There is a lot of talk about Google’s continued algorithm changes, particularly Google Panda and Google Penguin. Most of the talk seems focused on what not to do or what strategies to employ to avoid being affected by these algorithm changes, but there are still plenty of people who don’t quite get how or why they are losing their rankings or what to do about it if they are. Today, we would like to rundown the past, present, and future of how Panda and Penguin affect your website and your business along with the things you can do to prevent or rectify any harm that has come your way.

What Are Google Panda & Penguin?

The first source of confusion when talking to people about these major algorithm changes is the distinction between Google Panda and Google Penguin – particularly, what does it mean if you have been affected by them and why. So here is the simple rundown.

Google Panda is the algorithm changes focused on weeding out websites with low-quality content in search results. The most notably affected sites were article networks that hosted lots of ads next to poor article content. Many other different types of sites have since been affected.

Google Penguin is the algorithm changes focused on weeding out websites who have implemented techniques against Google Webmaster Guidelines to boost their ranking in search. This includes sites that have over-optimized both on-site and off-site SEO. Keyword stuffing, link buying, overuse of keyword-based anchor text, and having an “unnatural” link profile are just a few of many red flags and indicators to Google that a website has attempted to manipulate search rankings.

If you prefer more visual data, this is a great infographic lining up the difference between Panda and Penguin.

Another thing to keep in mind is that some sites that have lost rankings may not necessarily have been hit by either algorithm directly. Yet they still are suffering indirectly because they lost incoming links placed on sites that were hit directly by one algorithm or the other.

The Past

Can bad content you’ve created or links you built from years ago come back to haunt you? Absolutely! This is one major surprise for webmaster whose sites were hit with either Google Panda or Penguin. If you think back in your search marketing campaign, do you remember doing any of these things or similar?

  • Purchasing and publishing PLR content on a blog.
  • Installing a scraper program to steal content from other websites and posting it.
  • Taking one article and “spinning” them into multiple articles for your own website or for article networks linking back to your website.
  • Purchasing a package of 1,000 cheap backlinks.
  • Outsourcing spammy blog comments or forum posts.
  • Hiring a link building service that gained links through link exchanges with non-relevant sites.

If you can answer yes to any of those questions, no matter how many years ago it was, then you could still be targeted by the Google Panda or Penguin algorithm. You might think that you’ve survived this long, it’s not going to catch up with you. But one thing to remember is that Google is perfecting these algorithms regularly – so it could just be a matter of time.

Not sure if you’ve been hit with one of these penalties? Just look at your Google Analytics search engine traffic – if you notice a dramatic decrease, that could be a sign. If you want to see whether a website has been affected that you don’t have analytics access to, try simple tools like SEMrush that display the number of keywords a website ranks for. This graph shows the search engine traffic to EzineArticles.com – you can see the big spike at the time the first Google Panda update was released in February 2011.

What can you do to either prevent being affected by Google Panda and Penguin, or recover your rankings if you have already been affected? It’s a simple, yet excruciating slow and time consuming process.

  • Remove low-quality content from your website. If you’re not sure what to look for, you can always start by looking in your Google Analytics. Set the dates to show one calendar years’ worth of data.  Then go to Content > Site Content > All Pages. The first pages on your website that you will see are the ones that get the most pageviews. Click on the Pageviews column to resort it by the pages with the lowest pageviews. Now you will see the pages gets little to no traffic – review these pages and see if you could live without them and maybe redirect them to more updated, useful pages for visitors.
  • Remove low-quality content from other sites you have contributed to in order to build links. Think of submissions to article networks, directories, and possibly even blog networks.
  • Look at your backlink history using comprehensive inbound Link Analysis and identify low quality links. Request that purchased, exchanged, or spammy links be removed. With the right backlink tool, you can sort your backlinks by their domain authority, topic, and anchor text to see which links might be a problem.

Example of reviewing your backlink profile using inbound link analysis.

Want to see how Penguin recovery can be done? Watch this case study with real world examples of sites affected by Penguin.
The Present

The present – right now – is the perfect time to stop and look at your online marketing strategy as a whole. If you are currently using any techniques that you know are against Google’s rules, then stop.

So what can you do to build links without worrying about a penalty? Try these things.

  • Create quality content. Quality content is Panda-proof and acts as link bait so that you can attract organic links to your website. Once your content is created, be sure to promote it on your social channels so it gains maximum exposure to have the best chance to attract links.
  • Perform competitor research. Using tools like Backlink Reports, you can see the top 2,500 backlinks for competitors’ websites. Take the best links from each of your competitors and see if you can get those links (or similar links) for your website without submitting low-quality articles, spammy comments, link exchanges, or payment.
  • Watch your anchor text. Using a link management tool will help you keep an eye on how many times you use various anchor text for your links. Since Google includes over-optimized keyword anchor text as one of their red flags for an unnatural link building profile, you will want to avoid using one keyword phrase too many times. Mix in lots of links using anchor text with your business name, brand name, or even just the URL of your website itself. So long as the links are on relevant pages, Google will be able to associate your keyword with your website. For example, if your targeted keyword phrase is link building and your website link is on a page for link building resources, then you’re set!

Example of competitor backlink research using Backlink Reports.

Also, as an ongoing effort, employ rank tracking to keep an eye on any major changes in rankings for your most important keywords. This can help alert you to a possible problem  so you can get to work in fixing it as quickly as possible.

The Future

Before you are tempted to do anything that violates Google Webmaster Guidelines, remember that Google is always updating their algorithm and looking for better ways to remove low quality content and websites who go against their rules from their index. While it may be tempting to publish content you might be otherwise embarrassed to share or purchase links by the bushel, just know that one day, whether in a few months or a few years, you may likely be found out.

Would it be better to invest your time in energy in things that will help you slowly attain your search rankings and traffic, or to risk having to invest in an even more costly campaign to reverse all of the bad work done to get quick rankings? This is what you need to consider each time you try a new strategy to boost your rankings in search.

Infographic found here.

How has Google Panda and Penguin affected your link building strategy, and how do you foresee it changing the link building world in the future?