It has been over a month now since the latest Google update 'Penguin' was launched and many Slingshot SEO clients and partners have been asking "What exactly is the Penguin Update?" Here are three facts regarding the Penguin update that website owners need to know.
Penguin is an algorithmic update, not a penalty.
A Google penalty is typically a manual action taken by the Google Spam Team against one or more particular websites. Matt Cutts, the head of the spam team at Google, recently made comments regarding the Penguin update at an SMX Advanced conference, adding, "It's an algorithmic change, but when we use a word like "penalty," we're talking about a manual action taken by the web spam team--[Penguin] wasn't that." 1
Algorithmic updates apply to all websites appearing in Google search results. The effects of algorithmic updates are generally seen by slow moves up or down in the search results. For example, if a ranking for a particular keyword moved from page 1 to page 3 for a term, or vice-versa. It is possible to recover from algorithmic updates by addressing issues related to the update.
So far there have been two cases published about websites negatively hit by the Penguin update and both cases cited the use of site-wide links and links from low quality domains as main factors behind ranking losses.
Site-wide links are typically links found in a footer or header of a website that appears on every page on the website. These links are considered untrustworthy by Google since these are typically from company-owned domains (not a true third-party referral) or paid link relationships. Matt Cutts adds, "We've done a good job of ignoring boilerplate, site wide links. In the last few months, we've been trying to make the point that not only is link buying like that not doing any good, we're turning the dial up to let people know that certain link spam techniques are a waste of money."
The two cases that have been published also had too many links from low quality websites. Unfortunately, it has been common practice by spammers in the past to create fake websites for links or to purchase links from low quality website networks. The SEO community, as well as most search engines, views this practice as spam.
SEO Moz just published the inside story on how WPMU ecovered from the Penguin update, which had erased over 80% of the organic traffic overnight! WPMU credited their swift recovery to the fact they were able to remove so many site-wide links and low quality website links in such a short period of time. There is also a story published about ranking losses at EZDIQuote, which is still in the process of correcting the issue.
Use the free tool Open Site Explorer to view the inbound links pointing to your website. Submit requests to webmasters to remove site-wide links or links from low quality websites. This should start the process of sweeping all the penguins from your closet and get your website back at the top of search engine rankings!