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1 year anniversary of penguin, no recovery



1:40 pm on Apr 29, 2013 (gmt 0)

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Well it's been a year since our site got hit by penguin demoting pages for specific keywords. Over the course of the year we have attempted to correct the issues that presumably caused the manual action and as of yet have had no success regaining the ranking we had for the specific keywords.

Early on we launched a campaign to remove the inbound links that we created/had built. We were successful in getting about 90% of the links removed.

We submitted a list of all links that were created/built by us to google along with the attempts that were made to have them removed.

We removed directories/pages that had excessive inbound links. (for example, example.com/widgets was removed and the content was added to example.com/widget)

We did not use the disavow tool.

We did no link building since penguin was applied.

We have not yet seen any upward movement in the serps for the affected keywords, still ranking 900+ for the affected keywords and the pages that are ranking are obscure pages that should not be ranking for the keyword.

Also, when penguin hit we lost site links and those have not come back even for a search of the domain name (example.com).

With the exception of the site links issue I would think that we have not regained our rankings due to the fact that we have not done any link building since penguin.

We still rank very well for long tail keywords.


4:32 pm on Apr 29, 2013 (gmt 0)

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I believe I'm seeing some improvement in the past couple of weeks.

1) Some of my pages that left the index altogether (for their top search terms - they're still in there for long tail queries) have suddenly reappeared at, like, #150. I used to rank #1-3 for these terms, so it's nothing like a full recovery, but it's something.

2) My sitelinks have returned. I don't know if that means much, but they disappeared shortly before Penguin.

3) No overall improvement in actual Google traffic, however, the other engines are liking me better. They seemed to play "follow the leader" somewhat after Penguin, and now they're ranking me better suddenly too. Interesting.


5:19 pm on Apr 29, 2013 (gmt 0)

google really needs to update penguin, very annoying with these long periods between updates.


5:42 pm on Apr 29, 2013 (gmt 0)

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@Shepherd and @diberry: do you guys track the total amount of Google KWs you're receiving traffic on? Has there been an increase in the total amount of KWs (which may or may not translate into more overall traffic)

I am seeing some strange fluctuations in the amounts of KWs I get traffic from. Post-penguin the overall number of them has dropped significantly but some of them perform at the same level they've been for years. So, what happens is: when the total number of KWs drops, the good ones start bringing more traffic. When the total grows, the champions drop a little (not SERP, just the amount of clicks and therefore, I assume, impressions). So, the end result has been a pretty level amount of traffic. I also had post-penguin overnight 40% traffic drop in November. But if you consider the new overall level of traffic since November, it is also remarkably even.

It looks on a graph and feels pretty darn like traffic throttling to me.


5:48 pm on Apr 29, 2013 (gmt 0)


this is exactly the same thing that i see with my informational site.


6:07 pm on Apr 29, 2013 (gmt 0)

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Haven't really looked at the number of keywords sending traffic. This is a pretty specific niche with about 50% of searches being for the main keyword (example), 15% of searches a secondary keyword (example widgets), and 35% coming from all other keywords (alabama example widgets, texas example information).

We have the emd (example.com) and use directories for the secondary keyword and longtail keywords (example.com/widget, example.com/widget/alabama, example.com/information/texas).

Our traffic has remained flatlined from the day after penguin hit to this day, no increase, no decrease, 40% less than the day before penguin hit.


8:14 pm on Apr 29, 2013 (gmt 0)

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@Shepherd - Yup April 24th was our 1 year anniversary of being hit. We were initial hit and lost 20% of traffic and then a month later another 10%. Since then it has been a slow steady decline to where we have lost just over 50% of traffic when compared to the previous year. We lost some important keywords since our income is down about 75%.

I have tried a number of things and nothing seems to be halting the slow steady slide. We plan on replacing our theme soon with something a little more modern. I hope this helps. Most of my competitors (with quality content) have disappeared as well from the SERPS. If I take the current SERPS in our niche as any indication of what to do I should be creating thin content pages from 3 years ago and applying black hack techniques to improve my ranking :-(


8:15 pm on Apr 29, 2013 (gmt 0)

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I don't track the number of keywords, either. But my post-Penguin traffic from Google has been remarkably steady. "Flatlined" is a good way to put it.


8:51 pm on Apr 29, 2013 (gmt 0)

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Well, I've been "flatlined" too (and not just one site either) but I was just intrigued when I saw that the flat traffic line appears to be a result of them controlling several parameters in coordinated fashion. It is illuminating in the way that it looks like the end game is not controlling a parameter (this site can rank for these X keywords because it only has info on these X subjects ) but rather punitive "this site cannot receive more than Y hits from us even if it's able to rank for more than X keywords".

It is probably way too naive at this point to look at what they do from the "organizing the world's information" stand point. But I cannot see any reason such complicated traffic throttling can help "organize" anything. It is definitely about controlling the resource which is traffic.


9:56 pm on Apr 29, 2013 (gmt 0)

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I was hit about a year ago by Penguin for two of my sites as well. It really surprised me since I've tried to always follow the guidelines set forth - build for your website for users, not engines - and I didn't engage in link building schemes.

Anyway, I sent a reinclusion request to Google for one of my two sites a few months after that because I figured I must have been hit by a penalty of some sort, and was told about a week later that there was no penalty. That left me having no idea, really. In Bing and Yahoo, I still am on the first page of the serps for popular keywords phrases, but in Google, I lost them all. It made no sense to me.

I finally posted in the webmaster community asking for help where I was promptly called a spam link farm and basically mocked there by a bunch of users. So helpful. Not.

A couple of people took time to actually offer some insight into what Google might see when looking at my sites. Apparently, these two sites that I've been building for 8+ years that are different topics, but have some cross-over, are looking like link farms to Penguin. Well, I didn't cross-link to game Google. I cross-linked as appropriate for my users who would get value out of both sites.

So I figured out a way to add nofollow to my links since the sites stand on their own and now I sit. Waiting. For a Penguin update. And hoping that the nofollow will fix whatever Google sees wrong with my websites.

Interestingly, the site sitting in 1st place for the top keywords for these two sites are link directories maintained by the same person, both of which link to my websites' pages (ie. BlueWidgetDirectory links to many sites about BlueWidgets, including mine. RedWidgetDirectory links to many sites about RedWidgets, including mine). I've also seen a number of Pinterest boards getting some pretty great rankings on page 1 & 2 for these popular keywords. All of which I think is weird if Google's goal is to offer the most relevant results.


10:17 pm on Apr 29, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member

I agree that this is about controlling traffic rather than organizing data, but to what purpose? It's way too subtle to be a good punishment or teach webmasters a lesson (or we'd have tons more people noticing and talking about it). It doesn't feel like it's something Google is doing to us - it feels like something Google is doing for itself that just happens to turn out badly for us.

What purpose it serves, or whether it's a side effect of something else they're doing, I don't know. I can't come up with any reason Google would do this on purpose, so I'm guessing it's a side effect of something else they're doing, and I have no idea what.

All I do know is, my keyphrases shift around, but the amount of traffic they bring from Google doesn't change. I cannot imagine this outcome is worth a dime of effort to Google, and it would take a bit of effort to make this happen. It has to be something that scales, remember? I keep thinking it doesn't matter to Google how many people reach a site as long as they're making money, but then I remembered that whole Net Neutrality controversy in 2010 ([nytimes.com ]), wherein Google and Verizon were working on a way to "allow Verizon to speed some online content to Internet users more quickly if the contentís creators are willing to pay for the privilege". YouTube gets mentioned as a site that might pay more. I believe this thing never went through, however. Unfortunately, it's hard to track down anything but the initial press releases.

So, I don't know what to think.

ETA: PurpleKitty, you're not alone - that's more or less my story.


1:56 am on Apr 30, 2013 (gmt 0)

Is there any way we can come up with a common denominator. Many of us have been hit for around a year and it has cost us dearly. If you are anything like me it constantly "maybe its this". Eventually we run out of ideas.

I had a site that linked to another site I owned. Removed all of that. Had nofollows put on any outbound links to other sites (no Improvement).

I know around that time the server went down for no apparent reason, so I tried different servers and had the current server double checked. (no Improvement)

Really checked over htaccess file. some ptential areas (verdict still out)

Disavowed links (no Improvement).

Removed mobile portion of site (Verdict out)

Reworked portions of site (no Improvement).

Improved social presence (no Improvement).

In WMT around that time had Robot Blocked pages increased significantly for no apparent reason. It has come back to zero now (no Improvement).

Seeing gradual increase in pages indexed every week

Am seeing folders that aren't intended to be indexed that are being indexed.

Links from Russian sites? Is Google hacked? Are we a test group? Much of Purplekitty's story sounds very similar. I still rank well on Bing and Yahoo but just can't get on page one on Google.


4:13 am on Apr 30, 2013 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Just to go back a bit, there was only one popular keyword phrase on one of the websites I didn't lose rankings for. Everything else, gone. I've tried to figure out why that one phrase maintained (and still does) first page ranking and I just don't know. I don't see anything different with links to my sites for that phrase versus others that were there, then gone - poof.

At this point, I think it's something within the Penguin algorithm itself because I didn't nofollow my links between my own sites and I figure I won't see a change in my rankings until the next Penguin update. At least, that's what I'm hoping for since I'm pretty discouraged and I've done everything I can think to do, continue plugging along, adding new content with no change in Google ranking except for one thing, which I don't think is a coincidence.

I did a press release at the beginning of the year about hitting 2,000 "free-blue-widgets" which got picked up by some popular "blue-widgets" websites/social media and I started ranking again for variations of "free-blue-widgets." Not very high and not at all what I lost, but it was something at least.


4:43 am on Apr 30, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member

Yeah, my latest theory was that I had too many nofollow links - in the form of trackbacks from Wordpress - pointing to one of my pages. It's pretty mystifying for those of us who weren't hit for link building.


3:26 pm on Apr 30, 2013 (gmt 0)

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@purplekitty: it's uncanny, I also have one and only one KW that has never been touched by any of the issues the site as a whole has been through since 2011 (not only Penguin). By now it has become so prominent that it's hard not to notice it, it's been ontop of my KW lists for several years now, even before the troubles started.

The page that comes up on that KW is nothing special. There are no external links to it that I can find. Internally it's not linked any better or different than other 300,000+ pages of this site (large forum). In fact, there are plenty of other, better linked pages, internally and externally. The most dis-concerning to me is that its topic is not even exactly ON TOPIC with the rest of the site. As far as my own site is concerned, the page is absolutely unremarkable in every way.

In SERPs for that KW (two KWs actually - singular and plural form) this page is holding its own against such behemoths like Amazon and eHow. And that's considering that 90% of my other pre-2011 KWs are still gone. Every so often it would slip a few positions, but after a few days it would always come back to #1 or #2. It seems to be stuck but fortunately for me, stuck on #1 or 2 whereas the rest is stuck on 50+ if they are in SERPs at all. If I can have a couple hundred of such pages, I could retire! :)

What could be causing this?


3:33 pm on Apr 30, 2013 (gmt 0)

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I was hit hard. I'd say 50% of links lost keyword rankings and while I've tried adding new content to the affected pages they seem to be a lost cause. What I did was add new pages on related content, but targeting different long-tail keywords. That seemed to work great for a while, but recently the new pages I've launched are not ranking as well as the pages I built/launched last summer/fall.

I'm a little confused by Google on which pages got affected and why? It definitely seems like most of the affected ones were higher searched keyword related, but not all the high search traffic pages were affected. I'd like to get input on pages that used to rank, but haven't for a while now. Is it pretty safe to assume they are flagged and almost anything I do won't help regain traffic for those URLs?


4:16 pm on Apr 30, 2013 (gmt 0)

What is the size in pages of most of these sites. Mine is approximately 15000 pages.


5:07 pm on Apr 30, 2013 (gmt 0)

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5:30 pm on Apr 30, 2013 (gmt 0)

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My site's a good bit smaller, but I'm not seeing the same keyphrase issue as you guys.


10:56 pm on Apr 30, 2013 (gmt 0)

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I have two affected sites, one that I've been working on trying to fix whatever the issue is since last summer.

Site 1 has about 2,500
Site 2 has about 1,500

Like others have mentioned, my traffic has been...steady. Like flat-lined. Google indexes all of the pages just fine it seems according to my webmaster tools.

The only messages I've ever gotten from Google through webmaster tools was:
http: //mysitename.com/: Big traffic change for top URL

Like, no kidding, Google. For site 1, I got that message around Septemberish (?). For site 2, I got that message in December.

Looking, I see I submitted a site reinclusion in January for site 1 and got the message "No manual spam actions found" about a week later.

I've tried submitting feedback to Google through that Penguin feedback tool twice for site 1 and never heard anything back.


1:51 am on May 1, 2013 (gmt 0)

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Launched in 2003

I also did a number of things Awarn has done without any improvements.

I also only had very few nofollow links on my site and thinking this might be an issue I made all user listed homepages nofollow with no improves (most user homepage links while not necessarily related pointed to okay sites (I reviewed them when they joined))


5:53 am on May 1, 2013 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I am of the opinion that there will never be a mass recovery. Google in their mind has purged the results of naughty sites and sent them to the corner for good.

Yes a lot of good sites have been caught up in the wash but that's what I read in my tea leaves. It's a year already. I expect more pain come this next super-size-me Penguin hits, and little if any recovery for anybody.


12:36 pm on May 1, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I do understand the dim outlook. I run into it a lot.

However, there are a few hit sites that have recovered - definitely not many, and especially not e-commerce. The successful approaches I know about always seem to include a focus on conversion optimization rather than traditional SEO methods. Focusing on the user experience with a strong value-add for the visitor seems to make a big difference.

I personally like that approach. It helps build direct traffic and goes directly after serving your market instead of using Google as a (not so dependable) middle-man. The paradox is this - there can be a Google traffic reward after you get good at user experience. But it's not because you went directly after rankings. Year old rankings are not a really workable goal anymore. Things have just changed too much.


1:40 pm on May 1, 2013 (gmt 0)

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and especially not e-commerce

That's an interesting observation. I wonder if this was a desired/planned outcome or just the result of the fact that ecom sites have a different "finger print" in the overall scheme.

It helps build direct traffic and goes directly after serving your market instead of using Google as a (not so dependable) middle-man.

This is going to be difficult for some to grasp but I've been saying it for years, google must be considered competition, we must get our traffic before google does.


1:50 pm on May 1, 2013 (gmt 0)

Tedster I understand your point. What gets me is Im e-commerce. I sit at position 15 and have for months (was always in top 3). You somewhat imply that Google is trying to make it so people find what they are looking for (focus on conversions). That sounds logical too. But here is what gets me. On e-commerce for high conversions that would mean having the product and in stock and at the cheapest price. So I look at the 14 sites ahead of me and in many cases they don't have the item or it is not in stock etc. So what is the logic as to why they outrank me? Four of the sites don't even sell the product. Three are related to Amazon and Ebay. Three are from the same site. It is really unusual in fact because on the hard to find products, customers still seem to find us since nobody else carries the items. Strange part anymore is I get customers calling and saying I looked on several other sites and you know you are the only place that has this item? Then the next question is I saw it on another site cheaper but they don't have the item in stock so will you sell it at that price? Some of these other sites have not had their prices updated in years. So what is Google achieving by this algorithm. They surely aren't helping e-commerce sites and they really aren't helping the consumer. So it really doesn't seem to add up at all. They imply the change is to improve the consumer experience but in reality they are hurting the consumer experience.


4:46 pm on May 1, 2013 (gmt 0)

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The successful approaches I know about always seem to include a focus on conversion optimization rather than traditional SEO methods. Focusing on the user experience with a strong value-add for the visitor seems to make a big difference.

That's what I was doing on all my sites when one - just one of them - got Penguinized. Of course, most people here dismissed me as a lying spammer when I first said this, but I'm hoping the past year has convinced some that it IS possible to offend the algorithm without knowing precisely why.

That said, Tedster, assuming you believe me, what would you advise? Maybe exploring different conversion optimization tactics than I was using before? (And that has happened naturally in the past year, as I'm always trying new methods.)


10:06 pm on May 1, 2013 (gmt 0)

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That's what I was doing on all my sites when one - just one of them - got Penguinized. Of course, most people here dismissed me as a lying spammer when I first said this, but I'm hoping the past year has convinced some that it IS possible to offend the algorithm without knowing precisely why.

Being accused of creating a spam link farm really threw me for a loop when I reached out for help (not here). And I was duly shamed! And therefore hesitant to seek help elsewhere. I have no doubt I'm not alone.

That said, when I look at my sites, I can see how an algorithm would see that based on what a link farm does. IMO, Penguin has had some serious unintended consequences for legitimate websites built for people, not engines, it its attempt to correct the link farm problem. I really have little doubt at this point that that is my issue.

And because the only thing that makes logical sense is that it's the Penguin algorithm itself causing the issue, only the next Penguin update can fix it once appropriate corrections are made. Not knowing what those are specifically has made fixing the issue a crap shoot, but the advice to add nofollow to my outbound links makes sense.

I can also look at other businesses in my industry that have separate websites for each discipline with cross-linking and when I check their rankings for bluewidgets, they aren't ranking either. Unfortunately for me, I don't have the big budgets they have to buy my Google traffic instead.

If the next Penguin update comes and goes and I still haven't regained my previous rankings, even a little bit, I will be a total loss of what to do next or what might be causing it. It's frustrating, but I'm focusing my energies elsewhere for the time being because there really is nothing else I can do other than what I'm doing - putting out new content that my users find valuable.


12:17 am on May 2, 2013 (gmt 0)

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The problem is we don't know if they even plan on announcing the next Penguin update (though I am sure we will figure it out). Last year Google was being more open about changes to the algo with monthly blog updates and panda announcements but it has been a complete reversal this year.


1:05 am on May 2, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

[webmasterworld.com ]

I've seen no reason to change the opinions expressed in this earlier post. Penguin is/was about the money. Google hotels is a classic example of Google's disdain for organic rankings.


4:29 am on May 2, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member

austtr, I think that's a subscribers only thread you linked there.
This 197 message thread spans 7 pages: 197

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