Penguin 2.0 SEO Impacts: Was your site hit by the Penguin 4 Update? Penguin 2.0 (aka Penguin 4) has been unleashed by Google. On May 22, 2103, the latest round in Google’s war on web spam, Penguin 2.0, had SEOs and website owners biting their fingernails wondering if they would be hit. Penguin 2.0 is the 4th Penguin update to rock the web, and so far it seems that the collateral damage has been minimal. Unlike previous updates that saw some “good” sites taken down with the “bad,” Penguin 2.0 appears to have lashed out at the Internet’s unsavory underbelly, hitting mostly porn sites. According to Searchmetrics, 1/3 of the sites that took the biggest hit to search visibility in the 4th Penguin update were porn sites. However, the sites hit the hardest were gaming and blogging communities with an average loss in search visibility of 44%. This doesn’t mean that Penguin 2.0 didn’t snag some dolphins in the net. For example, The Salvation Army International http://www.salvationarmy.org was swept up with the porn and gaming sites taking a near 32% drop in SERP visibility. Other non-porn, non-gaming sites that were hit hard by Penguin 2.0 include. Cheapoair.com and Dish.com.

These were Penguin 2.0’s biggest losers, but what about the average-Joe site? For some businesses, even a relatively “small” hit of 3-5% of traffic can put a significant strain on conversions and profitability. So, what exactly did Penguin 2.0 target in its update? And how can you know if you were hit? Here’s what Google was looking at, and here is how you can tell if you might have been impacted.

Penguin 2.0: What was Google Targeting? As usual, Google was targeting web spam, poor quality sites, and sites that it considers “bad.” Google also was targeting advertising practices. Specifically, ad placements, ad types, and “advertorial.” Finally, Google was looking “black hat” practices in general, be they off-page or on-page. As with previous Penguin updates Penguin 2.0 targets offsite signals to identify “black hat” practices, in particular link profiles and anchor text. Google is still actively working on cleaning up link spam in general, so expect a spammy link profile to hurt even more in the future but it was definitely a factor in this latest Penguin update. One thing addressed in Penguin 2.0 that wasn’t really a target in previous iterations is SERP domination, or clustering. Penguin 2.0 attempted to remove multiple listings from the same site for the same search term. Not so much two or three pages from the same site showing up for a term, as much as most of page three, or all of page three and part of page four. Finally, Google looked at how it could clean up its own act, focusing on spammy search terms, like “pay day loans,” and the actual search results such terms return. This is why porn sites and gaming sites were hit so hard. They tend to show up for spammy, sometimes unsavory terms (when safe search is disabled). They also tend to host advertisements all over the page and/or with multiple pop-ups or pop-unders. Around the same time that Penguin 2.0 went live, Google released a video telling web site owners exactly what to focus on for the rest of 2013. This offers great insight into what you should do, and shouldn’t do, when designing and marketing your site. It also foreshadows another potential upset on the horizon, another possible iteration of Panda.

Penguin 2.0: How to Tell if Penguin 4 Hurt You: Google has assured website owners that good content won’t be penalized. It has also stated that small websites are the ones who would benefit most from web spam clean up, provided they haven’t engaged in any black hat tactics. Early analysis suggests that well-known brand sites benefitted the most from Penguin 2.0, but the average local business does not appear to have been hurt either. If you want to see if Penguin 2.0 helped or hurt you there are a few things you can do:

1)     Check your analytics and Google Webmaster’s Tools: Did you see a drop or increase in referral traffic from http://getstat.com/blog/the-penguin-has-landed/gle after May 22, 2013? Did your average rankings for key terms drop or improve after this date?

2)     Look at your backlinks in Google Webmaster’s Tools; did they drop? What about your Indexed Pages, did you see a drop or increase there?

3)     Use the SearchMetrics Tool to measure if your visibility has been impacted. You can do this with a free account. http://suite.searchmetrics.com/us/research or http://suite.searchmetrics.com/ca/research

4)     Do a bulk scraped SERP check by keyword using a tool like Search Engine Reports http://www.searchenginereports.net (this is only useful if you have previously run this report to have a baseline) Avoid the urge to do manual SERP spot-checks as there are a multitude of reasons that these will not give you an accurate picture of your search visibility.

Penguin 2.0: How to Recover from the Penguin 4 Update If it looks like you’ve seen traffic and referrals decline after Penguin you can take steps to repair the damage. If you take these steps, you won’t see immediate improvements but in time you should start to recover.

1)     Review your link profile using a tool like Open Site Explorer or Market Samurai. Look for overly repetitive anchor text, low authority backlink sources and low diversity in linked to pages. Make efforts to correct these by building links to a more diverse set of pages using more varied and natural anchor text. If you have links from “bad” or low authority pages, make efforts to have them removed.

2)     Review your advertising, including internal advertising (ie: newsletter solicitations or seasonal promos). Do you have too many ads on the page, is your “above the fold” real estate dominated by advertisements, or do you use pop-ups and pop-unders too frequently or in too large a number at once? If you answered yes to any of these issues, revise your advertising practices.

3)     Review the content on the pages that have lost rankings and/or on the site as a whole. Are you pushing the limits of keyword stuffing? Do you have irrelevant but target keyword terms in image alt tags; in other words, do the alt tags contain target keywords that do not also accurately describe the image? Does the anchor text of inbound external links match too closely with the target terms on the page? If you answered yes to any of these questions, revise your content and link building strategies.

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