Recovery from Google’s Penguin Update


Google's Penguin Update

It’s been a month since Google rolled out the Penguin update, one of the most talked and fretted about updates in my SEO tenure. The primary goal of Penguin is to target “unnatural” backlinks, obviously knocking offenders down in the SERPs. Some of the main flags for unnatural links are:

  1. Over-optimized anchor text, resulting in high percentage of exact match anchor text to specific landing pages.
  2. A large percentage of links to small percentage of landing pages
  3. Links from less than favorable sources or sites classically used for SEO such as directories and article syndication

Impact from Penguin has been seen across the web on all different types of sites, big and small. Some claiming to never have engaged in link building practices at all have been hit, leaving many wondering if Google’s latest push is flawed (what?! Never!!!) I would say that this is the first time I’ve seen truly identifiable changes in both ranking and visits due to an algorithm change. While being another broadly publicized update, Panda was never a big concern because we weren’t in the business of publishing scraped or low quality content. However managing seo campaigns for enough years inevitably puts you in the risk zone for optimized anchor text and backlinks from at least a few directories. These are not just black hat link building tactics we’re talking about.

What’s the good news? Stories have already been cropping up about sites getting their groove back from a few positive, yet time & resource consuming changes:


Going through an entire backlink list may seem daunting, and in fact it is. Instead, if you have keywords that you’ve taken a hit on, start with all the backlinks utilizing that anchor text. Go to each site and determine whether or not the link is yay or nay. If it’s nay, contact the webmaster regarding removal. Remember to be nice, it’s no skin off their back if their link is hurting you.

If the site is still relevant and of good quality, look into changing the anchor text to something a little different or more natural sounding. Another option if the link is currently site-wide would be to ask the webmaster for content opportunities instead of sidebar.


If you find that you’re still engaging in the link building practices of old, those that will continue to put you in hot water, now’s the time to make a change:

  1. Use keyword variations and long tail for anchor text. This is probably the easiest change to make right off the bat, so start now.
  2. Link to a wider variety of landing pages. Sure you know that your top selling product page is the most important and therefore should get all the links, but that’s a sure fire way to make the links look “unnatural”. Instead link to other product or category pages, blog posts or resources related to the product. With a solid internal linking structure, those links are still going to provide benefit in the end.
  3. Back-off the directories. I still think that some directories carry value, such as local business directories for local SEO campaigns. However the multitude of generic, low-grade directories out there are probably best to stay away from.
  4. Build relationships, not links. This is probably the biggest philosophy shift for many who have been focused on link volume. Locate the influencers in your space, both from a content and a social media perspective, and work on establishing a mutually beneficial relationship that takes you beyond a sidebar link and into guest blogging, social sharing and reciprocal promotion.

As this algorithm change is in its early phases and people are still trying understanding the impact they’ve experienced, please feel free to share any of your findings in the comments. The more examples we share with each other, the more we can all benefit.


photo from Antarctica Bound


8 thoughts on “Recovery from Google’s Penguin Update

  1. Hi Tom,

    Are you referring to a specific part? Certainly, some of this is hypothesizing but it’s based what I’ve seen so far from our own results as well as what I’ve read from other people’s observations. We are still in the beginning stages of a backlink clean-up for a site hit by the change, so we’re anxious to see for ourselves the impact that will have. The concepts of varying anchor text, landing pages and staying away from directories are not exactly new, this algorithm update is just stressing their importance. And the part about building relationships, I feel confident enough about this to shift the way we as an agency approach link building.

    The article I linked to above ( talked about a company that felt pretty confident in their results, although I don’t have the ability to make grand scale changes at the snap of a finger like they did because the links they removed were their own.

  2. Will backlinks from web 2.0 sites like blogger, wordpress, tumblr etc be treated as good quality links now ? I am a freelancer in profession and I need to know this very badly. Because it must change the market of SEO.

    1. Hi Mohsin, I apologize for not responding sooner. So just so I understand, are you referring to a method similarly described here: If so, it would stand to reason that this type of link building is also going to be devalued, although I have not seen documentation speaking to that specifically. These are the kinds of link building tactics that Google would like to be rid of, so whether they got them with this last update or not, it’s a risky maneuver. Then again, if it IS still working, you may get some traction from it now, and then when it gets hit, take them down. Might be worth a try.

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