How to Recover from the Penguin Webspam Update: Tips from SMX Toronto

How to Recover From the Penguin Webspam Update - Tips from SMX Toronto

SMX Toronto was full of a lot of great information. I found that most sessions had at least one presentation that rivaled SMX Advanced conferences I’ve attended in the past, both in speaker quality and in content. In all sessions, every speaker hit it out of the park.

My favorite session was the day after the Penguin update hit, and amazingly there wasn’t a single mention of the webspam update, yet all the content was directly relevant. The session was the “Google Kitchen Sink Panel”, featuring speakers Duran Inci, Ken Dobell, Aaron Bradley, and Ryan Jones.

As a follow up to Greg’s post yesterday about the webspam update, I wanted to throw a quick bullet-point list of my takaways that can be implemented immediately by anyone.

Here is a summary, in short form, of the best takeaways that can help future-proof your site against updates like this Penguin update, or if you’ve already been “pecked” by the Penguin, this is your battle plan, with hand-picked points I took away with me from Toronto:

[Note: Up-to-date SEO professionals won’t find anything new here, but I’m a big believer in checklists to hold ourselves to a broad set of best practices, which is why I hope this is universally useful to anyone. My favorite points are at the top and bolded.]

  • 2012 SEO is about optimizing data, not keywords, it’s about making content accessible in a wide variety of formats across all devices. – Ken Dobell
  • Develop “Power Content” – this is how it’s done:
    • Create an update schedule for the top performing 100 pieces of content and update them every 90 days or less (includes home page). Every time you update it, make sure the “last modified” field in your XML sitemap is updated to mark the date of the change. This keeps content fresh. – Duran Inci
    • 1000-2000 words in length, should be exceptional quality, use advanced research and present new or interesting ideas.
    • Content does NOT equal “copy”. It needs to be RICH – use images, videos, formatting, headings, quotes, etc.
    • Use this power content on main pages and category pages, if you have an ecommerce site.
  • Get social sharing buttons on all your pages (in another session, Aaron Friedman cited a BrightEdge study stating that social sharing buttons make your content 7 times more visible)
  • Remove all exact anchor text links, when possible. – Duran Inci
  • Refresh the home page content often. – Duran Inci
  • Fix all crawl errors.
  • Edit and optimize all major page titles and descriptions so that they are not keyword stuffed, and so they are unique.
  • Make sure the blog is in a subdirectory (not subdomain), and is updated regularly with high quality content.
  • Create a mobile version of the website – Google cares about multiple devices now so make sure the site works on all of them.
  • No link exchanges or sketchy link schemes.
  • Create supplemental content for pages and products, like shopping guides. – Duran Inci
  • Use a video sitemap, if applicable.
  • This is my thought, but heck, even a geo sitemap, schema, and any other ‘bells and whistles’ we can throw on the site will help to differentiate.
  • Focus on long-tail: Google’s average search query is over 4 words in length – also, broad (trophy) terms are not nearly as valuable in conversion.
  • “A good SEO optimizes where Google is. A great SEO optimizes where Google is going to be.” – @RyanJones, paraphrasing the Great One.

Which of these methods have you already used in practice, and for how long? Is anything here new to you? Did you attend SMX Toronto and want to add anything to the list?

Let’s talk in the comments!

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  1. Rick says

    Ironically, When surfing to sites I am familiar with using my Android phone, I hate mobile versions of sites. I always go the extra length to get the real site. Anyone else do this? However, whatever Google wants, right?!
    It will be interesting to see what happens through all of this, but one thing is for sure in my mind and that is that SEO company’s ability to have success for clients will depend more now than in the past on that client being actively involved in their website and developing great and useful content. Ideally, an a person working in the SEO industry will be more about consulting with a company on how to get the most out of the content and checking the back end of things than about being a link builder.

  2. Arsen Rabinovich says

    Responsive Themes are all the rage now on sites like I just don’t like how its handled code wise, makes the header very messy. 

    But yes, having a site that responds to a device without compromising user experience is best bet at all times!  

  3. Charles says

    “Remove all exact anchor text links, when possible. – Duran Inci”

    Alright I’m confused.  So if I’m trying to rank for ‘best sandwiches in cinncinate’ I don’t want any links pointing back to it that say ‘best sandwiches in cincinnati’ ?  Lost me on this one.

  4. Claye Stokes says

    @Charles yeah that’s exactly what Duran was saying – “over-exact” anchor text seems to be one of the dominant signals behind a lot of the “over-optimization” penalties that are being reported, and the sites we’ve been able to analyze. It would be a lot wiser to limit perfect, pretty anchor text links and instead focus on whatever makes the most sense to use as anchor text (branded, “click here,” “download,” etc.).

    • Dustin says


      I think the theme of the Penguin update is unnatural linking patterns. If you have mostly exact match anchor text links then that would be unnatural. It isn’t necessary to drop all exact match anchor text links. You should still get those where you can but keep it natural. A natural looking link portfolio is going to have some exact match anchor text links with varying anchor text between broad and long-tail keywords. It is also going to have branded anchor text, URL anchor text, common calls to action like “click here” or “learn more” and other anchor text like a person’s name.

      Google is looking for patterns that suggest a person has been engaging in webspam tactics. Lots of exact match anchor text links would be one of those patterns. Where your links are coming from would also be another pattern. If you have lots of links from articles that are spun content or poorly written content then you will most likely get hit by the Penguin update. Having many links on pages with content that’s not related to the links will also fit into the pattern that Google is looking for with the Penguin update.

      The main thing with Penguin is to avoid getting links from low quality or unrelated content and to keep it natural. Focus on high quality sites that are relevant to your site and vary the anchor text of your links. Too many exact match anchor text links can hurt you, but they shouldn’t be avoided completely. 

  5. Adelard Gasana says

    I’ve never thought about updating content which was already created to keep it fresh. That was a great tip. I’ve also noticed that Google take more consideration about the text and content around an anchor text, versus the exact anchor text itself. This has been a way which helps them gauge the real relevancy of the link, since traditionally exact anchor text could be manipulated more easily. This was a great article, all in all!

  6. Claye Stokes says

    @Adelard Yeah I’ve noticed the same thing – I’m personally convinced that Google has been using surrounding content for a while, but that February’s ambiguous “anchor text” update was all about using the content surrounding links for understanding relevance, rather than anchor text. 

    …which makes complete sense, the average internet user doesn’t think about anchor text when linking, it’s usually “click here” or the URL. Too bad Google didn’t catch on to that 10 years ago and prevent years and years of anchor text link building by webmasters who were just trying to play by Google’s playbook. 

  7. Kyle says

    “Create an update schedule for the top performing 100 pieces of content and update them every 90 days or less (includes home page)”
    I am lost on this one. If you have a piece of content that does well, what would you modify about it? Do you mean rearrange the message or “spin” it just to keep it fresh? Because I’m sure that’s exactly what google would frown on.
    And as far as removing “All” exact anchor text links, I don’t see how that can be beneficial. Unless Google is nuts, their algorithms should assume a certain percentage of links pointing to a page would be relevant to the content on that page, some being exact text for specific keywords.  I do think you should diversify anchor texts, but to say basically none whatsoever is wrong I think.
    I did a competition analysis a while back on a Google #1 ranked for this term competitor’s anchor text link profile and found most of the anchor text linking to that page was ‘website’, followed by ‘click here’ then several misc phrases, then the exact phrase, followed by synonyms or variants of the exact phrase. 

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