Since our last Penguin Post a lot of things have changed, but the panic and uncertainty around Google updates have remained the same. Every time an update comes around people are still asking the same question:
What Did This Update Do and How Do I Recover? (By Reading This Post. Duh!)
With an increasingly large amount of rank tracking data (we track millions and millions of pages every single day) we have a huge trove of information that we’ve been able to sort through since the Penguin Update started. With misinformation and anecdotes thrown around like they are facts, we wanted to step back in and give you a look at what is going on with this Google Penguin update, backed by real data. We’ve mined through all of this data, and we think these results will show you exactly what got punished by Penguin and what you need to do in the future to continue to rank websites.
I’m Ready – Give Me Data!
This time around, we were able to dive even deeper with our analysis than we were last time. Since the Penguin update is a “web spam” update we wanted to look at exactly what Google was looking at – the backlinks themselves! So for each site in our dataset we took the top 50 backlinks and analyzed them both for their footprint and for their level of quality. The results we got were not unexpected at all:
A quick aside: I’m sure after seeing these graphs some of you are curious what a “high quality” post is and what a “low quality” post is. We considered a low quality post to be any post on a very thin website/subdomain (under five pages), any post that didn’t match the niche of the site it was hosted on, and any site that scored very highly on a custom webspam classifier that was provided to us by Cortx. We disregarded any links whose footprint did not neatly fit into of these categories. After spending countless hours manually analyzing this data we can say that it is over 99% accurate in determining what is a high quality article and what is not.
The results should not be that surprising; sites that were not hit by Penguin were more likely to have backlinks from high quality articles and high quality citations. Meanwhile, sites that were hit by Penguin were more likely to have backlinks from low quality articles and spammy social bookmarks and blog comments. When we saw this we were a little disappointed, as we were hoping for something more unexpected.
So we decided to take a look at the data in a slightly different way. Instead of looking at the average link distribution, we instead looked at what percentage of sites had at least one high quality backlink and what percentage of sites had at least one low quality backlink. This gave us a slightly different story:
At a glance these numbers might not seem that interesting. Nearly 100% of non penalized sites had at least one good backlink and nearly 100% of penalized sites had at least one obviously spammy backlink, which is what you might expect. However if you look closer, nearly every site that was not penalized also had at least one spammy backlink. What this means is that bad links by themselves did not cause sites to get hit by Penguin.
We decided to take a look at our original backlink distribution graphs above and split them up so that we were only comparing the high quality posts and the low quality posts:
This graph shows once again that bad links are not the problem – nearly 50% of all contextual links going towards sites not penalized by Penguin were considered to be spammy. But even more important is the statistic for penalized sites. For sites that were penalized, under 5% of their links were considered to be high quality. This indicates that bad links had very little to do with the update. Instead the Penguin update is targeting sites that do not have enough good links!
What Does That Mean for Me?
This means that Penguin is not punishing sites for bad links, but is instead “erasing” the value of bad links. When writing our first Penguin Post we did not find this to be nearly as much the case, and Google has commented that “the newer generation of Penguin goes much deeper and has a really big impact in small areas” and Matt Cutts has recently commented that Google is closing several negative SEO loopholes.
So our conclusion from this data is that when each Penguin refresh happens, Google is removing the juice from those bad links, leaving only the better links left. The sites that have a solid foundation of high quality links will continue to prosper and the sites that were built entirely on lower quality links will see their rankings fall.
I think I understand how Google’s Penguin Update works, but what about those 3 things I need to know!
1. If You Are Penalized (or Not), Build Some High Quality Links!
This is the most important thing to take away from our information: high quality links reign supreme. Do whatever you can to get links from authorative sites in your industry. Write high quality blog posts (our favorite method). Make tier 1 websites that are high enough quality to also function as their own stand-alone websites; we like to call them microsites.
Create Youtube videos and tutorials – although we didn’t include this footprint in our chart (due to a relatively smaller amount of data), sites that were not affected by Penguin were twice as likely to have Youtube links in their backlink profile.
Lastly, if you are a local plumber who is wondering how in the world you can write engaging and inspiring content about plumbing, at the very least get high quality local citations.
2. Do Not Worry About Blackhat Links or Negative SEO
Our data shows that this refresh was almost entirely a “link devaluation” instead of a “link penalty.” This means that if you are doing whitehat SEO you should not have to worry about negative SEO; your good quality links will still keep your site ranking and any low quality links are just noise that you can filter out.
The important thing to remember is that the road to recovery does not come from obsessively worrying about disavowing or removing bad links. Instead the road to recovery, no matter what hat you are wearing, comes from getting more high quality sites to link to you.
3. High Quality Private Blog Networks Still Work
In our last Penguin update we talked about how blog networks still work, but that they need to be done in a high quality way. Although we found many SEOers took to heart some of our more obvious suggestions (like varying anchor text), the overall implementation of many of the blog networks we saw were still often very lazy and very sloppy.
For the low quality posts we still saw ridiculous things like links that didn’t make any sense within the flow of the article, links from blogs with only one post, and links from blogs with posts about “garcinia combogia”, “e cigs”, and “payday loans” all side by side (I’m sure that will make Google instantly fall in love with your site).
Black and grey hat SEOers also often forget the “private” part of a private blog network. Google has made it very clear that they are going after blog networks, so if you are buying your blog network links from a slick sounding sales page, it will only be a matter of time before Google catches on. Any blog network where anyone can purchase links should not be considered a “private” blog network, no matter what the owner promises regarding footprints or security.
Stick to high quality private blog networks that are either operated entirely by you, or by a small exclusive circle of friends or business partners. Avoid free-for-all “public private” blog networks which are great for churn and burn but not much else.
That’s All For Now!
It’s been a long two years since we last published a blog post, and we hope it was worth the wait. We have been working on some great experiments here at Microsite Masters and we won’t keep you waiting that long next time!