Penguin Update from HellIf you haven’t noticed it lately, the SERPs at Google are unrecognizable (at least in my markets): new players at the top, possibly you’ve been paying attention to my Penguin posts or my interview with Tim Carter. Like Tim Carter, Google just had to pick my most profitable website to thrash in the ranks…

A website that performed so well that I frankly got lazy and didn’t start working until about May of 2012, after Penguin struck down my “impenetrable fortress” of a diversly-linked, aged website.

My jaw is still on the floor, to be honest, it’s like the wind got knocked out of me and the “fight” drained out of me. That’s what compelled me to succeed in this business in the first place – an overwhelming need to fight for my income, to succeed where others failed…and largely that mentality worked in my favor.

But now, like a lot of others in the business (many of my readers), I’ve got some hard decisions to make. The prospect of rescuing my affected site has me weighing options I want to share with you below.

Ironically, all the sites I only used Duct Tape SEO methods on are ranking better than before Penguin. What that tells me is that for the most part you can expect to rank if you follow the guidelines of Google’s best practices.

My book Duct Tape SEO is still due a “Penguin Makeover” but by and large, Penguin vindicated that guide. The affected site I’m mentioning, though, was created years before I wrote that book, using methods I didn’t endorse in Duct Tape SEO.

The Current Google SERPs Still Don’t Make A Lot of Sense

What I’m not entirely sure about is exactly how to interpret the search results that have replaced mine…looking at them I can’t say for sure if my competitors have better link profiles, or they don’t have all exact match anchors – I’m limited by the tools I have.

For example, I don’t use Majestic SEO premium, which would give me a better understanding for my competitive research.

I am using Market Samurai, SEO Spyglass and SERPAttacks – and with those tools, as robust as they are for my daily use, I can only dig so far (and I have some bad news to share on SERPAttacks, but later).

What I’m left to analyze are ranking websites that according to my tools and knowledge of current SEO practices frankly shouldn’t be ranking.

For instance, one of my competitors has about 30% exact match anchors. According to present case studies (like the one conducted at MicroSiteMasters.com, but that’s not the only one I found to make the point), your anchor text should be much more natural – 10% or less exact match anchors.

More links should be brand-name or domain-name links, full URLs and otherwise descriptive anchors that are partial match or totally random one-offs (i.e. “here’s a review I found helpful,” “see this post at [domain name]” or “click this” etc.). There should be image links. Dofollow and nofollow and high PR and no PR…

Looking at my link diversity, compared against the current #2 ranked site for a main money keyword of mine, my site sure looks more natural.

The only thing I can say for certain is that I know I spun and massively submitted articles to popular blog networks.

What I can’t say right now is if these blog networks have totally stopped working, I can’t rule that out but I don’t want to waste my time running that test right now.

So what’s certain here is that according to the official Google talking heads, spun content and mass link submissions is a bad idea, and I know I did plenty of that.

Did my competitors? I’m not sure. Like I said, the tools I have only return so many results, I can’t get a fuller picture without shelling out more cash – and then all I’d have is confirmation of my main suspicions anyway.

The only thing I’m sure of right now is that what I was doing for this site doesn’t work anymore. I’m not even sure if the over 10,000 links showing in Google Webmaster tools are links I built or if they’re a negative SEO campaign.

That’s the price I’ve paid for using the site for dozens of link experiments – never sure where all my links came from or if it’s just a competitor of mine using Negative SEO (which is real, it’s not a myth).

So I’m in recovery mode presently (which is why I haven’t been blogging a lot, lots of work in the background).

But rather than dive into the story of how it feels to lose an asset (and trying in the process not to kick myself for not following my instinct and selling it when I could, or for putting all my eggs in one basket, or for allowing success to breed laziness), I’d rather share my recovery plan, hope it’s of help to those who’ve lost rankings in Google.

Part 1: What to Do With my Penguin-Punished Website

So the first part of the plan is focused on what to do with a site that’s lost rankings in Google. Especially if it’s a known algorithm and you know what others have done to recover (or what others are suggesting on SEOMoz and the like).

In the case of Penguin, the recovery process is something like:

  1. Find the “bad links” pointing to your site.
  2. Contact the webmasters who own the sites hosting the bad links.
  3. Ask them nicely to remove those links.
  4. If you can’t play nice, threaten with a DMCA takedown.
  5. If you can’t find their contact information, pray.*
  6. Write Google via Webmaster Tools to show your good faith effort and to reconsider your site.
  7. Pray they have time to even notice your email.*
  8. Repeat a few thousand more times, meanwhile try to ignore you could have just re-built another website in the same niche and have made money by now.
  9. Watch the SERPs and hope next time (30 days? 60 days? 6 months?) Penguin updates, you see positive momentum.
  10. Work like crazy to build or attract natural links, this time with generic anchor text or URL links.

*That’s assuming you’re a praying person.

All snarkiness aside, that’s essentially it. You can of course order a massive submission of “natural looking” link anchors (like your brand name, URLs, domain name and others), and hope that submission sufficiently dilutes your link profile to look more natural.

I suppose that’s the black hat way of doing it if you haven’t been scared white hat yet. I’m in the latter group right now: white hat (mainly because my white hat sites are still ranking).

And because of the enormous amount of links that GWMT shows me (over 10,000), I won’t be taking this course of action. I don’t have the time, man power or finances to support the undertaking, and I’m not convinced it would work.

Another plan on recovery is simply to use the “disavow these links” tool that supposedly Google is going to make available in GWMT. Since my site in question doesn’t have a lot of “good” links pointing to it – I think this would be an exercise in futility.

Dear Google, please disavow every single link I built some scumbag built to my site over the last 3 years.

It’s “clearly” a case of Negative SEO! The dirtbags…You should do something about that negative SEO stuff. I mean really now.

Thanks,

Your BFF,
James.

There are 2 problems with this:

1. As of right now, the tool is hypothetically being put together by Google. I don’t see it yet. They’re not rushing it out the door.

2. Read my snarky blockquote above. I can’t remove 10,000 links and still expect to rank anyway!

But if your site does have a good linking profile, and if you don’t have 10,000 links to disavow, those are two legitimate options to undertake. It just doesn’t apply to my site because I’m not a BS-er: I know for a fact I was coloring outside the guidelines set by Google and I won’t bother wasting their or my time to fix a problem I created in the first place.

What I AM considering, however:

Option 1: Liquidate

Well I can’t “sell high” at this point, and I’d rather not “sell low” – but that is one strategy I’ve been kicking around: just selling it and getting whatever it will fetch.

I just can’t stop thinking about how the site made close to $7,000 a month and selling for anything less…

I also don’t know about selling off a website that used to rank but now doesn’t. Granted it’s an aged domain (a whopping PR1), has unique content on it and thousands of links pointing to it – but the income is history.

So I’m not sure I’ll sell it yet, or rescue it and then sell it off.

I haven’t ruled out the possibility of just selling it or seeing what it will fetch and just moving on. If I do, it’ll be full disclosure and frankly I don’t have high hopes it’s going to be worth much.

My hesitation:

1) It’s made me a lot of money. It can in theory do that again…so do I rescue/hang on to it?
2) It’s got potential to be a bread-winner again, so do I rescue it but flip it and sell high?
3) Do I want to even bother with it? Just get rid of it and take what I can…?

Option 2: Get it Ranking Again

This is what I’m sure most of you want to read – how to recover from Penguin. See my points above about the strategies current SEO’s are using to attempt recovery (I’ve heard a few stories of Penguin recovery here, here and here).

There is another good article on how to recover from the Panda update – and note that it “only” took 6 months. Granted in 6 months I’d love to collect $6,000 or more checks again from my site…

I want to point out that in the story he is dealing with Panda, not Pengin recovery.

In my case, I’m dealing with Penguin specifically, Panda and I got along fine.

Is it On-Page or Off-Page Causing the Issue?

This is a quick aside – but there is a debate that the update really is focused on on-page SEO factors too, like stuffing keywords or using them unnaturally (like: in ALL your subheaders, twice in your title tag, bolded in the first sentence…etc.), or whether it’s mainly a link-building thing.

What I find convenient and too transparent is how SENukeX did a “study” where they blame the whole debacle on your on-page SEO you can see here.

Put on your thinking caps for a hot second: consider the source. They’re selling a tool that nets them millions in profit. What did you think they’d say? That it was all about bad linking? That it was all about spun content and mass article submissions?

I have no love or hate for the SENukeX team – I just think you need to consider how convenient it is that they’re “proving” Penguin has nothing to do with links, when Google themselves are calling this a war on webspam (i.e. link spam) – in fact Google is warning about both metrics: on-page AND your off-page SEO (content and backlinks, respectively).

But to be fair, I’ve read where people just focused on their on-page SEO factors and dialed down their SEO, and recovered. However, I’m not clear on whether they were hit by Panda or Penguin, in my case I know for a fact it’s Penguin because of the timing (Penguin hit April 24th, 2012 – right when I lost traffic).

So I will dial-down my on-page SEO this way:

  • Make sure to only use the keyword in the H1, title and meta-description (currently I use H1-H3 and my keyword appears in them all). It will appear naturally throughout the text, but won’t be obviously bolded and italicized like some plugins or tools tell you to do (based on what used to work).
  • When I use SEO Ultimate to automatically build internal links, I’ll limit them to only 3 or 5 instances of a link anchor text being used. Manually building these and varying the text is best.
  • My keyword density is only around 1% so that won’t change, but I will increase the use of LSI terms (which I get from looking at Google’s SERPs at the bottom, and also using Clickbump SEO).
  • I could use a lot more social signals: Twitter, +1 and Facebook mainly.

That’s based on reading the original Penguin announcement from Google where there was a lot of talk about “over-optimized” websites (that seemed to be one of the main themes Matt Cutts was getting at). He even mentioned sites that “do NO SEO” would have a better chance at ranking, which leads me (and many others) to believe the dumbing-down your SEO is a good thing.

I’ll also be improving the site’s content.

  • Analyzing the top competitors, I notice my content was too long (too much text). I want to break it up and be more succinct. [A recent Searchmetrics.com study shows that if your content is "too long" for your niche, you may not rank as well in the U.S. (which I thought was odd).]
  • Compared to others in my niche, my content is older. Solution: add regular content. Link to my older content from fresher content.
  • My content needs to be more objective, this is just a hunch compared to what is ranking currently.
These are options, I haven’t decided if I’m going to actually bother with this yet, still debating.

A quick note on an important point: Panda was known to punish your site site-wide if Google found poor content on one part of your site.

So if one part of your site fell out of it’s good graces, was found lacking for some reason – it can affect the rankings of your entire site.

I don’t know if Penguin operates that way, but if you’re going to change your content, you’ll need to look at the whole website if you expect any improvements.

What’s mainly stopping me from trying to re-rank the site is the heavy penalty I have from Penguin. I want to go from easy > more involved corrective measures, so that would mean right now to mess with the on-page issues mentioned above…

But the “more involved” measures would mean working at getting an abundance of better links to the site. I’d be looking at high PageRank links from relevant sources, social media links and press releases. What’s holding me back is this last part: the linking.

I’ve a mountain of bad links working against me – so do I even bother?

Diversify Traffic

This is mainly where I’m headed from now on. I could in theory leave my site as-is and just try to get traffic to the site from everything but Google, and see how that goes.

It seems like the least amount of work in some respects, and it’s why I came out with Tidal Wave Traffic.

When you’ve been depending on SEO for so long, it’s an actual total mindset flip to diversify beyond Google. More on that in my next post (I’m posting right after this).

If I had been doing this from the get-go, I wouldn’t have noticed when Google updated or not – I wouldn’t care. I’ve talked to people like Nathan Devlin who haven’t noticed Google Penguin hurting their business because they rely on other traffic resources – that’s where my own business is headed.

What’s the Path of Least Resistance?

That’s the big question for me and for anyone affected by Penguin. If you can make your links diverse in their anchor text (because you control those link placements), then I’d suggest you do so if you’ve been hit.

Change what you can (like your content) and then it’s a waiting game – for the next Penguin refresh.

If this is a lost cause, just sell the site. It’s not doing you any good sitting there. Flip it on Flippa or some other network – especially if the site has any PageRank (hopefully) you can get some value out of the sale.

But in my case, I’m not sure the site will revive – I haven’t tried much at this point (just a few on-page changes, but nothing site-wide) and I’m still debating what my next move is. I’m thinking change the content, see if that helps a bit, and if it doesn’t revive then I’ll sell it.

What’s Part 2 and 3 All About?

This is a 3-part post. The first focused on my options with the website in question, from selling it off to improving and trying to rescue it.

The second part is all about diversifying my income: that’s part of the “hard decisions” I need to make, and it might help you in your decision-making, so stay tuned.

(I’ll publish it later today.)

Edit: Here is the second part.

The third part will be focused on traffic diversification.

Your Turn – Have You Recovered Lost Rankings?

Just curious if any of my readers have recovered their rankings. If not, what have you done to recover from lost income thanks to Google’s updates?

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