guys got viral on Twit­ter. I got to the site from Face­book and I am really con­sid­er­ing to sign up for one of your Hoth pack­age. At the moment I am try­ing to be seri­ous about the online busi­ness and do not want to cre­ate thou­sands of crappy back­links. I hope you will be here for a long time.


  7. Spook Seo

    At first, I want to give you spe­cial thanks for writ­ing about Google’s pen­guin updates elab­o­rately – and it will help us to under­stand new SEO pol­icy. One thing I need to under­stand. If by blog/ website’s vis­i­tor come from irrel­e­vant anchor text’s back­link to 50% + traf­fic from a sin­gle source ( not Google ), will google penal­ized that site?.


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