The effects of Google’s Panda/Penguin – and how to deal with it.

Coping With Penguin, Panda and Other Google Updates

by on 19/11/2012

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Every now and then Google introduces an algorithm update which demolishes many websites and slashes the income the webmasters may have been making.

If they are rubbish sites – fair enough.

But many times they aren’t. They are perfectly good sites which get caught in the crossfire.

This is clearly unfair: and you would do well to understand this situation fully – so you are completely prepared for it.

Coping With Penguin, Panda and Other Google Updates

(or another animal beginning with “P”)

  • Why does an “update” happen?
  • How can you protect yourself?
  • And how how can you recover from being hit by the dreaded Google update?

The answers are in the following video 🙂

What You Will Learn

  • Why do Google updates occur?
  • How “getting traffic” has changed dramatically in 12 months
  • Why not to blame Google for their updates
  • Why you need to understand the updates
  • What to do if you have been hit by a Google update
  • The new paradigm for 2013 and beyond

Why Do Google Updates Occur?

Google’s early success in search came about because they were the most successful in building a new type of search engine.

Early versions of Google worked similarly to the other search engines, heavily influences by what the marketer said their own site was about by entering “keywords” in the “Meta Keywords Tag” as well as the site content. The keywords tag was easily abused by marketers (“keyword stuffing”): and they used other tricks like putting lots of words they wanted to rank for on the page in white writing on a white background so the search engine spiders could read them: but humans could not.  These are some of the ways in which marketers could trick their own sites onto the front page of search results.

Google changed the game by giving more prominence to what other sites said a particular site was about (“off site SEO”) rather than what they themselves said their site was about (“on site SEO”).

In time, marketers worked out how to trick this system too, by creating “backlinks” from other sites to their own sites they wanted to rank. Google updates attempt to keep pace with the tricksters, as the tricksters themselves keep trying to outmanoeuvre Google.

The Changing Landscape of Getting Traffic

In 2012, getting traffic online has swung from getting good backlinks to your content then waiting for Google to send you traffic:  to having that same content or better, plus a good number of social signals about that content – Tweets, Facebook Likes, Google Plus Ones, etc.  You then get traffic from the social sources and Google search traffic changes to being a useful “extra”, rather than the main traffic source.

Anyone not embracing this new approach runs the risk of their sales being decimated as yet another Google update slashes their visitor numbers.

This has happened to many sites dating back to the first huge Google updates in 2008.

So, to emphasise, what you need is excellent content on your topic: plus “votes” from social network users – be that Facebook “likes”, Tweets about it, Google Plus 1’s, Reddit mentions, Diggs, etc, etc, from people who really like your content.

So, instead of gaming the system by creating spammy likes, tweets, etc, you get them naturally because your content is so fantastic. It is also a strategy which is very satisfying to implement – if you like helping others 🙂

Why Do You Need To Understand Google Updates?

Having an understanding of why Google produces updates helps you to remain in control of your online activity. Otherwise, you give that power to Google and you are just keeping your fingers crossed that the next update will not affect you. You will be at Google’s mercy!

Not a good long-term plan!

To be certain of success today, you have to be sincere – in terms of content and social interaction – and realise that “faking sincerity” does not work as it used to. Fabricating backlinks – as thousands have done – is getting riskier and riskier.

You are looking for long term securitywhich mean great content plus genuine social interaction. (Did I say that before? LOL)

Among your peers – and even some marketers who should know better – many people still do not realise that social marketing – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc – linked with great content are now the most important factors contributing to success online for most websites.

So be cautious about which teachers you listen to these days.

For most people building content online is quite possible and certainly highly desirable. It doesn’t actually have to be a ton of fantastic content: but half a dozen really well researched posts or articles would be a great start – then get sharing on the social sites. Find the key forums in your niche, for example, and put up good quality posts to the most important ones for an hour a day.

This sharing means real communication with your target market who have probably been drawn to you by your great content – in post and on your site. In the forums, you can talk to them personally, get their feedback and find out their needs.

Enjoy making those connections. In fact, let’s face it: the networking aspect is getting back to the “corner shop” idea – when you knew your customers – isn’t it?

What Are The Panda and Penguin Google Updates?

Panda and Penguin are not single updates from Google that happen once – and then it’s over. There were over 20 Google updates during 2012, many of these versions of Panda and Penguin.

Panda and Penguin emanate from two different sections of the Google organisation: the “quality team” (Panda) and the “spam team” (Penguin).

Panda –The “Quality” Updates

The quality team at Google have been tweaking the Google algorithm to more accurately detect poor quality content on a web site.

Panda is named after a brilliant engineer called Navneet Panda who worked out how to take thousands of quality ratings from Google’s human “helpers”, and make these scalable by machine.

This is the most complex quality ranking that any search engine has accomplished.

The whole idea is that Google can – they hope – differentiate between content that is good, informative, and presented in a way that users love: and content that has maybe been written by outsourcers and just plonked on a site – or sites where the navigation is still back in the 90s and so less useful to visitors.

All this information has been taken from humans working with Google, then their human efforts have been turned into something a machine can do using Navneet Panda’s highly original work.

There was a major Panda update on March 24th 2012 – that one caught one of my sites which I’ve hardly touched for years: and reduced the traffic from 25,000 unique visitors a month down to 7,000. I just finished planning my relaunch of that site!

Later Panda updates followed on June 8th, and July 24th. Any major changes in traffic numbers on these dates indicates you were hit by Panda.

Penguin – The “Spam“ Updates

Penguin is a production of Google’s spam team, which is headed up by one of the Google’s highest profile members, Matt Cutts. It’s well worth checking out Matt’s channel you YouTube to get “the inside word of Google”. (There is a link in the resources section on the blog.) A lot of people hate Matt Cutts and criticize him roundly – often because their sites got downgraded at some time. But I find him clear and straightforward.

Penguin is all about offsite SEO – about how Google perceives you are trying to manipulate them.

Google has been working up to Penguin for a long time. They are aware that many SEOs have been building backlinks with the specific purpose of getting better rank in Google. (But of course they have!)

Years ago they started discounting reciprocal links  – site A linking to site B: and then site B linking back to site A.

Then they started devaluing blog comments  – as it became possible to buy 10,000 comments from someone at for $5. They just use the software called Scrapebox to find the blogs allowing this, and sending out in a very spammy way.

Then came the “article directory hit”.

The daddy of them all – Ezine Articles – saw a plummet of, I think it was, 40%, in traffic virtually overnight. Guess what? They cleaned up their act!

Nevertheless, having an article on an article directory and linking back to your site from the bottom of it does not have the power it used to.

So Penguin is about who is linking back to you: and some of these links may be links you have fabricated.

The main Penguin update was on April 24th and it affected about 3% of Google search results: which makes it a big update. If your site took a hit on this date it looks like you’ve got some dodgy links to your site.

For a full list of all the Google Panda and Penguin updates, see the resources section which is immediately after the video. (If you are watching on YouTube, please visit the blog link in the Description below).

Google Is NOT (Necessarily) Out To Get You

When Google rolls out a major update there is always collateral damage. In other words, sites which have been ranking well for years and who have not been involved in spamming, and have not done anything to the content on their site at all can suddenly find themselves downgraded, their traffic slashed.

Many years ago I had a site which was just a collection of health newsletters I had written once a month or so: about eighty of them. I got my designer at the time to cut and paste each newsletter I wrote into this website. Then I forgot about that site for 3 years or so. When I went back to look at it, to my massive surprise I was getting 15,000 visitors a month. I did nothing to get those visitors: it just happened.

After the updates of 2012, my visitor numbers got slashed to 6,000 visitors a month.

I’m not complaining: I was amazed that they sent me 15,000 visitors a month for so many years. It seems to me now that it’s in its proper place. I’ll fix it: and to do that I will have to 1. Identify which updates hit it, and 2. Increase the quality of the content and 3. Identify any link imbalances which would be obvious to Google and correct them. (I haven’t done much “spammy backlinking” to this site (only a little LOL), but I certainly did a lot of reciprocal link-building years ago which Google now definitely dislikes.)

It’s worth fixing that site, and for a start I am moving it over to a WordPress blog site which is better for SEO.

In addition, I’ll have a better menu system (which Google can follow more easily), plus diversify my outbound links: 90% of which go to one of my other sites.

This will change the page urls (about 80 of them), which I will redirect using 301 redirects, which tell Google a page has permanently moved (see the resources about how to do this easily with a WordPress plugin). This is very important when moving a site: as otherwise you will lose the authority you have built up for your pages with Google.

I’ve no doubt I will get my visitors back.

How Do You Fix Being Hit By Google Updates?

So, what can you do if you are hit by a Google update?

You can work out which Google update hit you by find out the dates of the various updates (as identified by industry-watchers), then seeing which of these coincide with the exact date you were hit by looking at your web site statistics.

For all the exact dates of updates see the SEOMoz link in the resources section. For example, if your visitor number suddenly went dramatically down on September 27th 2012, then that coincides with a Panda update of the same date. Whereas if you were hit on October 5th 2012, that coincides with a Penguin update.

If you are affected by Panda, then your issue is that the quality of your content is lacking. You need to comb through your site identifying pages which have too little text on them or text which is copied from other sources.

If you have been hit by Penguin, then you need to do an analysis of all the backlinks to your site, following which the imbalance of backlinks which stand out like a sore thumb to Google, will then stand out to you too and you can fix them.

For more information on how to fix dodgy backlinks – if you have ever bought any of these and are not sure if they are affecting you detrimentally – see Matt Woodward’s excellent video – again in the resources.  This is by far the BEST video I have EVER seen on the topic. Matt is a top, top guy who I cannot praise highly enough.

In this video, Matt gives you a step-by-step guide on how to measure your backlinks and then exactly how to assess them to identify the problems.

For dates of all the Google updates, see the SEOMoz link I have already mentioned, again in the resources.

Why Should You Do All This?

To get in control and stay in control!

The forums are littered with people who are victims of Google’s recent updates and are LIVID. If you understand why the updates are being done and how they are being done you will be more in control of your destiny on the internet and less of a victim.

Actually, Google likes you being in control. And they like it if you get a ton of your traffic from somewhere other than them. That shows them your content is so good it’s being widely shared  🙂

Once you understand you can go forward with your business with confidence.

One you have a majority of visitors to your sites who are there because they like what you say and what you write, they you are beyond the reach of Google’s updates. If you drop out of any rankings it will be just a minor annoyance.

If you will work on getting your traffic from social sources you will build up a buzzing community of people interested in whichever niche you operate. You will be CERTAIN that those people will keep talking to you irrespective of what Google does, because you have a personal relationship with them.

You don’t have to be a victim, if you learn about what is behind Google updates, and how Google is thinking. Keep building up great content on your web sites and, over time, become a leader in your field. And start networking – via the social sites – like you never have before. Start with one or two – include Twitter – and build up relationships with interesting and interested people. Tweet once or twice a day with Tweets about interesting news in your niche. And now and again Tweet about some content on your site.

This is part of your plan for success online – through social media.

Then, never again, will you have to rely on Google for your own success. And that is the safest way.

Is HeyMalc Doing This?

Oh yes – big time.

I am following a strategy of building great content and getting social buy-in to that content starting with Twitter. I’ve already stopped following the 3,000 spammy followers I had 😐

Then I’ll move on to other platforms, choosing from Facebook, LinkedIn and Google +1.

I have a high-quality-content plan in place which I am working through.


I hope this gets you thinking about Google’s strategy which has been made very clear in 2012: and about the best way forward for most website owners from now on. The future of the web appears in large part to be social:  if you possibly can, I recommend getting active on the best social networks for you: Twitter, Google Plus 1 and Facebook being the most prominent ones.

Don’t focus too much effort on Google alone. Google like you to have great content and to have your content shared.

If you get hit by a Google update, great content will pull you out of it. Your best approach is to apply a marketing strategy that doesn’t put all your eggs in the Google basket.

This alone will get you out of a Panda “hit”. If you’ve been done by Penguin, you need to check your spammy link profile and set about correcting it: which can be done.

Check Matthew Woodward’s detailed posts for how to do this (see the resources section).

What This Training Covered

  • How “getting traffic” has changed dramatically these 12 months

  • Why not to blame Google for their updates

  • Why you need to understand the updates

  • What to do if you have been hit by a Google update

  • The new paradigm for 2013 and beyond…

– and you know what that is now: it’s about generating high quality content, sharing with others in a personal way, and watching them share in turn with their own contacts.

If you are watching this on my blog, there is a list of resources which you will find helpful.


SEOMoz page listing all known Google updates.

Whiteboard Friday from SEOMoz

Matt Woodward’s video telling you how to identify and correct a Google penalty for spammy content. Yeah – Matt knows his stuff 🙂

Some of the best sites for you to keep up keep up with news about the search engines:

I drop these into an RSS reader to make it easier to follow them 🙂

And my favourite of the moment – for iPad – is Mr Reader – from the App Store.

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