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Surviving Google’s Penguin Update
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It was only a couple months or so back that we had Panda, now there’s Penguin (read all about it)… Google’s increasingly clamping down on sites that they believe are higher up the rankings than they really should be, and Penguin certainly won’t be the last update in that regard.

I’ve had a few inquiries asking what it all means, specifically in relation to article marketing activities, and so now that the dust has settled a bit I wanted to put together a post that gives my own thoughts on the latest updates…

All Part Of A Trend …

First of all it should be noted Google’s algorithms are constantly being updated … even after the so-called Panda update, there were several post-Panda tweaks and updates going on.

The more obvious updates, where a high number of sites suddenly find the positions have changed a lot, get a name so people can refer to it and so Google can reference it in any communications as well as internally … but their algorithm updates are going on continually.

Before looking at Penguin specifically, it’s important to look at the overall long-term trend … the trend is and always has been that Google wants to put the sites that offer the best quality experience related to a particular search term at the top of their listings for that search term.

That’s how they get and retain their own users, and Panda, Penguin – perhaps next we’ll have Piranha or Peacock – and all the other updates are just one more step along that road as their algorithms get increasingly sophisticated.

So if you have a site that’s relatively poor in terms of the content and experience offered to users, even though you might be able to game the search engines for a while using whatever technique Guru A says works right now and get a decent listing at least temporarily, it’s a poor long-term strategy and it’s going to come back and bite you where it hurts.

Doing It Google-Safe …

If you read my report on how to attract long-term targeted traffic through article marketing (if not, it’s available below) that’s now been around for several months, you’ll see it talks a lot about building up quality content and value on your own site, as well as then leveraging that content by distributing it elsewhere (preferably after getting it rewritten to ensure the content on your own site stays unique and doesn’t end up being mistaken as a duplicate of content available elsewhere).

This way you get prime value out of your own content first before you then share that value with other sites, and get some value pointed right back at you through links.

Generally speaking, in terms of focus, your focus should be on the end user of your content – so articles should primarily be written for the reader, not the search engines, and the same goes for the content on your own site. You can then optimize those articles and other content so it works well in the search engines … but not at the expense of the user experience (so think things like keyword stuffing, poor quality spinning with little regard for the end user, and so on).

If on the other hand your main focus is on gaming the search engines, for example trying to get articles written as cheaply as possible with the sole intention of getting a ton of backlinks, and then text spinning any sense right out of them, and forgetting about building a valuable user experience on your site once visitors arrive, then … good luck with that, but don’t expect any ‘good’ results you may see initially, if any, to last long.

Strong Foundations For Lasting Success …

Yes, it costs more, in time and money, in the short-term, doing it the right way, but you’re investing in the future success of your site by building a site that deserves a top ranking – and you are in control of what you are paying and when. You are building your site on rock, and you are in control.

Doing it the other way – akin to the ‘get rich quick’ mentality – might save a few bucks short-term and might seem the ‘quick ‘n’ easy’ approach, but you’ll still pay long-term, only it will be Google deciding where and when. You are building your site on sand, and Google’s in control.

The Importance Of A Varied Link Profile

By the way, diversifying your inbound links and building a varied link profile is also becoming increasingly important as part of building up strong foundations for your website. So having all your links from one type of site – eg. links just from article directories – is going to look increasingly iffy. Even more so when you end up with far more incoming links to your site than the content or value on your site really justifiies.

Here at, we certainly distribute to article directories, and there’s nothing wrong with continuing to do so, but users end up with their articles on other sites too, such as relevant blogs, and via our email publisher list through which articles can end up on all manner of sites.

By the way, the blogs in our network are not ‘blog network’-type blogs, where thousands of blogs have been artificially created just to point links back to users sites, and which have been significantly hit by Google’s algorithm updates – the ones we submit to are real blogs added by real site owners (not blogs created artificially for link spam), where the site owner just wants some supplementary content, little different to them selecting the odd article from an article directory and sticking it in as a new post.

As well as having different types of sites linking to you, a varied link profile also relates to the type of links you have, so:

  • Whether they are anchor text links (linking specific keywords back to your site); or
  • Straightforward URL links (i.e. a hyperlinked URL)

As well as:

  • The text you use in your anchor text links; and
  • The pages on your site you are linking back to (eg. are all your backlinks pointing to your home page, or are you building up links to other pages on your site?).

The more varied you can make your link profile, the better, and I generally recommend to do the following:

  • Use a good variety of keywords to link back to your site with;
  • Link back using your straight domain (i.e. link to your site using as the anchor text as well); and
  • Freely link back to a good number of pages on your site. Never get too heavy, for example linking back only to your main page using a small set of keywords, that’s now quite a dangerous game

Building Link Diversity

So you can certainly get link diversity through and it should be an essential part of any link building strategy – but I’d strongly encourage a wider strategy to supplement it. You should be looking at the following too:

  • Building up the quality of your own site, i.e. the value you offer to users, means:
    • People will start linking to you quite naturally … really the best type of links you can get
    • You have a lot more to link back to on your site from your backlinking activities – it’s a bit restrictive if you can only link back to your main page, your privacy policy and your contact us page! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the easiest way is to add a WordPress blog to your site. Relatively easy to set up, and easy to use in continually adding value to your site.
  • Build up links through press releases too – one thing I’m currently doing is to further leverage existing articles by adapting them to press release style, and then releasing them as press releases
  • Start doing videos regularly – you can base videos on previous articles too, submit them to video sites, and get backlinks there too (as well as then add those same videos to your site for further value-build)

Above all else, the most important one by far is to concentrate on building up the quality of your site so users have a great experience when they come visit – everything else should start from there.

SEO activity should supplement and build on that, it should not be a replacement or substitute for your lack of a decent website, i.e. one that offers a good user experience and encourages them to stick around and return.

And when you are adding content to your site on a regular basis with the aim of building the value of your web property long-term, your distributed articles simply leverage the content you are adding to your site on a regular basis anyway.

Think about this … is your site worthy of a top-ten placement on Google? No, really? If not, formulating a strategy to make it so should be your #1 priority.

Specifically, Penguin …

As stated earlier, the dust is still settling with regard to Google’s Penguin update … and the update itself is continually being tweaked … but my impression is that Google’s engineers were looking at:

  • The ratio between the value of content on the site itself (i.e. the value the site offers to the visitor) and the number and type of links that are incoming to it
  • Whether the site itself is overly optimized (so created more for search engines than real visitors)
  • Whether the content of pages linking to it are also overly optimized (eg. keyword stuffed articles, or articles written more to game the search engines than to give any real value)

Again, this is all part of a continuing trend … for example, looking at over-optimized websites is something they’ve been doing for years, back to when meta tags were basically it in terms of SEO for a while …

But overall, if a site has a ton of links out there, and has fairly minimal content or value to offer to the visitor, and perhaps the content that does exist has been created more for search engines than to create a valuable user experience, then the amount of external SEO seems a little out of proportion and gives more indication that those links have been created somewhat artificially, as well as indicating the SEO is overly aggressive … and the internal SEO too all makes the site seem a little ‘spammy’.

While we’ve had a very small minority of people (literally a handful) requesting their articles be removed from our article directory – along with no doubt thousands of other article directories and other web sites – courtesy of a Google Penguin notification, the vast majority of users appear unaffected, and there’s certainly no direct cause-effect relationship between article marketing and Penguin. It’s webspam that Penguin, and other updates, is aimed at, and while some sites were no doubt incorrectly ‘caught’, distributing quality content to other websites and building up the value of the information available online isn’t spam. Content syndication is at the very root of the web.

Final Thoughts …

I believe if people really focus on building value for readers/visitors through their articles and the content they provide on their websites, and stay away from anything that they’re doing that has the sole intention of attempting to game the search engines, they won’t go too far wrong.

SEO should be a nice side effect of what they’re doing, but not the sole intention. For example, distributing articles has the nice effect of often helping SEO, but it’s also a great way to spread the word about a site to other websites and get traffic and publicity from the articles themselves rather than a sole focus on SEO benefits. Hence again, the quality of the article is key.

In contrast, forgetting about the need to offer a good user experience on your site, and just getting articles written as cheaply as possible and then distributed just to get keyword links back, even when the articles are barely readable and offer no value to anyone – and even spinning them into unpublishable nonsense – is in the end, going to come unstuck.

Grab my pick up my free sustainable traffic report for lots of info on how to build proper foundations for your site in a Google-safe way. Play with Google, don’t fight ‘em.

NOTE: Please be aware this content may now be outdated. For the latest quality content on how to build massive publicity for your website, please go to The vWriter Blog - Helping Businesses Grow Traffic, Build Engagement, and "Be Everywhere"

18 Responses to “Surviving Google’s Penguin Update”

  1. Chikara says:

    Very nice post. I agree with a lot of your sentiments. It really is strange how Google uses the most harmless looking animals to represent these gut-wrenching updates. I think ‘Google Boa Constrictor Update’ would be more appropriate :)

  2. kory says:

    I have 3 blogs on Google’s Blogspot ,the purpose of which is to direct traffic to 3 different websites of mine.
    Should I be hosting these blogs directly on my website, not bothering with Google anymore ?

  3. keithkay says:

    I’ve always used article marketing as a way to distribute my content. SEO’s always been a bit of an after-thought. That said, I got nailed by Penguin and I think a lot of it has to do with article distribution, especially the anchor text (I rotate URLs so I don’t think this is the culprit). I’m varying AT like a madman but I’m seriously pondering/reassessing article marketing’s viability as we go post-Penguin.

    Like to hear more about how you convert articles to press releases and where you submit. I’ve tried this and it’s painful and expensive.

    Video – Can you be more specific about your approach. Are you simply taking an article, making slides and creating a video? Please expand.

    Thanks for the great post.


  4. keithkay says:

    I wanted to add that it would be great if SYA got involved in link profiling (videos, social sites, PR, etc.). For Gold Members, the articles are already highly spun so it would be logical next step for SYA to continue to push the articles into different spaces. I think article marketing needs to evolve, especially in light of Penguin.

    Thanks again – KK

  5. eric roberts says:

    hi Steve i live near you here in Yorkshire, i would like to say that i have been caught out by recently joining linkmonster, thinking that it was a legitimate site that helps small businesses like my own business compete with the big companies in my niche. But i have been penalised, where do people like me go from here!, there must be millions of us out there who have suffered out of innocence, i also run my blog and think that i perhaps should just stick to that for the time being. Thanks for setting the problem out in an understandable way, i always read your articles. thanks eric roberts

  6. Hello Steve.
    My site was virtually destroyed by penguin whereas all the other updates had given me increased rankings. I have NEVER done the spammy things. My content is all good, original content written for people. I truly slave over my content. I never bought spammy links. As I read more and more about penguin, it seems clear that I am not the only white hat person who was destroyed for no obvious reason. Maybe I did some thing inadvertently but it seems like they have screwed up this time. I am a one-person business and I have worked really hard building my blog over the past 4 years, providing tons of great, free content. They squashed me like a bug. I feel ruined and there is not even a telephone number for me to call and find out why. Google is grotesquely arrogant and waaaaay too powerful. They should at least have better customer service.

  7. Some great info, nice post. I came across this while researching whether or not to remove the half dozen or so articles we have submitted on a handful of sites. Thanks for the info!

  8. Sheila says:

    I understand what Google is doing, to some extent, but they seem to be hurting a lot of good sites from things I’ve been reading. It has become so confusing that it makes it almost impossible to figure out. But you’re point is right on. Concentrate on building a great site, with valuable content, and hopefully it will win in the end.

  9. Gail Dobson says:

    I have lost and eight year old authority site which had a lot of natural links, not much anchor text and has been at the top of the search engines for around six years.

    There is no logic to this update.

    PS Love the Boa Constrictor LOL!

  10. Olan says:

    Yep. The days of content only sites are gone. I believe that multimedia sites are the future. Google with learn how to determine if the videos are jibberish as well. Good article!

  11. Ran says:


    I think ‘Panda’ was not the right term. It should be called Google Tsunami. And this latest one probably should be called Google Super Tsunami. Poor Panda and Penguin, both are cute and seem harmless animals. Now, many innocent bloggers out there might have nightmares about those two :P

  12. susie says:

    i guess everybody whose sites disappeared overnight stil in shock with the current penguin updates.but what is google doing is very appropriate.there are just too many sites with poor content appeared on 1st n 2nd pages. At the end of the day it’s all about users experience. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Steve Shaw says:

    Hi Kory,

    It’s always best to host your sites on your own server. Unfortunately that won’t take Google out of the equation. They’re still the #1 search engine in the world, so you’ll have to deal with them there :)

  14. Steve Shaw says:

    @keithkay: Hi Keith,

    I just take the article and re-write it in the third person, making it sound more “newsy” and appropriate for a press release. Then I submit it to–there are lots of other press release sites though.

    For the videos based on the articles, it’s a process. I take the article, and read it (or hire someone to read it). Once the audio is created, then I outsource the creation of the video. The video person takes the audio and creates the video, based on the content of the article. Yes, it’s taking an article, making slides for the video.

  15. mary says:

    I love to read sites with variying content. Is there is a way to differentiate the ‘all tec’ or ‘all one subject’ sites from those with mixed content?

  16. I saw it mentioned earlier that the user experience was what mattered and that Google was doing the right thing, BUT, what about the searches that are returning 3 year old blank pages? That is not a good user experience is it? In some ways it has done good but in others, it seems to favor the corporate big dogs.

  17. Anna says:

    I had heard that the backlinks do not give much weight towards SEO like they used to. That is, there is a lot of effort putting good articles together for not much SEO ranking. We do not rely on article readers as they are not from our local area, but we do rely on ranking. So I either spend the time on articles or spend the time on social marketing, press releases and local directories. What are your results with ranking in recent times?

  18. Steve Shaw says:

    @Anna: Hi Anna,

    Thanks for getting in touch. You may have heard various reports that Google’s algorithm changes have affected the effectiveness of various types of online marketing tools.

    With the dust settling from all the SEO changes in 2012, we’re continuing to see strong results from article marketing, and article marketing is even beginning to enjoy a resurgence now that the ‘garbage’ writers have largely been discouraged and left the way clear for those producing quality content.

    (Please see the update at the end of the post above for feedback from one of our long-term clients, who serves multiple SEO clients in multiple niches.)

    Here are two things to focus on in order to make article marketing work for you:

    1 – Ensure your content is high quality, gives real value to your readership, and is in line with what potential publishers in your niche may be looking for.

    2 – Give your content as wide a distribution as possible to a quality and diverse distribution network such as that provided by – rather than say just a handful of article directories.

    If you’re unsure where to get started, I’d strongly advise you pick up my free sustainable traffic report in the P.S. at the end of the post above.

    Anna, as always, article marketing is one element of a comprehensive online marketing campaign, albeit an important one. Here are some other important tips for creating a well integrated online marketing campaign that involves combining your article marketing efforts with press releases, videos, etc.

    I hope that helps!

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