Case Study: Fixing A Website After Penguin Attacks – Part One

Penguin and Panda are both positive updates in my opinion. They make Google’s search results more relevant which means that the “searcher” wins. Since this is the customer that Google should be optimizing for it makes perfect sense. Overall my sites fared very well with Penguin however I did have a few get slapped and I thought it would be fun to put-together a case study showing what I am doing to bring one of these sites back to life.

This is another reason why I’m glad that I have hundreds of sites and not just one or two sites. I know many affiliates that based their income on a few big sites and when Penguin took one down, their income dropped like a rock. For me, some sites saw a noticeable ranking improvement providing more traffic and revenue, and a small number of sites (3 total out of 220) were slapped with a tiny Penguin wing (that’s what a Penguin would slap with right?).

So I’m taking you along for the ride as I bring one of my sites back from the bowels of Google and onto it’s rightful place back on page one. The site I’ll be covering for this case study has a lot of nostalgic value to me as it was one of the first sites that really made good money for me early on. Over the last couple of years it has sat very steadily at around $200-$300/month in profit and I haven’t had to add new articles weekly or new backlinks, it really was just a nice passive income machine.

I am not going to publicly call-out which site I am talking about but if you’d like to send me an email I’d be happy to tell you. The reason for this is that sadly, in the post-Penguin world we live in, one of the harshest forms of Blackhat SEO has come back to life. Google did a great job in the past of simply ignoring scammy links, now they hurt you which means that anyone who wants to kill your ranking, can do so thanks to Penguin. This particular site may have been attacked by a competitor so I want to do my best not to screw myself over here by sharing information. That being said, I’ve always loved sharing case studies with all of you and this should be an interesting one.

Hopefully anyone else who has had issues with Penguin can learn from this case study and apply some of the same principles to get their site back in action.

So what’s the first step to analyzing a site for Penguin-related issues?

Step one is to look at your link profile using a tool like Open Site Explorer. Select the tab at the top labeled “Anchor Text” – what you will see below is a long list of anchor text phrases that are being used when linking to your site. Penguin really took a deep dive into this and started to punish webmasters that focused too much on keywords.

Google’s hip to the SEO techniques people have been using for years, and they know that having anchor text with the keywords you want to rank for was a big one. So, when they see too many links to terms you want to rank for, rather than links to, they know something’s fishy, and Penguins like to eat fish, follow me?

For the specific site I am working with now about 85% of the links going to the site are focused on keyword phrases. My first step is to get a new set of backlinks coming in where the anchor text is the domain name itself. My goal is to change my link profile so that over 50% of my backlinks use the domain itself as the anchor text. Of course picking which backlink sources will give the most lift is critical, and that’s what I’ll be covering in Part Two!

If your site was crushed by Penguin, don’t fear, we can go through this together! As always I’ll share everything I learn with you, what works and what doesn’t, and in the end I hope to share some good news.

(Photo Credit)


{ 7 comments… add one }

  • don June 14, 2012, 12:34 pm

    Not sure that your metrics are going to work, I think 50% is way to much on any emd type of site, I had a few that got hit for going strictly after the emd anchor text and I think therein lies the problem and was one of the most widely documented discoveries I have read related to penguin, the penguin update is all about link diversification, not chasing the 1 or 2 word combinations that are most profitable, lots of good coverage @ search engine land to help guide u in the process, if you were diversified 1st it may not be a penguin hit, perhaps something else.

    • Morgan June 14, 2012, 12:51 pm

      Thanks @Don – great feedback and there definitely is no magic number that you must hit but 50% is a target I’m seeing a lot of people looking at. I’m following the same strategy that I’ve seen work for a few friends of mine.

      Link Diversification is critical…but that’s not until Part 3 so you’re already ahead of the pack 🙂

  • jordan June 14, 2012, 1:29 pm

    I didn’t see it mentioned in your post but did the site in question get the webmaster tools unatural links message?

  • Havela June 14, 2012, 3:36 pm

    Hi, I recently discovered this site and have been reading a lot on it. It is great that you give out advice so freely. I was wondering if I could ask what is a scammy link and how can a competitor hurt you with it?

    • Morgan June 15, 2012, 12:38 pm

      Hi @Havela – I did not get a warning for this particular site in Google Webmaster Tools, the rankings did drop however the day Penguin was released. As for scammy links, I will definitely be covering this in more detail so stay-tuned!

  • Neil Armstrong June 15, 2012, 12:25 am

    We had about 25% of our sites get slapped – some were due for an update anyway but we took one loss from position one to the third page (guess which site we’re reformatting first?)
    Mostly it’s due to exact matching – but it’s the name of a – we thought we had good text, but it’s hard for pages not to be “town hotel #1” so we’re adding as much copy which doesn’t name the town – links come in with the text being “name of the town” – we can’t get rid of too many exact matches, so we’re looking forward to the rest of this series.
    PS – we did appeal to google and are back on the first page – but position 8 is a big hit – especially for a coastal seaside town just as people are taking holiday bookings….

  • Rhadoo June 29, 2012, 5:40 am

    I was hit by the penguin too, so it will be really fun to follow this study!
    Moving on to part two now… 🙂


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