I have just figured out at least part of why one of my sites got Penguinized last April.
Brief history: Last April, one of my sites lost 80% of its Google traffic. I came here to find out what had happened, and read about this thing called Penguin, which targeted "aggressive spammers." I couldn't believe this, because I don't even have the skills to aggressively spam. I never did link building. I have never gotten an unnatural link notice. No one who looked at the site could quite figure out why I had been Penguinized.
One thing we all noticed was that the most disastrously hit page had a lot of links out. It had ranked highly in Google for years, suggesting they initially considered it a quality, curated resource page and not a link farm. Besides, I had other pages with a lot of backlinks that came through Penguin just fine. What was it about this one?
Today I looked through my WMT links in a different way than I have before and it hit me: my site is Wordpress, so by default these pages that link out so much acquire a lot of trackbacks. The linky pages that passed through Penguin without a problem also got a lot of genuine backlinks, mainly through social media. The linky page that tanked had a link profile of about 80% trackbacks last April 24. (Now it's more like 95% because so many blogs have removed their links to it in the wake of Penguin and all this link FUD.)
This suggests to me that one aspect of Penguin is specifically to devalue trackbacks, or to penalize pages that have a high ratio of trackbacks to backlinks. And that actually makes sense of the whole mess. Trackbacks ARE a tactic of spammers, even though my intention was not spamming. I was just using Wordpress' default settings.
But it also makes sense as a metric of user response. Imagine a page that has hardly any backlinks other than trackbacks, and one that has a mix of trackbacks and backlinks - which would you assume users prefer? And you'd be right - the page Google devalued never should have ranked at #1, IMO. (I never contested the devaluing of the site, I just couldn't understand specifically what had triggered it, and wanted to so I wouldn't make the same mistakes again, whatever they were.)
I have no idea what to do for the page now. I removed a lot of the links a while back, and the page fell much further. Should I remove it altogether? It would create some 404 landings if I did, but I guess I could redirect to a similar page. Or maybe I should republish it under a new URL entirely, in hopes Google would evaluate it anew and start fresh? Any ideas? Anyone have experience with anything similar?
--Limit the number of outbound links on pages (to what amount, I'm not sure), even when you think visitors might appreciate more
--Or, turn off trackbacks when publishing a page like that, just to be safe
--Or, don't link to blogs at all (but this is giving into link FUD)
--Or turn them off altogether - the only value they have is if the linked blogger sees them and really appreciates your site and decides to link out to it... which is so rare in these days of link FUD. And turning them off saves server resources.
I'm leaning toward turning them off, as they really don't provide any value I can think of.