Jayson DeMers | Mashable

By now, you’ve probably heard about Google Penguin, Google’s major algorithm update that was launched in late April and wreaked havoc on thousands of websites, businesses, and the SEO industry.

Months later, many businesses are still in panic mode as they try to escape the depths of a Google Penguin ranking penalty. So, if your website remains in the clutches of this change, here’s what you can do to recover.

Step 1: Diagnose the Problem

Before doing anything, you need to diagnose the reason for your site’s ranking and traffic drop. The easiest way to discover if your rankings fell as a result of Google Penguin is to analyze your website’s traffic data. If your rankings (and traffic) took a noticeable dive on or around April 24, 2012, there’s a good chance it’s got something to do with Google Penguin. To get started, be sure to isolate your traffic data solely for Google organic search traffic, since this is the traffic source that Penguin would have impacted.

While traffic and rankings data provide strong evidence for a Google Penguin penalty, you can verify the results by performing an analysis of your inbound link profile. Penguin works, in part, by analyzing the inbound link profiles of every website. Penguin looks for links that appear to be manipulative and unnatural. The primary signal for an unnatural link appears to be the anchor text of that link. If a high ratio of your inbound link profile consists of non-branded identical anchor text, Penguin is likely to flag each of the links containing that anchor text as being unnatural. This results in a complete devaluation of all the links consisting of that anchor text in your inbound link profile. The devaluation usually results in a precipitous slide in rankings for each keyword with a high exact-match anchor text ratio.

So, what’s the threshold for a high exact-match anchor text ratio? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, because Google’s algorithm adapts from niche to niche. However, as a result of some testing and dozens of inbound link profile audits, we recommend no more than 2% of your total inbound links should contain the anchor text for any one of your primary keywords, and no more than 20% of your inbound link profile should consist of exact-match keyword anchors.

This is a far cry from pre-Penguin best practices, when a 40% to 50% exact-match anchor text ratio was considered to be best practice. Sites that still contain this ratio, or higher, are considered “over-optimized,” which is why Penguin is also known as the long-awaited “over-optimization penalty.”

Step 2: Identify the Poison Links

Now that you know how Penguin works, you need to answer the following questions:

– Is your inbound link profile over-optimized?
To find out, start by gathering a list of your website’s inbound links. Two tools that can help you do this are Majestic SEO or Open Site Explorer. Majestic SEO usually has a larger index of links than OSE, which is why the following instructions are intended for use with Majestic SEO.

Run an anchor text report on your domain, and export the resulting CSV file to your desktop. Open that CSV and delete all columns except “AnchorText” and “TotalBackLinks.” Next, add a new column called “Percent of total” that calculates the percentage of that anchor text of the overall inbound link profile. The resulting output will look something like this:

In the above image, I have censored anchor text that contains the brand name of the company whose inbound link profile I audited. Note that there’s significant evidence of anchor text backlink manipulation.

– How much effort will it take to recover?
Next, highlight anchor text with a greater than 2% ratio. Links containing these anchors are the ones that are probably bringing your rankings down. They are probably also your target keywords. Check your site’s rankings in Google for these keywords. If you can’t find your site anywhere in the top 50, you’ve likely been hit by Penguin.

It can also help to create a visual pie graph of your data. It should look something like this:

If the largest four pieces of your pie aren’t branded anchors, naked URLs, or universal anchors (ie, “click here), then you’re much more likely to be susceptible to a penalty. In the example above, the link profile is heavily optimized and the website was hit by Penguin.

The more over optimized your link profile, the more work you’re going to need to do to recover from Penguin. To do this, you can take a two-pronged approach: delete and dilute. First, identify and delete the links that are hurting you. Then, dilute your inbound link profile with new links that abide by new link-building best practices.

-Which specific links are contributing to your Penguin penalty?
After you’ve visualized your backlink profile, it’s time to isolate the bad links from the good ones. To do this, isolate all the links containing anchor text that you highlighted in red. In Majestic, this is possible by simply clicking the anchor text within the “Top Anchors” section in the “Reports” area. (If you’re using Majestic for your analysis, be sure to turn off “domain clustering” for this analysis. )

Export the resulting list of links as a CSV to your desktop and sort them by ACRank (in Majestic) or MozRank (in Open Site Explorer). Highlight anything with an ACRank or MozRank of two or less. The highlighted links are the ones you should target for removal.

Step 3: Engage in a Link-Removal Campaign

Now that you’ve identified as many bad links as you can, it’s time to reach out to webmasters and ask them to remove your link. To find contact information for a webmaster, start by visiting the website and looking for a “contact us” page. If one doesn’t exist, you can try finding their information via WhoIs lookup. If you still can’t get their contact information, make a note in your spreadsheet that you were unable to find contact information for the website and move on to the next one.

When sending emails to webmasters, keep in mind that they have nothing to gain by complying with your request to remove your link. As such, be courteous and thoughtful with your request, and show your gratitude if they oblige.

Step 4: Start a New Link-Building Campaign

After you’ve completed your link removal requests, it’s time to begin a new link-building campaign, with the goal of “diluting” your inbound link profile so it falls within the realm of “natural” that Penguin is designed to look for. So, what are the elements of a strong, natural inbound link profile?

  • High domain diversity
  • High link type diversity (ie, web 2.0 sites, press releases, editorial content, blog comments, forums, etc.)
    High anchor text diversity
  • Lots of social signals (ie, Twitter tweets, Facebook likes, social bookmarks, G+1’s, Diggs, Stumbles, etc.)

Are you starting to see a pattern? The key to looking natural is simple: Diversify your tactics. Special consideration should be given to the anchor text that you use for your links. Safe and effective post-Penguin link-building anchor types include the following:

  • Branded anchors (ie, Mashable)
  • Naked URLs (ie, www.mashable.com, mashable.com,)
  • Universal anchors (ie, click here, here, visit this website, etc.)
  • Hybrid-branded anchors (ie, Social media news at Mashable)

Of course, great links start with great onsite content. Expertly-authored blog posts, valuable primary data analysis, controversial opinion pieces, and intriguing data visualization are some examples of great onsite content. If your business is in a “boring” industry, you may find this post helpful for developing a content strategy.

After you have some great onsite content, pursue an offsite link-building strategy. Here are some ideas for offsite link building:

  • Produce great content and syndicate it on niche-related blogs, web 2.0 sites, and high-quality article directories
  • Write press releases to announce developments with your company and distribute them via PR distribution services such as PRWeb
  • Reach out to influential blog authors in your company’s niche and offer to write guest posts
  • Leave insightful comments on relevant blog posts
  • Participate in industry-related forums
  • Syndicate your blog’s RSS feed to RSS aggregators
  • Create and publish images to Pinterest
  • Publish videos to YouTube

There are many tactics for getting new inbound links, but the reality is that they all take a lot of time. In today’s competitive online marketing landscape this effort is simply necessary.


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