How To Recover From A Penguin Attack

I’m active on several discussion forums related to search marketing, and there’s been quite a bit of buzz there from site owners and webmasters who think their sites took a hit in Google’s recent Penguin and Panda updates. All kinds of theories as to what happened and what to do next are floating around — not all of them worth the electrons they’re displayed on.

Which is why I was really pleased to see this article over on Search Engine Watch. Danny Goodwin, the author, deconstructs several small business websites called out in a Wall Street Journal article as having been clobbered by Penguin.

Charging Off In The Wrong Direction

In the original WSJ article, each of the site owners speculated their problem was “too many bad links,” and thought removing them might return their sites to their former glory. As Danny points out, though, the problems likely go deeper than the “few hundred” purchased links the owners admit to. In fact, he found thousands of “keyword-rich” anchor text links, content that essentially duplicated what was found on other, more authoritative sites, and thin content almost overwhelmed by ads. And in one case, a site had only a few links to start with, so removing the ones there might not be such a good idea.

The main thing he points out a couple of times in his article, though, is this: never, ever, ever depend on Google (or any other “free” search engine traffic) for your business.

What Google giveth, Google can taketh away at a moment’s notice. They don’t owe any individual site owner anything. They want to present the best, strongest, most informative search results possible to their own visitors… and they get to decide how they define “best, strongest and most informative.” (If you disagree with their definitions, you’re free to start your own search engine that will run according to your criteria.)

I strongly encourage you to read the whole article — maybe even print it out so you can review it more easily, possibly take some notes. There’s a ton of really good info in there.

So, What Now?

If, like one of the business owners profiled in the article, you depend on Google’s search results for 70% of your site traffic, start now to fix that. Even if your visitors from Google comprise a smaller percentage of your site’s overall traffic, it’s important to have backups in place, in case that search traffic goes away for some reason. And if you don’t know how much traffic you get from any given source, install Google Analytics or another good analytics package right now and find out!

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Implement a low-key paid advertising program that you can rev up to high gear on short notice when your organic traffic falls off. If you think you can’t afford paid advertising, you need to revise your business model until you can. You’re going to find it even harder to work it into your budget if you wait until your traffic and revenue is already in the toilet — and by then it may be too late for your business to recover.
  • Start now making the necessary improvements to turn your site into a resource that others would be happy to link to (even if you don’t ask them). Intuitive navigation. A color scheme that’s easy on the eyes (and doesn’t look like it migrated here directly from 1992). Readable text. Beefed-up content that actually imparts useful, relevant information. Nothing wrong with doing it yourself, but at least consider having a pro take a look at it and give you some suggestions… then take action based on what they suggest.
  • Seek out links from other sites, not for their “keyword rich” anchor text, but rather for the real live human traffic they can send you. A few solid links from well-trafficked websites that attract the same audience you’d like to target will do you much better than ten thousand “keyword” links from some low-quality site no actual human would visit in a million years.

A Penguin attack is no fun. And you can be sure Penguin won’t be the last major Google algorithm update. But if you start taking steps now to improve your website — content, navigation, links — you’ll be in a better position to survive (and maybe even find your rankings and traffic improved).

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