On May 22, 2013, Google released the second major Penguin algorithm update. Designed to fight web spam, Penguin 2.0 targets websites with low-quality backlinks and punishes them with a drop in rankings. Websites that saw a decrease in Google traffic around this time may have been affected.

Here is a guide for Penguin 2.0 recovery, as well as a few tips on improving rankings.

How to Recover

The first step towards recovery is to complete a thorough backlink audit. There are a number of free and paid tools that can help, including Google and Bing webmaster tools, Ahrefs, or Open Site Explorer. Use a combination of these tools to create a comprehensive list of every backlink.

While the first Penguin update focused primarily on links going to the homepage, the latest update looks at links going to deeper pages, according to an analysis done by G-Squared Interactive. In addition to the homepage, it is important to analyze all of the links going to deeper pages, like category, subcategory, or product pages, in order to fully recover from a Penguin hit.

Anchor Text

Start the audit by checking the anchor text (the clickable text in a link) in each link.

In order to rank for a particular keyword, many SEOs added that keyword into the anchor text of a link. This is fine in moderation; however some SEOs repeated this process and created thousands of links pointing to a site using that keyword. This is a clear sign to Google that they engaged in unnatural linking, and as a result, Google punished those companies.

A good estimate of a natural backlink profile would look something like:

  • 60% branded anchor text (e.g. PWIM)
  • 20% keyword-optimized anchor text (e.g. Chicago Internet Marketing)
  • 20% miscellaneous anchor text (e.g. click here)

If there are a large number of links with keyword optimized anchor text, change the text whenever possible, and some links may need to be removed.

Bad Links

In addition to sites with over-optimized anchor text, the latest Penguin update also targeted sites with poor quality links. Check every link and make a list of all of the bad ones.  Here are some types of low quality links to look out for:

  • Links from unrelated/inappropriate sites – adult sites, gambling sites, sites from different industries, etc.
  • Link Farms – sites that are full of links, created just for SEO
  • Paid Links – (not always bad, because they can pass traffic to your site, however advertorials should be nofollowed)
  • Site-Wide Links – header, footer, or widget links that link from every page of another site

Link Removal

After going through the anchor text, backlinks, and identifying any problems, start removing the bad links. This process will not be easy.

Start by contacting the webmaster of each site containing a bad link and ask them to remove it. Some webmasters will simply remove the link, some will ask for money to remove the link (don’t give it to them), and some won’t ever respond. Creating a new email address and using a form email will help speed up this process and reduce future spam.

For all of the links that aren’t taken down, Google created the Disavow Tool. The tool tells Google not to count certain links when evaluating a website. While the tool makes the link removal process easier, Google warns that the disavow tool is a last resort. “You should still make every effort to clean up unnatural links pointing to your site. Simply disavowing them isn’t enough.” After removing links and using the disavow tool, file a reconsideration request with Google.

Improving Rankings

Cleaning up links is just the first step. In order to fully recover from a Penguin hit, adopt a long-term SEO strategy based on content, quality link building, and social media.

Content

Google favors websites that regularly add useful, relevant, and high-quality content. Remove any duplicate content, and improve any thin, low-quality writing. Then, start regularly updating the site with informative blog posts, videos, case studies, white papers, or enhanced product descriptions.

Quality Link Building
Links are still the key to how Google ranks websites. Remember, one good link is equal to thousands of bad ones, so take the time to build quality, editorially given links from highly relevant sites.

Here are a few link building strategies to keep in mind:

  • Investigate Competitor Backlinks: Investigate a competitor’s backlinks. Identify any gaps in the backlink profile when compared to the competition, and target the best linking opportunities.
  • Guest Posts: Submit blog posts to an industry related blog. Be careful, because there are a number of low-quality blogs that were created just for link-based guest posting. Avoid these blogs and look for edited blogs that are regularly updated with quality content.
  • Create Link Bait: Create content that other people will find interesting and will want to link to. Popular types of link bait include infographics, glossaries of industry terms, an industry resources page, video tutorials, and funny or controversial blog posts.

Social

Every like, +1, and retweet is being taken into account, as social signals are now playing a larger role than ever in determining search results. Be active on social media; build a following and actively interact with them. A great way to get started building an audience is to share the new interesting content going up on the site, curate updates from industry leaders, and start discussions.