One of my favorite clients was hit by a Penguin penalty. They went from having a strong competitive site to wiped off Google’s map. It was a call I really didn’t want to get. My client was panicking they went from being in the top 10 for a major word to not even in the top 1000. Looking into their situation I saw they got hit by both the Penguin and Panda updates. The cause was not so obvious. I was their SEO for several years and the site was well optimized and it was all white hat. So figuring out what caused the problem took a bit of investigating.
First I checked how Google was indexing their site. I used “site:www.clients-site.com” in Google’s search. What I found was disturbing. There were many gibberish pages in the Google index. These pages were being generated by a pop up they added to their site which added cookies to the URL. The issue was Google shouldn’t have been indexing this content and because it was Google was seeing the generated pages as duplicates. The result was every time Google indexed the site it would create a new copy of the site’s home page. It looked like my client was spamming the index. This kind of issue will result in a Panda penalty. To remove this problem I added a rel=canonical tag to the pages and got the script tweaked to prevent the issue from happening again in the future.
Next problem to resolve was the Penguin penalty. Penguin usually involves on page SEO spam which I knew the site didn’t have and checked to confirm the site was still clean. However, Penguin also looks at negative links. Google hates links which are purchased in an attempt to manipulate the page rank. Sites with ad links inbounds or where the back link profile shows the majority of the anchor text as being one keyword phrase were slapped with a Penguin penalty. To see if this were the case I checked out their link profile in http://ahrefs.com/
Sure enough 90% of their backlinks used the same keyword phrase and the links were all coming from one site where they had paid for a link. My client was advertising on a directory site to gain not PR but traffic. They have paid for site wide links and since the directory was huge it was a considerable percentage of their link profile. The client got more traffic from Google than what this directory was providing them so they didn’t mind getting the link removed. Once removed and Google reindexed the directory the site come back in the rankings. It seems the penalty is completely automated. If you fix the issues Google will forgive. The site hasn’t completely returned to its former rankings but each day it seems to be slowly moving back up.
So if you experience similar issues, it is a good approach to take similar steps. First investigate to see if youe site was affected on the dates of the updates. Then check why it was affected and finally resolve all of the issues. If you are really unsure what is causing the Penguin or Panda penalty contact an SEO guru 😉