As an SEO, I’m actually a counselor, a life coach, and a depression recovery expert. Here’s what I see in my inbox on a daily basis:
And the terror-stricken pleas for help:
I get it. People’s livelihood depends on the variances of the algorithm. When Penguin 1.0 and 2.0 hit, it caused a more drastic impact upon individuals than did the financial meltdown of 2008.
So what do you do? Is there life after Penguin 2.0? Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Is it worth it to make a go of it in the web world? Can you recover?
I’m optimistic. Penguin 2.0 is still very new, and there’s still much to be learned about what has changed. But if we learned anything from Penguin 1.0, it’s that the Penguin targets webspam. Most often, that webspam is in the form of unnatural or manipulative inbound links. With that knowledge, here’s my best guess at how to dig yourself out if you’ve been hit; my four-step recovery plan for rising up from the doldrums of an algorithm change, and succeeding in this new, Penguin 2.0 world.
Please note that as new data becomes available and the SEO community learns more about Penguin 2.0 collectively, this information may become outdated; I’ll do my best to keep this post updated appropriately.
1. Get a grip.
The counselor part of my job has to say it. Penguin causes panic attacks, and I completely understand why. It’s appropriate to feel the heart-stopping crush of fear when you gaze in disbelief at your tanking rankings. That’s okay.
But it’s also important to get a grip and keep your head up. Decisions made in desperation are rarely good ones. As I’ll discuss below, a long-term approach is vital to success.
One of the reasons why so many sites have gone belly-up is because they depended upon black-hat strategies. Black-hat strategies sometimes work, but they only work for a short time. In time, the algorithm catches up, and the site goes kaput.
If you refuse to capitulate to desperation, you’ve gained the weapon of sound mind that will keep you stable through any algorithm upset. When other sites are throwing up their hands and giving in, you’re staying steady — building authority, maintaining integrity, and establishing your reputation in the niche. It sounds cliche, but in the world of SEO, slow and steady wins the race.
Okay, psychotherapy session over. Let’s get some SEO advice on the table.
2. Adopt a longview strategy.
If you want your Internet business to pay your kids’ way through college, to build an inheritance for your grandchildren, or simply to take you through to retirement, you need to have a longview.
- Do things right. The longview is built upon a sound SEO strategy, one that bases its progress on slow gains over the long term, and integrates each of the 3 pillars of SEO. The longview strategy is one that adheres to Google’s Webmaster Rules, and settles in for the gradual climb of success.
- Be willing to change. Because the Internet changes, because algorithms change, and because your competitors change, so must you. Part of business in an Internet culture is the constant environment of change. Keep your ear to the ground for things such as the next Penguin, the dominance of mobile search, the importance of social signals, etc. These are the factors that will have a bottom-line impact upon your business. Know these factors, and adapt accordingly.
Your long term strategy should have four key components:
- Publish impeccable content. The quality of site content is the single most important key to a successful website. Matt Cutts often sounds like a track on repeat, when he discusses the value of great sites with solid content. In the ensuing discussion from his Penguin 2.0 video, he wrote:
- Gain reputable, credible, and authoritative inbound links. Links have been and will be important for the foreseeable future. Links are the great battleground of the search engine algorithm changes. Why? Some SEOs, in an effort to boost a page’s presence on the SERPs, would build thousands of spammy backlinks. The more links, the better, right? Wrong. The algorithms figured out which sites don’t deserve credibility, and distinguishes them from the ones that are truly valuable. Now, sites that are spammed with shoddy links are getting hit hard by penalties. Whether you’re guest blogging or consulting with an SEO agency that provides link building services, insist on only the highest quality links for your site.
- Maintain activity on social networks. Social signals are growing in importance. Your business depends on the very people that are active on the social networks. Be there for them.
- Ensure perfect onsite SEO best practices. Insist on perfection as far as your website is concerned — everything from your robots.txt to your keyword saturation need to be in order. If you need help on this, consult with an SEO expert.
3. Fire your SEO.
This, admittedly, is a harsh measure to take, but it may be necessary. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have that go something like this:
Webmaster: Our rankings are dropping! I don’t know what’s going on! We need help! What’s happening?!
Me [looking at their analytics and rankings on my computer]: Hmm. Have you ever worked with another SEO firm?
Webmaster [Eyes dropping, head-dropping, fidgeting nervously]: “Yes…yes we have. May the Google gods forgive me. We hired a company to do some link building. They were really cheap. They said that they could build 2,000 links in two weeks, and get us on the first page of Google. I thought that….
Me: Fire them.
Why do I take such a hard-nosed approach? Is it because I’m a cutthroat businessperson who despises competitors? No. It’s because some SEO agencies are not enhancing sites; they are ruining them.
There are highly reputable SEO agencies out there. I hope you are one or are working with one. But, regretfully, there are still some SEO agencies that rely on black-hat techniques for short-term gains. One way to spot these black-hat practitioners is to simply look at their pricing. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Run as far as you can from the SEOs (or agencies) that have done the damage, and seek refuge from a company that can provide an ethical and effective SEO service.
But the damage is done. What do you do now?
4. Bring out the machete.
Sounds violent, right? It is, sort of. Let me explain.
Once your site has been inflicted by the damage of unscrupulous SEO practices, it’s in serious need of emergency services. It’s time to scrutinize your link profile, and do your best to remove any links that could be causing your website to be affected by Penguin 2.0. Here’s how the process works, described simply:
Step 1. Download a list of your site’s inbound links; you can do this via Google Webmaster Tools. The number of links could range from a few dozen to tens of thousands.
Step 2. Determine which ones are spammy, and isolate them. Here’s how to do that. You may need to review each one manually to determine whether it comes from a spammy website. Alternatively, if you’d rather have a professional do it for you, I recommend looking into a link profile audit.
Step 3. Request the link source site to remove the link. They will honor this request roughly 5-10% of the time.
Step 4. Perform disavow requests on all the bad backlinks via Google Webmaster Tools. You should disavow all the bad links (even the ones you successfully get removed) only after completing your removal requests.
Step 5. Resubmit your site to Google for reconsideration.
Step 6. Learn and understand the 3 pillars of SEO (content, links, and social media), and ensure your SEO initiative incorporates all three pillars going forward. Focus only on quality and building value for your readers.
Sometimes, in an effort to preserve all the backlinks possible, a webmaster will tentatively tiptoe through a disavow process, only picking a few to get rid of.
This isn’t the right approach.
Matt Cutts describes the right approach:
When doing these disavows, get rid of anything suspicious. Anything. As long as you have shoddy backlinks, you’ll have a shoddy site. The faster you get rid of these, the sooner you’ll rise.
Once you’ve done this, you’re ready to enjoy the arid airs of success. But a final caution is in order. Be patient. Your site first has to be recrawled and reindexed before it will regain rankings. This process could take several months. After the process is complete, it’s time to get with a reputable SEO agency to begin building links, growing authority, and enhancing your content. Recovery is possible, even from something as cataclysmic as Penguin 2.0.