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Recovering from SPAMMY links on your website

Google Earth penguin

Google Earth penguin (Photo credit: BoopBoopBoopBoop)

For people in the SEO industry, there was a time when names like panda and penguin only reminded of two harmless animals. The time of innocence is – alas – over and now these names are synonyms of the two algorithm updates, which dramatically changed the answer to the question: how do I rank number one in Google?  I need to be recovering from spammy links.

The Penguin update in particular (rolled out in 2012) hit those sites that presented an “unnatural” linking profile. Paid links, links from 5-post blogs, meaningless directories, blog networks, or from unknown forums or rambling comments on blogs, the vast majority with an exact keyword match anchor text:

Google took all this catalogue of rubbish backlinking techniques and made them useless in one fell swoop.

The result was a drop of ranking for many sites, with the inevitable consequences of huge loss of traffic and therefore income.

If you are one of those webmasters who saw their sites hit by Penguin or one of its updates, then hope is not lost, and in the SEO-sphere there are plenty of success stories of sites that started to climb the SERPS again.

Recovering from SPAMMY links:

  1. Once you have identified the spammy links, the first tool you need is patience: just like you won’t build a legit link profile in a day, recovering from a spammy one will take weeks, maybe months. And even if you manage to clean most of the dirt, you won’t necessarily jump back to the top, but at least you will start with a clean slate.
  2. Start earning white hat links. This is really something you should already be doing and considering that you might never get rid of all the bad links, then the good should outnumber the bad.  How?  Look for similar websites which you can link to and from.  This will build credibility.
  3. Now gather all the bad links in a spreadsheet and send an email to each webmaster, asking to remove them. You will succeed, but you will also be ignored and even asked to pay money to have the link removed, but try and go through the whole list before you move on to the next step.
  4. For all the links that you won’t get removed, then you can use the google disavow tool, which was introduced by Google. With this tool, you are practically asking the search engine to consider that backlink as no-follow. One word of caution though: Google doesn’t like shortcuts and this is no exception. On the page of the tool it says:

    If you believe your site’s ranking is being harmed by low-quality links you do not control, you can ask Google not to take them into account when assessing your site. You should still make every effort to clean up unnatural links pointing to your site. Simply disavowing them isn’t enough.

    Pay specific attention to the second and third sentence: you cannot just enter the bad links in the tool and consider it done, Google wants them removed from the internet.

That’s why sending email requests as first thing is so important to start recovering from spammy links and why the disavow tool should be used only when you cannot go any further. If you have a huge list of links you want removed, the email outreach route will be a long, probably mind-numbing task.

Yet, it’s necessary to make sure that the next close encounters you will have with a penguin will only be at the zoo.

 

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Recovering from Spammy and Bad Links

Humbolt Penguin at Whipsnade Zoo.

Humbolt Penguin at Whipsnade Zoo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pandas and penguins used to conjure up memories of nice, interesting animals…but now – for the SEO minded people, those names are now code names for two of Google’s algorithm updates, which dramatically changed the answer to the question: how do I rank number one in Google?

When and How to fix Bad Links?

The Penguin update in particular (rolled out in 2012) hit those sites that presented an “unnatural” linking profile. Paid links, links from low-post blogs, meaningless directories, blog networks, or from unknown forums or rambling comments on blogs – with a vast majority with sharing an exact keyword match anchor text: Google took all this catalog of low quality backlinking techniques and made them useless in one fell swoop.

The result was a drop of ranking for many sites, with the inevitable consequences of huge loss of traffic and in turn a huge loss of  income.

What to do?

If you are one of those webmasters who saw their sites hit by Penguin or one of its updates, the first thing not to do it panic.  First make sure all your other tings are up to par – take our free SEO check, if you have questions about on page SEO to make sure.

Once you have identified the spammy links, the first tool you need to use is patience.  It will take time to get this “back to normal”.  Just like it took you a long time to get back into the upper ranks, you will not build a solid link profile in a day – recovering from spammy links will take weeks or months.

Even if you manage to clean most of the low quality links – it will be hard to climb back to the top, but at least you will start with a clean slate.

Phase 2:  Link Building

I know – right, that’s what got you into this mess.  Kind of…we’re talking real linking building – white hat links. This is something you should do anyway, and considering you might never get rid of all the bad links, then the good must outnumber the bad.

Link Undoing

Gather all the bad links and put them in a spreadsheet.  You want to try and ask for these links to be removed…send an email to each webmaster, asking to remove them. You will succeed, but you will also be ignored and even asked to pay money to have the link removed, but try and go through the whole list before you move on to the next step.  Even if it is a simple form letter – it will be better than nothing.

I hereby Disavow You

For all the links that you can’t get removed, we need to disavow, using the tool which was recently introduced by Google. With this tool, you are practically asking the search engine to consider that backlink as no-follow, a word of caution though – Google doesn’t like shortcuts and this is no exception.

Google has a strong warning – and this is very important to note when disavowing links:

This is an advanced feature and should only be used with caution. If used incorrectly, this feature can potentially harm your site’s performance in Google’s search results. We recommend that you only disavow backlinks if you believe you have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, and if you are confident that the links are causing issues for you.

On the page of the tool it says:

If you believe your site’s ranking is being harmed by low-quality links you do not control, you can ask Google not to take them into account when assessing your site. You should still make every effort to clean up unnatural links pointing to your site. Simply disavowing them isn’t enough.

This is why – back up in “Link Undoing” we ask you to do every effort you can to get them removed manually…it is just not always possible.  The words are chosen carefully and notice Google’s statement “you cannot just enter the bad links in the tool and consider it done, Google wants them removed from the internet” – they will be aggressively following up on the sites you identify, so be careful.

Conclusion

If you have a huge list of links you want removed, the email outreach route will be a long, probably mind-numbing task. Yet, it’s necessary to make sure that the next close encounters you will have with a penguin will only be at the zoo.  Good luck and let us know how it goes – what works and what doesn’t.

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Is It Actually Possible To Recover A Website Hit By Penguin?

Penguin

Penguin (Photo credit: jaci XIII)

Just in case you haven’t been paying attention, there was a Google update named Penguin that was released a short time ago. This update was part of Google’s aggressive campaign to put a stop to SEO marketing techniques that were used to manipulate Google search rankings.

 

While Penguin didn’t quite catch every site that used SEO, it caught enough that quite a few sites saw their Google search rankings plummet. This event caused a bit of a panic in the SEO industry and there were a lot of people who claimed that Penguin was the death of SEO.

 

Google Only Wants to Help

 

While this feeling is understandable, the fact is that Google isn’t at war with SEO, they simply want people to follow practices that are designed to keep Google search results relevant. For Google to remain the dominant search engine on the internet, it has to make sure that the search results are as accurate as possible. While some people in the SEO industry decry Google’s release of the Penguin update, what they don’t realize is that SEO is not dead.

 

Google could not survive without the actions of the SEO industry and they know it. The release of Penguin wasn’t about stopping SEO as much as it was about returning relevance to their search rankings. What Google wanted to get rid of were sites that were simply piles of keywords that had no real relevance to the search terms and this is exactly what Penguin did.

 

Keyword Stacking is the Enemy

 

While Google wanted to get rid of sites that were simply stack upon stack of keywords, Penguin did snag quite a few legitimate sites as well. It was these sites losing their hard earned ranking overnight that led to the panic in the SEO industry and left many of us wondering if SEO was no longer a legitimate marketing technique.

 

The answer is that SEO is still just as valid as it ever was but that it has to be done according to Google’s best practices. While this means the days of keyword stacked sites are probably gone for good, this actually presents a new opportunity for the SEO industry and the people who rely on those techniques to compete with the massive websites like Amazon.

 

Study Google Harder for Recovery

 

If your site was one of the many sites hit by Penguin, then you need to take a look at how Google wants you to work. Read their best practices and get to know what it is they are looking for. Google doesn’t have a problem with SEO, they just don’t want it to affect their search result relevance. While this means that we all have to learn a different way of using SEO, it does not mean you can’t still use it.

 

The principals behind SEO are still the same, but in order to achieve and maintain a high ranking on Google you have to follow their best practice guidelines. The great thing about this (and yes there is a big upside) is that if you read those best practice guidelines you can learn everything you need to know about how to get a high ranking.

 

 

Sally Frain is a website designer and freelance writer who has studied much about Google and Penguin. She has worked with many to make a website recover from this update and get back to where they were, and in many instances better.

 

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A Brief History Of Link Building Strategies

In the early days of the Internet, link building was easy. There were no rules, and you could do anything you wanted to try to gain visibility. That has all changed, thanks largely to Google’s war on subversive link building practices and bad site content, but let’s take a look at what life was like way back then, in the frontier days of the Wild, Wild Web:

Link building strategies in the 1990s

Back in the mid-1990s, unscrupulous site owners quickly discovered that all they had to do to get high search engine rankings and therefore high visibility was to have lots of links to their sites all over the Internet. Although many honest folks tried to get links honestly by sticking with relevant link swaps, there were no rules, so the “bad guys” generally had a leg up over the good guys.

Google’s impact on link building strategies beginning in 1998

Search engines began to develop more complex algorithms that couldn’t be manipulated easily, but it wasn’t until Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed pre-Google incarnation Backrub and then Google, in 1998, that algorithms truly began to be used to put a damper on humans’ attempts to artificially manipulate site rankings through dishonest link building strategies like bulk link swapping.

In the early 2000s

Link building strategies began to really take shape in the early 2000s. The following once-popular practices have fallen on hard times thanks to Google’s Panda and Penguin (see below), but were great ways to link build until site owners’ abuses knocked them out of the running:

Directory submissions

Directory submissions were once considered a great way to provide quality links to owners’ sites, but as with previous link building practices, they fell out of favor thanks to site owners’ abuse and Google’s subsequent crackdowns.

Article directories

Article directories accepted what were supposed to be good quality articles from site owners in exchange for linking to authors’ sites. Again, although the directories began as a great link building strategy for authors, quality began to drop as unscrupulous “authors” decided that they could simply submit low-quality content, with an author bio box attached that linked back to the author’s site. In their heyday, free and paid directories sprang up everywhere, but as the article directories filled with junk instead of useful content, they lost value with users. Too many site owners were using them just to improve ranking (exactly what Google wanted to avoid), and as a result, article directories are now largely deemed “low quality” sites by Google (even previously vetted sites like Wise Geek). Article directory search engine links have largely been dissolved since Panda’s inception, making them useless in link building practices.

Reciprocal links

Reciprocal linking was historically the means by which to website owners would simply exchange links with each other in hopes that each would benefit from the exchange with increased visibility. Today, although non-organic reciprocal links are banned, they’re still used in practice as natural occurrences when bloggers link to external resources, etc.

Blogroll links

When blogging came into favor, bloggers boosted visibility by posting “blog rolls” of links to other blog sites that they endorsed or read. Again, although this is not a problem if done as a matter of true interest to the blog owner, as with reciprocal linking, it’s a practice that can be easily abused, and Google generally frowns on it.

Forum links

Forum links remain popular, whereby an anchor is optimized within a forum poster’s signature. Historically, these have worked because the more a particular user posts on a given forum, the more links will appear in that particular domain. Natural links within text are still valued, but anchor-optimized links within forums will likely be deemed artificial and eventually be banned.
Enter Google Panda and Google Penguin
Google Panda and Penguin continue to tighten link building strategy controls for site owners:

Google Panda

Introduced in 2011 and first updated in 2012, Google Panda’s purpose was to weed out so-called “content farms” with artificially high rankings but low quality or “thin” site content so that high quality sites would regain their deserved high page rankings, rankings currently being crowded out by content farms. Originally said to impact as much as 12% of the content on the Internet, the last public update in 2012 only affected approximately 0.7%. (As of March 2013, Google has stated that it will simply roll Panda updates into general algorithm updates and will no longer confirm them.)

Google Penguin

First announced in April 2012, Google Penguin is an algorithm meant to catch and thwart sites participating in”black hat” SEO techniques such as keyword stuffing, buying links, using invisible text, and deliberately duplicating content. Notably, sites that have remedied their spamming practices may be able to regain rankings, rather than being permanently blacklisted by Google.

Chris Countey is Senior Digital Marketing Specialist for Delphic Digital, a Sitecore certified partner in Philadelphia. Chris covers topics a wide range of inbound marketing topics.

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5 Important Things about Penguin

5 Important Things about Penguin – Keeping Up with the Ever-Changing Internet

5 Important Things about PenguinIf you have been working at an Internet business for a while now, then I probably don’t have to tell you that the only thing guaranteed is change. It’s inevitable, so we might as well accept it and keep an open mind.

For me, the lifestyle that my wife and I have obtained through working from home is worth putting up with the multitude of changes that have occurred over the 13 years. Now, I am not saying that I am always happy to see them, but I have accepted that it’s part of the Internet world. And the payoff surpasses the inconvenience of having to keep up with change.

We no longer have to worry about getting stuck in daily commutes to the office, or missing kid activities. In fact, we can help out with our new granddaughter during the day, and still enjoy a successful career. It’s because we are not tied to a 9-5 schedule and have the flexibility to work around our life, rather than our life worked in around our job.

But, if you have been at this for as long as I have, you probably already know this. Whether you are a blogger, affiliate marketer, or sell retail online, you know the benefits outweigh the inconvenience of the many changes we have all seen, including the latest…Google’s Penguin.

Let’s take a look at this latest change and what you need to do to survive it.

1. Penguin is not Panda in Disguise

On April 24 of this year, Google launched Penguin, their latest algorithm. Not to be confused with Panda, which focuses on poor quality content, Penguin was designed to target spam.

Panda will nail your site if it has poor quality content, even though it’s not spam. In other words, if your content is loaded with keywords, or is ‘thin’ in substance, it’s not necessarily spam. But, Google doesn’t like low quality content either, regardless of your intent.

I have been in the world of affiliate marketing since 1999, and have gone through many changes the Internet has thrown us since then. Google was barely off the starting block at that time. I knew more about WebCrawler, Excite, and AltaVista.

However, Google’s dominance in the Internet world now is obvious, and has been for over a decade. So, when they make changes, I want to know as much about the change as possible.

2. Penguins’ Primary Goal

Penguin’s ultimate goal is to target pages of content that are spamming Google, primarily through backlinking. This latest salvo has targeted the low (or no) quality blogging networks that, for example, have been designed to ‘sell’ backlinks to webmasters looking to increase Google rankings.

As crazy as it sounds, some ‘networks’ consist of 2,000 to 3,000 WordPress sites. Management of these networks purposely set up these sites with several different server locations, IP addresses, and names. Their goal is to trick Google into thinking they are not the same entity.

They then set forth in selling subscriptions and links, so they can load an overwhelming amount of articles to their varied sites. Unfortunately, it seems they dropped the ball in terms of quality, instead focusing on quality and profits.

Google is highly protective of their algorithm, and it seems they are targeting, and in some cases, delisting and removing these sites from the BIG Google search results entirely.

In turn, those receiving ranking ‘benefits’ links from these types may be seeing major drops in ranking, all thanks to Penguin.

3. The Impact of Penguin on Your Website

The bad news is that Penguin won’t interpret your intent. You might not have any intent in participating in these backlinking schemes, but might be receiving links from them anyway.

It seems to me that “Penguin” is taking out the blogging networks and other SPAM content containing backlinks. Needless to say, it’s more important than ever that our inbound links (aka “Backlinks”) are embedded within quality content.

In contrast, Panda is focused on low quality content, whereas Penguin is focused on pages that are spamming Google.

4. The Necessary Steps

Unlike Panda, Penguin is an algorithm, without any human element in the detection process. If your site has been flagged, that is actually good news for you then, as the penalty could be temporary …if you do some work on your site (and clean up the offending backlinks).

As troublesome and time consuming as it is, you will need to remove as many of the incoming spam links to your site as possible. While it can be a real pain to do that, it should pay off in the end.

Matt Cutts, from Google, states that once the characteristics are removed that caused the flagging in the first place, your page will be re-indexed. At that point, your page will pop up again, and start increasing in its ranking.

Removing the spam links is up to you. Then, let Google do its job in getting it back up and functioning the way it should.

5. Protect Yourself from Further Incidents

In addition to removing the links, you need to focus on making sure your new backlinks are embedded within quality content on quality sites. Make sure it’s relevant to where it sits, and not stuffed with keywords and phrases. Here’s 4-things what to avoid:

1.) Article directories
2.) Blog networks
3.) Footer and sidebar links
4.) Crappy content

If you want to know where you stand with Google, check your traffic activity. A significant drop after April 24th would indicate a problem (but you probably already know that). I suggest that you simply clean it up and avoid the list above.

In Closing

If you continue to focus on quality content and take the efforts to be careful of how you are linked, you should be fine. Google’s intent is to improve our business, not hinder it. By weeding out the spam, those of us with legitimate businesses will benefit.

About the Author

Starting back in 1999, James Martell has enjoyed a successful career in affiliate marketing. He and his wife Arlene have taught others make money with affiliate marketing through various methods, such as speaking engagements, eBooks, seminars, and podcasts, including the 1st ever, and longest running, in the affiliate marketing industry called the “Affiliate Buzz” in early 2003. James and Arlene reside in a seaside community in Vancouver, and enjoy spending time with their children and grandchildren.