My Panda / Penguin Algorithm Recovery Story - Cheers, Tears and Jeers


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My story / case study of how the Google Panda / Penguin Algorithms affected my websites - hence the title: Cheers, Tears and Jeers

The presentation covers everything from:
- What I was (and im sure everyone else was) was doing around SEO
- What effects the Panda / Penguin Algorithm updates had to my websites
- Everything I implemented to try to recover
- What finally worked
- The results i saw
- Key considerations & Take Aways

Please let me know if you have any questions, what you have tried in the past to recover and perhaps results you have seen by following the process within.

Published in: Technology, Design
  • Excellent one, it was like a movie with twists and turns.
    ( Admin, medchrome dot com )
    My website graph has similar fall, but wont changing domain name make me lose it all, my Branding, my links, my 800+ readers everything. Its like changing a country.
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  • This presentation is a must for anyone who is serious about escaping panda and penguin. Also how to avoid getting hit in the first place. It has made my brain juices start swirling as to my next link building ideas too.
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  • Thank you for sharing this excellent presentation. It was more interesting for me than anyone else because I saw first hand how frustrating the algo effects were, and saw things in this presentation that I didn't see during that time.
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  • Thanks Dave. It was a great opportunity and an excellent way to showcase this case study i've been collecting data for since the start of March (about 3 months). Hopefully people learn from my mistakes and don't take the easy road when it comes to SEO.
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  • Mr Jones appreciate you putting together such an awesome presentation for last nights SEO Meetup, glad to see your website traffic is coming back now that you are doing SEO the sustainable way!
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  • My Panda / Penguin Algorithm Recovery Story - Cheers, Tears and Jeers

    1. 1. My Panda / PenguinAlgorithm Recovery Story– Cheers, Tears and JeersBy Michael Jones
    2. 2. About Me
    3. 3. 12 years of search engine marketing experience,worked with many large organisations in Australia(both in-house and agency side), in a broad rangeof industries including: shopping, classifieds andservice websites.Specialising in SEO, but have experience in:- SEM - Analytics - Social- Local - Reputation Management- Email MarketingA network of 8 travel websites; managing everything from:- Search Engine Optimisation - Social Media Marketing- Video & Image Creation - Content Editing- Web Programming - Website Building- Affiliate Marketing - AdSense- Web Analytics - Keyword ResearchSEO Manager – Suncorp InsuranceHead of Onsite / Technical SEOMajor projects have included:- Technical Audits - Keyword Research- Link Profile Audit & Removal Campaign- SEO Strategy
    4. 4. Pre-Panda & PenguinThe land of Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows
    5. 5. What Used to WorkExact match domainCrappy website built for SEOLow quality, high volume, exactmatch anchor text links
    6. 6. The Birds were singing…Traffic was increasingAdSense income was going up
    7. 7. Google Unleashes the Beasts
    8. 8. First signs of troubleJuly 1, 2011Even though things were on the up and Panda was initiallythought to be targeting onsite website, I received this…After initially crapping my pants and then laughing in theface of danger, I saw that there was no adverse effectsand kept on going... (I probably proclaimed innocence inthere too)
    9. 9. Ouch!!!October 11, 2011… although remaining unscathed by theprevious Panda updates, while doing my regular checks of myAdSense account, I noticed something wasn’t quite right withWebsite A…AdSenseAnalytics traffic by hourPutting it down as a bad day, I waited for moredata to collect in Analytics and ran a rankingreport… I got hit by the Panda "Flux" (#8)update
    10. 10. Website A – What it looked likeAfter living in the the land of Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbowsfor the previous year, this Algorithmic kick in the nuts was only asign of things to come…Daily Search Engine ReferralsDaily AdSense Income
    11. 11. Just when things were bouncing backDaily Search Engine ReferralsDaily AdSense IncomeAfter having a great streak for a few months and thinking Panda’scurse had finally began to lift, I prepared for a bumper Anzac DayPublic Holiday… a stupid flightless bird had another idea
    12. 12. Website A was not aloneWebsite C’s Daily Search Engine Referrals – PenguinWebsite D’s Daily Search Engine Referrals – PenguinEven though websites B, C, D & E escaped the Panda update ofOctober 2011, it was only a matter of time before they bombed!
    13. 13. And finally…If the Penguin update of April 2012 wasn’t enough, the GoogleEMD update of Sep 27 2012 rolled around and further decimatedwebsite A, taking website B down at the same time.Website B’s Daily Search Engine ReferralsWebsite A’s Daily Search Engine Referrals
    14. 14. Where Now?
    15. 15. What to do now?After worrying, stressing and pulling out a lot of hair, I decidedthat my websites were worth saving and took action to try to getthem back to their former glory.So after reading many forums, articles, case studies and talkingto other people who got hit, it was time to take action.Following Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and their “guidance onbuilding high-quality sites”, I set out to go as white-hat as I’veever been…
    16. 16. Stop crappy SEO & link building
    17. 17. Change to new CMS platformOut with the old…Dreamweaver PHP template siteIn with the new…Customised Wordpress SiteNot only does the website look a million times better, websitemaintenance is now a breeze and the Wordpress pluginsautomate a lot of SEO functionality.
    18. 18. Get thin content rewrittenBecause Panda was understood to focus on low-quality and thincontent and some of my content was quite similar to otherwebsites, I set out and got a lot of my content rewritten, focusingless on keyword mentions and more on quality, grammar andreadability.
    19. 19. Removed Spammy LinkingWebsite FooterWas primarily used for site-wide exact-matchinternal link building (it worked!)After being hit by the Algorithm updates , Iremoved the excessive footer linksLater on, I reintroduced a super-footer, morefocusing on UX and promoting social profilesCross Linking WebsitesContained at the bottom of the page, thiswas used to cross link my different websitestogether… yes, the sites were on the sameIP, with the same whois details.
    20. 20. Before:Reduced AdSense placements3 x ad units + 2 x link units 2 x ad units (recently added2 new affiliate search boxes on the RHS) to the launch of the “Page layout algorithm improvement” (and also the fact thatlink units don’t work as well as ad units), I reduced the amount of AdSense units onthe page. This not only improved the CTR of the main ad unit, but also assisted indriving up the CPC of the RHS menu box.After:
    21. 21. Moved More Content Above The Fold based on the “Page layout algorithm improvement”, I made some additionalchanges to the layout of the page in order to have more content appear above-the-foldof the page. These include:• Reducing website header height• Removed AdSense link unit• Reduced spaces on header tagsThe following screenshots show both versions of the site at the same resolution:Before Changes After Changes
    22. 22. Removed Various Wordpress plugins all the major Algorithm updates of the last 2 years, it was a great practice to gocrazy with internal linking throughout your website. Because this practice was quitetime intensive if you had a lot of pages and are uploading a lot of regular content,there was many Wordpress Plugins created to automate this task.Now after the Penguin update and the fact Google is targeting over-optimisation, I didsome research and scrapped using these types of plugins.I found the following where a website did in fact receive a manual penalty for usingsuch plugins, and their simple removal was able to get the penalty lifted.
    23. 23. Improve Website EngagementEmbed related Youtube VideosQuestion / Comment BoxSocial Sharing ButtonsPurchase ButtonsOne-stop-shop for informationBy trying to reduce the bounce rate, improve time on site and boost the overallwebsite engagement, I implemented the following tactics:
    24. 24. Build Social Profiles / AuthorshipTo plan for the future shifts in SEO and to built an engaged social audience, I havealso invested in building up social profiles for my websites, share the latest travelnews and occasionally post links to my websites, implemented authorship & publishertags.
    25. 25. OK… What Else?
    26. 26. Reconsideration Request – Did NothingNow considering there wasn’t much information after the algorithms hit and everythingin the market was pure speculation, a common approach was do to nothing and file areconsideration request and…Plead Innocence and Handball BlameAs expected, this rarely worked
    27. 27. Link Removal CampaignWith the large majority of algorithm updates predominantly focussing on the source,type and anchor text of links, a common activity that should be undertaken on anestablished website to reclaim / future-proof your search engine success is undertakea link profile audit; flagging any links deemed to be low-quality / artificially built andthen reaching out to these websites and asking for said links to be removed.To do this, you have 2 options: you’re time poor or this process is over your head: Outsource the taskOtherwise, DIY!
    28. 28. Link Removal CampaignWithout going too much into detail about the overall DIY process, it is in fact quite timeintensive and incorporates:• Sourcing all your link data from multiple sources• Combine all sources and de-dupe the data; removing entries for exact duplicates ofURLs & versions created by www and non-www duplication• Process data through relevant SEO tools to acquire anchor text, target URL andreally any metrics to determine quality, authority, toxicity and relevancy.• Using both automated and manual methods, analyse the data and mark the URLsyou determine to be low-quality / artificial looking• Now based on this data, contact the respective website owner asking for them toremove your link (this is another large task in itself)
    29. 29. Reconsideration Request – Link RemovalAfter I reached out to these websites via different sources (usually email and contactus forms), I reprocessed the original list of links to determine what links have beenremoved and what still remains.After I had this data, I filed a reconsideration request using the email sample below,being honest and listing the domains I was able to get links removed from.!Manual penalty removed…
    30. 30. What Changed?
    31. 31. What Changed?In my case…Nothing!Even though the website in question did in fact receive a webmaster tools warningand there was confirmation of a manual action being revoked, because of thealgorithmic effects of Panda and Penguin and the fact my website was just that fargone and relied on these low-quality links 100%, nothing evidently to my rankings.Having said that, I have personally seen cases where the exact same process hasbeen followed and the website returned to its previous rankings positions. So I stilldefinitely recommend reviewing your link profile and reaching out to get anything toxicremoved.
    32. 32. What about the Disavow tool?
    33. 33. Disavow Tool jury is still out if the Google Disavow tool actually does anything for algorithmicbased penalties - some people say they saw ranking fluctuations after Penguin 2.0,but there are so many other factors that could have led to the witnessed changes. Theconsensus in the SEO industry leads to a NO… For me, it did nothing.Having said that, if you have received a warning in webmaster tools or you havecompleted a link removal campaign, I definitely recommend combining uploading adisavow file with your reconsideration request to further improve your chances ofgetting a penalty revoked.
    34. 34. Nothing worked…What else could possibly work?
    35. 35. Last ditch effort… change the domain name?There were many cases after penguin hit of websites simply changing their domainname, 301ing all their old page URLs and what do you know… it worked! NOT FOR VERY LONG!!!Although the new domains had short term success, it was only a matter of time beforethe cursed low-quality links followed them to the new website and then theydisappeared from the SERPs again.So here is my effort of doing it smarter (and lets say better)BECAME
    36. 36. Changing Domain Name ProcessAlthough the overall process is extremely technical in natural and you will need tohave experience in the steps of launching websites from stretch, here is a guide tochanging your website domain (these steps may differ based on CMS / web hostingplatform):The Techy Parts:1. Buy new domain2. Delegate domain name to your web hosting3. Configure new website / Create add-on domain4. Using Cpanel’s file manager, simply copy the files from the old site to the new site5. Using Cpanel, create a new database and user6. Using phpMyAdmin, copy the old website’s database to the new database you just created7. Using the Wordpress wp-config.php file and update the database entries to reflect the newdatabase8. Again using phpMyAdmin, use the relevant find & replace commands to replace the URLsreferences from the old domain to the new domain (also search for branding references youmay need to update)9. Download the whole website from Cpanel. Now using a tool like grepwin, search the files inthe downloaded website version for references of the old domain.10. Based on the findings, open the respective files and change any entries in Cpanel or withinWordpress.
    37. 37. 11. (Optional) Open AdSense and update any referenced from the old domain to the new12. Open analytics and update any associated profiles to reflect the change in domain name13. Check Wordpress and ensure that all plugins continue to work (Some licenses may need tobe refreshed. E.g. commentluv)Now The Important Part (so you don’t pass the penalty across):1. Similar to the link removal process, use OpenSiteExplorer and MajesticSeo to export all thelinks pointing to your website2. Study the results as per previous methods and make note of the URLs that have natural &high quality links, and what URLs contain low-quality toxic links.3. Based on the previous analysis, implement 301 directs on the old website URLs that onlycontain natural & high quality links on the old domain to point to the equivalent URL on thenew domain (put these in the .htaccess file of the old site).4. For URLs that have both natural high quality links and low-quality toxic links, or simplyjust low-quality links, 301 redirect these pages elsewhere (an external affiliate code?), butnot to any website you care about.5. For URLs that have both natural high quality links and low-quality toxic links, I’drecommend contacting the websites supplying the natural & high quality links and ask ifthey could update the hyperlink to point to your new domainChanging Domain Name Process
    38. 38. Helping with the website migration:1. Regenerate all the XML and HTML sitemap files and check the robots.txt to ensure thesereflect the new domain.2. Add the new domain to Google webmaster tools, resubmit the XML sitemap files and use the“Fetch as Googlebot” function, clicking the submit to index button and selecting the “URL andlinked pages submitted to index” option.3. Change any associated branding on your websites (logos, text mentions)4. Now go through all your other websites your might own, web 2.0 sites and social profiles andupdate the links to the new domain.5. Contact any high quality websites you may have partnerships with and ask for them toupdate their link references.6. Monitor the search engines and watch as the old domain starts dropping out of the index andthe new site starts ranking in place7. Close down the old website (deleting the old files and database), only leaving behind thehtaccess file for 301 redirectionsChanging Domain Name Process
    39. 39. So, What Exactly Did I See?
    40. 40. What I saw – Website AAfter flicking the switch on my first website (website A) on March 5 2013, the results werealmost immediate!The website started ranking for keywords that it hadn’t been showing for since the firstPanda hit, and in cases, the new website starting ranking higher than the old for certainkeywords the very next day.The AWR visibility report isn’t the best metric, but you can definitely see the rankingsuccess of the new domain was instantaneous and it was a very beneficial activity tochange the domain.
    41. 41. What I saw – Website AWhat this looks like in terms of ranking positions…What this looks like in terms of search engine traffic…Even after the Panda #25 Update in March and the Penguin Update in May, website A notonly remained unscratched by wild animal attacks, search engine rankings and traffic haveagain reached their highest point since October 2011.
    42. 42. What it all just a fluke?
    43. 43. What I saw – Website BI have to say this wasn’t a fluke considering I was able to replicate similar success over 4additional websites under very similar circumstances (same crappy link build, samestructure, same SEO, same copywriter, same methodology)What this looks like in terms of visibility score for Website B…What this looks like in terms of ranking positions…
    44. 44. What I saw – Website CWhat this looks like in terms of visibility score for Website C…What this looks like in terms of ranking positions…Again, very similar results seen for the website C, making note of the overlap period wherethe new domain was crawled and the old one started to fall out of the SERPs
    45. 45. What I saw – Website EEven though website E had little natural links to benefit from when the domain waschanged, the ranking positions returned and I have been seeing continual improvementever since. There was a handful of keywords that website E was ranking for previouslywhich are yet to bounce back (possibly as they benefited from the low-quality links)What this looks like in terms of visibility score for Website E…What this looks like in terms of ranking positions…What this looks like in terms of traffic…
    46. 46. What I saw – Website DThe last website I migrated was website D, 2 weeks ago. Overall, the website does havegreater visibility than where it was previously, but considering a lot of pages may havebenefited from the somewhat spammy links of the past, not all of the high rankingskeywords have returned to their pre-change rankings.I did in fact the delay of the change of this domain until last because it was in fact rankinghighly for a few keywords… but the website would have never grown if it was still penalised.What this looks like in terms of visibility score for Website E…What this looks like in terms of ranking positions…
    47. 47. Considerations / Take Aways
    48. 48. Considerations / Take AwaysBy undertaking the process 5 times for my own websites, I have taken note of:• There might still be a “Sandbox effect” when launching a new domain• Not all rankings from the old website will transfer to the new• The old website might simply have been ranking to do some of the low-qualitylinks it had, so success is not guaranteed if there is no high quality links to re-launch with.• Showed that the panda issues of my past weren’t targeting onsite content, butmore focusing on the low-quality spun article content I was sourcing links from.Even though these didn’t necessarily get my website to recover from theAlgorithms, I highly recommend these are taken into consideration for anyfuture SEO campaigns:• Audit your link profile and seek to remove any low quality links• Going forward, Don’t source links from low quality sources(regardless of how Panda / Penguin proof the seller claims the links to be)• Don’t undertake any questionable onsite SEO tactics• Focus on website UX, engagement and develop quality content• Create social profiles, grow a fan base and engage with your followers• Develop a content marketing / link bait campaign to naturally acquire links to yourwebsite
    49. 49. Finally…’t do or paysomeone to do:C SEO
    50. 50. Thank You – Any Questions?
    51. 51. Follow Me••••••