mhansen - 9:11 pm on Jun 13, 2012 (gmt 0)
The Penguin site we're working to recover was hit on April 24th. Penguin for sure, we lost 80% of Google referrals. It's a US based buying guide website, in a very tight niche market. Site content is 100% expert written, (20+ years selling direct to consumers) and we have several high quality, unsolicited deep backlinks, government backlinks, etc.
On the other hand, we had quite a bit of low quality article directory type links from a few years of article/guest content marketing on lateral topics. Our content is often used as a reference from places like eHow, Howto, etc... with the usual nofollow backlinks.
Late April - May, we wrote new pages to replace the content that was linked, and 301'd old url's to new. We also went sitewide and updated old links to the new location in each page.
We aggressively chased down and requested removal of hundreds of low quality backlinks using GWT data.
We walked through our site and de-optimized anchor text, and reviewed hundreds off pages for over-optimized content issues, or what we assumed were over-opt content.
Through the month of May, we reclaimed about 10-20% of the lost traffic. However, none of the previously high ranked 1-2-3 word search phrases returned any of our pages. We saw no recovery at all on the late May Penguin refresh.
June 1 - Now. We have since removed the 301's and simply return 404's on the old urls.
Contacted many of the authority sites and made sure old urls are updated.
Continued to aggressively chase down low quality ILB's from article marketing and guest articles. No change in the links reported in GWT, however many of them have dropped from web and cache dates updated.
Currently, we are still 50-60% down from pre-penguin referrals at Google. Some of that may be seasonal, however none of the top 100 phrases that used to drive traffic are relevant.
From what I found, there was a distinct change in the way certain words were affected by Penguin. Although we saw a reduction in our ranking for specific 1-2 word phrases, other sites saw a huge boost, whether they service the niche or not. For example, we lost rank to Amazon on a phrase that included "cost", yet they don't even sell the products, or provide expert buying guidance.
Looking forward to next refresh and hoping for more progress. The hardest part is walking away and finding something else to do, versus making constant changes that you have no idea whether they will help or hurt.