Penguin sparked fear in many SEOers, with blog posts like Anatomy of a Disaster, Penguins, Pandas and Panic at the Zoo, and innumerable accounts of sites losing over half of their traffic. Penguin is Google’s latest search algorithm update, and is supposed to level the playing field – increasing ranking for websites that have great content but aren’t well-optimized for the search engines, and penalize websites with less great content that are over-optimized for the machines.
Facts dispel fear (or at worst justify it and indicate a path towards greener pastures), so I wanted to distill what we know to date with hard quantitative data. Surprisingly the answer is not-a-whole-lot, and what we do have comes from just a couple sources.
A chart produced by SEOmoz shows that “the impact of Penguin was immediate and substantial”, with over 3% of Top Ten Rankings in their analysis changing (versus the ~2.7% change caused by the Panda update on April 19th).
Untold quantities of keyboards have rendered the phrases key-word-stuffing and over-optimized-anchor-text in hypotheses about what Penguin is doing. However, MicrositeMasters had unique access to a fabulously large data set and produced the only set of charts I could find showing detailed effects of Penguin.
Findings & Action Items from MicrositeMasters
1. Keyword-Stuffing in Anchor Text: Only sites with over 60% of anchor texts containing “money” keywords matching incoming links were negatively affected by Penguin.
A money keyword generates a lot of search traffic. Guzman defines it as a high-volume search term or phrase with a Google rank of roughly 5-15. In other words, the Penguin is looking for you if over half of your traffic is driven by searches using high-volume keywords that exactly match your anchor texts.
Action Item: Unless your incoming link anchor texts were totally dominated by high-volume search keywords, this component of the Penguin Algorithm is not hurting your site.
2. URLs in Anchor Text: Penguin is going to hit you for stuffing URLs in your anchor texts, but not near as much as money-keyword stuffing (far right in chart below).
Action Item: Reduce your URL-stuffing, but take care of the keyword-stuffing First!
3. Relevant (Niche) Inbound Links: Having links from websites outside of your niche is okay, as long as you have some from relevant websites, too.
i) It doesn’t matter if you have a high or low percent of inbound links from websites with content that is relevant to yours, as long as you have SOME quality, niche inbound links: websites with low percentage (10%) of same-niche inbound links were penalized at the same rate as sites with high percentage (60-100%) of relevant inbound links.
ii) It matters a LOT if you have NO relevant inbound links – the red bars show that about half of websites with 0% of relevant inbound links were penalized. Once you have even 10% of your links coming from quality, relevant sites though, Penguin isn’t penalizing you for having non-niche links too.
Action Item: Make sure you have some inbound links from quality, relevant websites.
That’s not easy – and it’s part of the point of Penguin: good content creation and targeted community development around your site is harder than typing a keyword into 20 anchor texts. Countless blog posts offer advice on building a quality community (inbound links from websites with good content related to your site). Here are a few tidbits from Brownrigg’s insights on generating a community for your website.
i) Post quality articles relevant to your niche (that people will want to repost on their site).
ii) Compile some of your articles into an ebook.
iii) Publish your articles on sites like digg and submit them to article directories.
Penguin seems to have a fairly narrow target – keyword-over-optimized text anchors and disproportionate inbound links from irrelevant websites: in other words, it has effectively removed shortcuts for generating website traffic. In general, however, and despite the apocalyptic rhetoric out there, the new Sheriff should leave the world with a lot of well-deserved winners – people creating genuinely good content and generating traffic with honest “white-hat” methods that ultimately benefit the 2,267,233,742 people searching for content on the World Wide Web.