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SEO Strategies for Sites Affected by Google’s Panda and Penguin Updates

In the past two years, two wild black-and-white animals were let loose on the Internet. This “fauna outbreak” was actually a calculated measure by Google, currently the biggest search engine online, to clean up their results pages. They believed they could do better in providing targeted search results.


Having been around the SEO industry for a while now, I believe it was only fair of Google since they’re out for their business (which is to give people quality content for their searches), and such is the ever-changing nature of the SEO game. However, I also have some sympathy for the sites that were playing by the old rules to rank high. So if you happen to be an owner of a website that got “attacked” by the Panda and the Penguin, let me help you recover and hopefully get back on top of the SERPs.


Understanding the Panda and the Penguin

To be able to fully recuperate from these two updates, it’s best that you understand what they really are.


Panda Update

Released in February 2011, it rewarded the high-traffic and high-share volume of news and social networking sites by making them rank higher in the SERPs and punished sites that relied on a ton of ads to be more visible by making them rank lower.


The algorithm was based on the work of human quality testers that sifted through thousands of websites to mark down what made a quality website.   Such characteristics were then fed through the highly complex machine-learning algorithm whose creation was led by Google engineer Navneet Panda, hence the name.


Penguin Update

The principle behind this particular update is the same as Panda’s – to get quality sites ranking higher than mediocre ones. The difference here is that Google is targeting the websites who go overboard with their SEO efforts, the so-called “over-optimization”, focusing more on getting a lot of links and using more keywords instead of creating good content.


It first came out in April 2012, and it affected about 3% of English language search queries. Most of these happened to be websites that had many links but were often from low-quality websites or were just paid for among other things. Some of the sites abused keywords: they stuffed them on their pages and either used too many in their anchor texts or used the exact domain name match for the anchor texts.


Links to Avoid

We all know that links are one of the most important things in ranking high in the SERPs, but as reiterated by the Panda and Penguin updates, they can’t be just any kind of links. Here are the five that you need to avoid at all costs.


  1. Bad Neighborhood Links – Starting with the most obvious one, these are the links from websites that are usually filled to the brim with either pop-up ads or hidden malware (sometimes even both).
  2. Low-Quality Article Sites – Although they’re a step above the previous kind of sites, there are those that are considered spammy because of their emphasis on anchor text for keywords, exact match or otherwise. Submitting guest posts on these sites for a link is a waste of time.
  3. Exact Match Anchor Text in Paid Links – Buying links in and of itself isn’t exactly a good way of ranking high, but using exact match anchor text is even worse. Google only sees it as sheer exploitation for higher PageRank, and you’ll only get punished for it.
  4. Spamming Links in Comments – Some websites are fine with commenters providing links to their websites. But not only is it in bad form to place links using exact match anchor text in the signature or keyword-y usernames as exact match text, Google will also penalize your website.
  5. Participating in Multiple Link Exchanges – It’s not exactly bad practice to exchange links with a couple of relevant websites especially if you and these other websites’ audiences get more quality content in the process. However, you don’t want to make this a big part of your SEO efforts because it will be seen as simple rank manipulation.


How to Recover from Panda and Penguin

Now that you have an idea of how Panda and Penguin work plus the links you need to avoid, you can begin the steps towards gaining back the rankings you once had. To help you out, I’ve compiled a list of the best guides that explain in-depth on how to do just that.


1. 20 SEO Strategies for Sites Affected by Google Panda | Kaiser the Sage

Jason Acidre goes head to head with the Panda in this extensive blog post. He gives concrete methods for on-site and content management, link prospecting and competitor analysis and link building for a total of 20 strategies.

He also lays down the core principles for any website to follow to avoid getting hit hard by algorithm updates along with Amit Singhal’s hints on how Google’s algorithms work.


2. Everything We Need to Know About the Penguin Update | Web Gnomes

This is quite possibly the most comprehensive look at the Penguin update’s timeline from the idea’s conception all the way back in March 10 to its release in April 24. In fact, chronicling the entire thing was too much for just one post, as Google continues to roll out Penguin updates months after it was first applied. Many valuable nuggets of info can be found from all the important events and discussions that transpired throughout its history.


3. Recovering from an Over Optimization Penalty – A True Story | SEOmoz

Nick Eubanks shares his account of having his own personal website get penalized by the Penguin for reasons at first completely unknown to him. He didn’t perform any active link-building methods, he didn’t have any ads, and the site barely had any traffic. It was mostly a personal blog which somehow got hit anyway. Find out why and how he found out.


4. How Recovered from the Penguin Update | SEOmoz

Ross Hudgens tells the story of’s disastrous fall from Google’s SERPs and the website’s fast recovery. As a WordPress resource site offering great plugins and themes, it had a fittingly great online reputation with tens of thousands of social media fans and backlinks from high quality websites.
Discover the truth that involves an education blogging service, the Sydney Morning Herald and Google’s very own head of webspam Matt Cutts.


5. Penguin Update – Run, Baby, Run! | Link Research Tools

Sometimes pictures can illustrate a point much more clearly than words, and considering the complexity of the topic, Link Research Tools did a fine job of doing just that with their infographic. It gives some percentages about trusted links and title rankings that show which websites won and which ones lost when the Penguin update hit.


6. The Holy Grail of Panda Recovery – A 1-Year Case Study | Search Engine Journal

Alan Bleiweiss provides a lengthy report of how one of his clients was massively affected by the Panda update. He gives some insight as to how he does his site audits, revealing his level of expertise as well as the foundational problems of the website.

Some of the major problems turned out to be incredibly overwhelming and confusing layouts that led to awful user experience (UX) and a load of ads that were being blocked anyway that led to server issues.


7. Google Penguin – Case Study | Cognitive SEO

Razvan Gavrilas recorded a video of his webinar tackling the differences of Panda and Penguin, the different methods you can use to identify whatever low-quality “unnatural” links your website might have and tracking them down, and other helpful link-building strategies. He brings up real examples while also showing their problems and how to fix them.


8. Anchor Text Analysis: Post “Penguin” and EMD | Search Engine Journal

Razvan Gavrilas makes another contribution to this list, this time bringing up his expertise in analyzing anchor texts. He takes the top-ranking websites in seven of the most competitive industries for rankings after the Penguin update, and provides hard numbers regarding their total backlinks, SEOmoz domain authority and others. With the help of these figures, you’ll know which areas to focus on to jumpstart your recovery process.


9. Google Penguin Recovery Case Study | Linkbuildr

Ryan Clark talks about the one well-known business he took in as a client after getting numerous desperate pleas from others that also suffered big losses after Penguin was released. He keeps the brand’s name anonymous, but that doesn’t stop him from divulging the problems its website had including 400 trash links!
He also offers a list of useful link removal services, advice about not focusing on anchor text, and his content creation strategy for that one client.


10. Recovery from Google Penguin – Tips from the Trenches | SEOmoz

Jimmy Ellis of Online Initiatives recounts what he calls an “embarrassing” experience when one of the ecommerce sites his company ran, Pet Super Store, got devastated by both Panda and Penguin updates. It was a very successful site with a good reputation thanks to the previous owner’s SEO efforts.

However, it also had an unbelievable amount of low quality links from directory and article websites and a forum with 1.5 million pages all having 6 text links that led to its downfall. Read on to know how he managed to remove most of those deadweight links and even get new opportunities in the process.


After going through each one of these comprehensive resources, you’ll be climbing back the SERPs ladder without worrying (too much) about whatever future black-and-white animal with a name starting with the letter P dragging you back down.