Google's Penguin Update Still Hurts


Google’s brutal Penguin update is officially old news to anyone who stays informed of algorithm changes. When it launched back in April, a great deal of webmasters breathed sighs of relief while the not-so-lucky ones finally paid the penguin piper.

photo of penguin

Refresh my memory

The Penguin update was an update to Google’s algorithm (the complicated process by which it ranks websites) that resulted in an across-the-board decline in traffic to certain websites. Those affected had (and may still have) several common characteristics:

Keyword-stuffed content

This kind of content (Web pages, blog posts) isn’t helpful for visitors; it exists for the sole purpose of ranking for a specific term.

Duplicate content

While duplicate content often occurs unintentionally, the Penguin update targeted websites that replicate pages deliberately. Shady SEOs or webmasters did this to manipulate Google into thinking that a website is incredibly influential on a particular subject, therefore ranking for more terms and receiving greater amounts of traffic, when in reality, the website’s perceived authority was just a magnified version of the same thin content.

Crappy backlinks

When a site links to yours, the authority is often passed along. This can be good or bad, depending upon how valuable Google perceives that website to be. It was popular (and still is among certain goons) to purchase thousands of links from useless websites, simply to have a robust profile of inbound links. Google is now really good at determining when an inbound link is legit and when it is risky business.

It’s not getting better

What the above characteristics have in common is manipulation. Websites that have tried to make Google believe they are valuable when in fact they are not are now suffering the consequences. These sites have taken the easy way out by finding ways around white hat SEO. White hat SEO is the process of making a site genuinely better in order to receive better rankings. What a concept! In other words, it’s doing the work that black hats are too lazy or cheap to do.

Fix your on-site errors

Start on your own site. Fix the things that are in your control, such as weak content, duplicate content, and missing Meta data. We recommend knowing exactly which pages are sending red flags to search engines; an SEO Audit that is specific to Google’s Penguin update can provide a much-needed baseline. You will know exactly how bad the damage, but more importantly, you will know what actions to take in order to get back on track.

Get rid of backlinks

Remember that time you paid a company or person fifty bucks for 10,000 inbound links? Sounded like a great deal at the time, but you know the saying: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So how do you get rid of links from other sites to yours? Contact the owners of those sites and ask for them to remove the link?

Precisely. It’s not a fun job. It may not be an easy job. But with the right tools, you can slowly clean up the mess you have made.

  1. We first recommend calling up the SEO “expert” who sold you on the idea in the first place (assuming you are innocent here). This person might have an easy fix for you, especially if the purchasing process was a simple overnight that can be reversed just as easily. If not, you might have to start with one site at a time.
  2. Use sites like Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO, and of course, the Backlink Report from Google Webmaster Tools. These tools will inform you of the quality of your backlinks. Filter the results to show only followed links (meaning the search engines understand to pass the authority of a site on to the domain to which it links). Any incoming links that seem unnatural will need to be removed.
  3. Visit the websites that are harming your authority and search for contact information. I find the Tout extension for Chrome to be extremely useful in that it scrapes email addresses; this can save a lot of time.


If you’re up for it, we recommend tackling an SEO Audit on your own; the process is not easy, but we have compiled a checklist of the steps we go through here at Evolve. Otherwise, feel free to give us a call; we can tell you if a sudden drop in traffic is due to Google’s Penguin update, a personal penalty to your site, or something else.