SEO: Did Google Penguin Give Your Site the Cold Shoulder?

With Google’s latest Penguin update, several site owners are scrambling to see if their rankings were affected. Continue reading to see if you might be on the list of those adversely affected.

Once again, the SEO world is in a frenzy.

And once again, it’s because of a Google update.

This time, the culprit (or victor, depending on how you look at it), is Google Penguin, a release that’s aimed at improving search results by penalizing sites that are guilty of link spamming. After its April 24 release, SEO experts and webmasters alike have seen big shifts in search engine results for a multitude of sites.

But what is Google Penguin, anyway? And what can you learn from this angry bird?

The Low-Down on Google Penguin

For some background, Google, along with other search engines, constantly update their search software to provide better, more relevant results for its users. Sometimes, major updates, such as Google Panda, and now, Penguin, are released to help improve search accuracy in a hurry.

In a nutshell, both Panda and Penguin reflect concerted efforts by Google to lower the rankings of websites that are over-optimizing, or in other words, trying to game the Google algorithm.

More specifically, Penguin is targeting sites that: 1) engage in link spamming activities, 2) have unnatural anchor text profiles and 3) are keyword stuffing. Before we go any further, let’s define what these mean:

  • Link spamming: The process of getting lots of links to your website by buying them, trading them or obtaining them from a link network.
  • Unnatural anchor text profiles: Anchor text consists of the words included in a hyperlink. Most anchor text for links coming to your site should include your brand name and website URL. For some sites, however, the majority of their links contain anchor text with very specific keywords, which leads to an unnatural profile. For example, back in February, JCPenney was hit hard after an investigation found that thousands of random, unrelated websites were linking back to, most of which had anchor text for almost every product they sold.
  • Keyword stuffing: The practice of jamming as many keywords as possible into site content, often leading to a less than perfect reading experience for users.

The chatter about Penguin began back in April, when several site owners received the following “unnatural links” message from Google:

Since then, talks about Google’s move have been filling SEO blogs and forums. Sites hit the hardest are those that acquired links from popular link networks, most notably BuildMyRank, which has since been de-indexed.

To see if you’ve been impacted (which you shouldn’t if you’re using legitimate SEO tactics), check if your search traffic significantly dropped after April 24. Another indicator is if you no longer rank highly for your own brand name.

Valuable Lessons from Google Penguin

The ultimate takeaway from Penguin is this: don’t try to trick Google. Instead, embrace their algorithm by creating quality content that provides value to your readers. When you do this, other people naturally want to link to your site, which inherently improves your rankings. In other words, you should be creating content for people, not for search engines, as I’ve been saying all along.

Here are more lessons to prevent Penguin from marching over you:

  • All content should pass human review: The crazy thing about Penguin is that it seems like Google is manually going after sites, as opposed to automatically doing so through their algorithm. Their criteria for penalization? Human review. This means that all of your content should avoid keyword stuffing, spelling/punctuation errors, or any type of automation system that creates content for you.
  • Don’t buy links: The epitome of link spamming is buying links, so stop doing it. If you have paid links on your site, remove as many as possible and start link building on legitimate terms.
  • Beware of your SEO “expert”: Just because you’re getting positive results doesn’t mean that your SEO firm is using best practices to achieve them. When talking with your SEO vendor, ask them to explain their content and link building strategies, making sure they’re done in good faith.
  • Watch out for over-optimized anchor text: Links coming to your website should be natural, with the majority of the anchor text including your brand name and website URL. As mentioned before, if the majority of anchor text contains the same, detailed keyword (aka targeted links), try decreasing the amount of targeted links and add variety to your anchor text. To check the status of your anchor text distribution, try the Open Site Explorer tool – just enter your domain and click “anchor text.”

Penguin is just the tip of the iceberg in Google’s ongoing effort to improve search results. Sites that are over-optimized will continue to suffer, so now’s the time to clean up your act, if necessary.

And for the rest of us who are steadfastly working on building our brand and content, there’s no need to panic over Penguin.

In fact, it’s a good thing.

Happy selling!
-Matt Winn, Social Media Manager, Volusion


Questions or comments on this article? Leave your thoughts in the box below!



Matt Winn is Volusion’s Senior Brand Manager, where he helps oversee the organization’s branding and communications efforts. Matt has created hundreds of articles, videos and seminars on all things ecommerce, ranging from online marketing to web design and customer experience. Beyond being a certified nerd, Matt is an avid college football fan, enthusiastic home cook and a self-admitted reality TV junkie.

4 Responses to “SEO: Did Google Penguin Give Your Site the Cold Shoulder?”

  1. Adam

    There is a problem …. volusion is assigning automatic redirect if we do new SEO for a page but after penguin it will provide a penalty as its doing for my volusion store. I am trying to use robots to overcome this problem but the URL’s still seem to redirect. Don’t know how to wriggle out of this problem.

  2. Adam S

    I’m glad Google is taking steps to prevent dishonesty on the internet.

  3. Dustin Fennell

    In response to this statement: “The crazy thing about Penguin is that it seems like Google is manually going after sites, as opposed to automatically doing so through their algorithm.”

    That is false, Penguin is purely algorithmic and there is no human involved in the process.

    Also, the link spamming is not necessarily Penguin as well, Google has discounted these link network links as part of their normal process and is nothing new.

    For those felt like they have been hit by Penguin: take a look at your onsite content first and see if you are overtly keyword stuffing. Go back and rewrite the content for humans and not the search engines.

    Then if you have been participating in any poor link practices, clean up what you can if it makes sense to do to. And then go out and start marketing your site and products like a business and worry about bringing in customers not links. If you do it right the links will come anyways.

  4. Tim Bruxvoort

    What would really help us build more content on our sites would be an on site blog. Without it sites that have them will have an advantage.


Leave a Reply