Panda and Penguin Penalties with Eric Enge

Eric Enge just about does it all from co-authoring The Art of SEO, writing for Search Engine Watch, Interviewing Matt Cutts, and of course his biggest role, CEO of Stone Temple Consulting. Between wearing all of these different hats he knows a thing or two about Panda and Penguin penalties, which he showed in his presentation at SES San Francisco this past week. He also had the help of John Biundo, Stone Temple COO, and Senior Marketing Consultant Kathy Brown, to offer advice for any small business hit with one of those crazy animal penalties.

 How Penalties Come Into Play

Enge started by explaining the importance of being able to find a drop in your rankings and then recognize if there was a penalty at that same point. First, there are two different types of penalties to understand:

  • Algorithmic Ranking Adjustments. These are the penalties that are assessed by Google algorithms (Panda and Penguin).
  • Manual Penalties. Some penalties are assessed only after human review.

Therefore, there are two different ways that you can determine if you’ve been hit. First, check for an algorithm adjustment by visiting the “Google Algorithm Change History” in Moz. This resource will list out all of the Panda and Penguin penalties and their dates, and then you can check your rankings to see if your drop coincides. Second, check your Webmaster tools to see if you have been hit with a manual penalty. You will get a note that explains why you’ve been hit.

How the Google Panda Updates Work and How to React

Panda is all about content. If you have poor quality content, thin content, duplicate content, or misleading advertising, you might get hit with a Panda update. Enge did stress that Panda DOES NOT involve links (that’s Penguin, which the presentation touched on later).

Google and uses alike do not want to see content that has a lot of “sameness.” In Enge’s example, when you type in “how to make French toast” you get 2.54 million results, which simply is not necessary. As a small business, you need to find something new to say and dig deeper. Below lists a few ways to improve poor quality or potentially poor quality content:

  1. When you try to solve a poor quality page, 301 redirect it.
  2. Consider no indexing the page to tell Google that you think you need this page on your site but that you don’t want you to index it.
  3. Manually improve the pages quickly. This is likely the biggest thing you need to do if Panda has hit your site. It might seem daunting at first, but it’s the target you have to have in your mind.

After you’ve made a change, be patient. Panda doesn’t update instantly (sometimes it can take up to 3 months). The key lesson here is to be very harsh when it comes to the content on your page—take a critical eye to it. Also be aware that some pages don’t have to have a large amount of content or really deep content. Big brands, such as Amazon, don’t seem to need this because they have the authority already in place.

Side Note: Enge touched on whether or not Google was using search results interaction, this means clicking somewhere, bouncing back to the SERP, then clicking the second result, or social metrics when it comes to penalties. He thinks that at the moment Google is not taking this into consideration, but your social metrics still could be a hint. If they drop dramatically you might not be getting the visibility you once were, so check for those changes.

How Manual Actions Work

John Biundo moved into Google manual actions. Google now says that anyone can see a message in Webmaster tools that gives you detail on the manual action type you’re dealing with. This is a new development for Webmaster tools, and any message can be found under Search Traffic à Manual actions. There are two different types:

  • Trigger. This deals with links and content.
  • Scope. A site-wide or partial penalty.

Manual actions could be any number of things, many of which are reasons why you might have been hit by a Panda or Penguin update in the past—hidden text, thing content, sneaky redirects, spam, unnatural links to your site, etc. There are 10 different documented causes that could lead Google to send you a manual action notice, and below lists some of the most confusing and/or trickiest for small businesses:

  1. Cloaking and sneaky redirects. Most people do this deliberately so you probably know if you are at fault; however this can happen if you have been hacked. If this is the case, you can use the Fetch as Googlebot tool in Webmaster tools, Visit as Googlebot (Useragent Switcher) or simple examine your .htacces or Javascript.
  2. Thin Content. This sounds like Panda and in some cases you might get hit with Panda, but it can be slightly different if it’s coming to you through a manual action notice. This typically targets sites that use auto generated content, scraped content, or thin affiliates.
  3. Hacked Site. If you’re getting a lot of penalties but doing everything right, it could mean that you’ve been hacked. Get technical help by visiting this link.
  4. Unnatural Link Building. Don’t buy links, don’t barter links, don’t steal links, and don’t participate in article directories because anybody can publish any article on any topic from any site. Some directories are OK such as Yahoo! Directory or dmoz because they are moderated and require a fee, but just be careful.

Whatever your message said is where you need to put your focus. You need to get to the root of the problem and then submit a reconsideration request. The panel of speakers was asked if the same person views your website each time you submit a request and all three were stumped, but agreed that it’s important to give all the information you can about what you did to fix the problem each and every time you have to submit a request.

Penguin Penalty: Links Google Doesn’t Like from Kathy Brown

Kathy Brown then discussed that Penguin is the penalty all about links and whether or not you have unnatural links on your site or pointing back to your site. So how do you recover from Penguin? Of course you have to know the problem and you need to be patient. It might be tempting, but a reconsideration request isn’t going to help you with Penguin because it’s the algorithm that caught you and it’s the algorithm that needs to see you’ve made changes (not a person).

Ultimately you will get penalized if you have any unnatural links to your site: side-wide or partial. We should all be doing periodic link reviews to our sites. You want to know you’re on top of any problems so you don’t get a manual action slapped on your site. So how do you get started? Obviously you can’t look up 1 million links, so it’s tough to know where to begin. The secret is it’s the number of the domains that matter.

Sounds easy enough, right? Although you will have a significantly less amount of domains to work with than links, you still need to look at every single domain. Fully automated tools can’t do the job, so the key here is that categorization drives efficiency. Have each team member take on a different category. Brown came up with a really cool graphic for a successful five step process in cleaning up your links:


If you can’t remove the links on your own, move to the disavow tool and try to disavow domains as opposed to links. If you were given a manual action, which Biundo discussed, then you can submit a reconsideration request. Brown’s advice here was to not forget that the voice on the other end is person too, so be polite and have proper documentation of what you did to fix the problem.

In the end the three agreed: All situations can be fixed.

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