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Google Panda and Penguin Penalties – What We Know

Was your web site hit with a Google Panda or Penguin penalty? During the month of April, Google implemented several updates to its search algorithm that changed the way web pages are ranked in search engine result pages (SERPs). If you don’t know if your site was affected, do a search using common keywords that you expect your customers or clients to use to find your site and see whether it comes up where you expect it to. Hopefully you have some historic data that you can refer to.

Three of our own sites were hit. These sites previously showed up on the first or second page of Google search results. Now, we are unable to find them after searching through almost 600 results (60 pages)! Some users have reported receiving letters from Google about “unnatural links” to their sites. I think it’s farfetched to believe that Google actually sent letters to webmasters. For one thing, where would they mail them to? More likely they sent messages to the owners’ Google Webmaster Tools accounts. If you don’t have an account, you should definitely sign up for one; they are free.

If you didn’t receive a warning from Google, are you OK? Well, no. We never got any warnings. Our sites just disappeared from Google organic search results overnight. Most of the damage is reported to have taken place on April 24th so you should check your site analytics or traffic reports around that date.

What’s it all about? Basically, if Google thinks you have too many low quality links to your site, they will demote it or even (in extreme cases) de-index it. Our sites are still indexed but they don’t show up in search results anymore. How did this happen? We started out by submitting our sites to many popular local search sites, like Biznik, Merchant Circle, Yahoo, and Yelp, and some specialized directories that pertain to the particular industries these businesses are in. But this is a very long and time consuming process, as you may be aware if you have done it yourself. So after we had done about 30 of these submissions, we sought help.

A company called Majon International (www.majon.com) sent us an email solicitation for their Web Directory Submission program (details here). Majon.com is a Google Page Rank 6 site and is accredited by the Better Business Bureau, so we felt that what they were doing would help our sites and would be in compliance with Google’s policies. We had two of our sites submitted to more than 500 directories over about a 5 month period. Majon did the work as promised, and for awhile, these sites did improve in search rankings. That is, until the April updates took place.

When I looked into what Majon had done, I discovered a disturbing trend. These web directories were all Page Rank Zero or unranked sites. The sole purpose for their existence is apparently to manipulate Google and other search engine rankings. They are not useful for finding any information. Unfortunately, the damage had been done. We now had more than 500 undesirable links pointing to each of our sites.

When I contacted Majon to discuss having these links removed, at first they gave me a story about how there was nothing wrong with these links and how they are not the problem, etc. Considering that Majon International bills themselves as SEO experts, one would think they would be more aware of recent developments in the search engine optimization industry. After further discussion, they told me that they just submit the links and they have no way to get them removed. Great!

What do you do to get rid of bad links? Well, it is a difficult and time consuming process. A few SEO companies are starting to offer this service at $1,000 per site and up. If you want to do it yourself, your first task is to identify all of the sites the links are coming from and precisely which pages they are on. Then you need to find out how to contact each of those sites and send them a polite email message asking them to remove the links.

So far, what we have found is that:

  • In many cases, finding and contacting the responsible person will be difficult or impossible.
  • When you contact them, in many cases your message will be ignored or returned as undeliverable.
  • In some cases you will get a reply asking for payment in order to have the links removed.
  • In a very small number of cases you will get a polite response from the site owner saying that the links have been removed or that they will be. So far we found this happened in only two cases, but they owned multiple directories so getting them removed was helpful.

What this means is that:

  • Google is definitely penalizing sites that have low quality backlinks from questionable or low page ranked sites.
  • Definitely DO NOT submit your site to any low quality directories or hire someone to do it for you, regardless of any clams they might make about how it will improve your ranking. It definitely will NOT improve your ranking and will most likely hurt you badly!
  • If you have bad backlinks, you will either have to try to get them removed yourself or hire someone to do it. Either way it is going to be a very expensive and difficult process, and it will take time.

There are a lot of people out there who claim to be SEO “Experts”. There are actually very few true experts and most of the ones that claim to be are not, so beware! And anyone who claims to know how the Google (or any other search engine) algorithm operates is untruthful. All we know is what we can observe by testing how Google responds to certain experiments. Because there are many factors involved in how their algorithm works, these experiments are speculative at best and are inconclusive in many cases.

In a future post, I will comment on the effects of the April Google search updates and share my own observations about it. Meanwhile, good luck getting your site back to where it belongs!

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