Where Did My Google Traffic Go?

If you are one of the likely thousands (millions?) of website owners that checked their analytics reports late last week and found that your organic search referrals from Google had taken a nose-dive, you have likely been affected by Google’s “Penguin 2.0 update”.

In a nutshell, this is a major update to Google’s ranking algorithms, whereby they are attempting to improve the quality of their search results by looking more deeply into the backlinks of a website.

Last year, when Google launched its first “Penguin update”, it was their first attempt to focus on spammy linking tactics. Penguin 1.0, as it was called, focused only on the backlinks to a website’s homepage. If the new algorithm determined that there were too many manipulative backlinks to the homepage, that site’s rankings dropped. Here are some examples of some link building tactics that might be considered manipulative:

  • Paid text links that used exact match anchor text
  • Article marketing websites that existed mainly for the purposes of link building
  • Blog commenting spam
  • Links from dangerous websites
  • Or too much exact match anchor text in general

Now, Google has begun looking at backlinks to the entire site. Therefore, if you used some of the tactics above, but the majority of those manipulative backlinks pointed to internal pages of your site, you may have survived last year’s Penguin update. However, with Penguin 2.0, you may be looking at a rankings drop.

Keep in mind that – although these algorithm updates are an attempt by Google to penalize webmasters who use “black hat” or “spammy” link building tactics – it will end up hurting sites that aren’t spammy or black hat at all. For example:

Let’s say your company is named “Company X”, and you manufacture “red widgets”. Your website is fantastic, and it adheres to all of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. But, you’re competing with many other manufacturers of red widgets, and over the years, you’ve used the following tactics to build links:

  • You submitted a large number of articles about “red widgets” to many of the biggest article marketing websites (ezinearticles.com, articlebase.com, etc), which is not considered a spammy link building activity at all. However, you used “red widgets”, “small red widgets”, “extra large red widgets”, etc, as the anchor text for most of the links in those articles, and those links pointed back to your website’s pages.
  • Since you had many dealers that sold your products, you decided at one point to require every dealer to link back to your website using the phrase “red widgets”.
  • You also built many completely legitimate links from places such as your local Chamber of Commerce, press releases, local directories, etc. Many of those links used your company name as the link anchor text, but some used “red widgets” (especially the press releases).

Now, because a certain percentage of the total number of backlinks to your website used what Google now considers “manipulative” or “commercial” anchor text, your site has suffered a rankings penalty.

So what can you do? Penguin 2.0 is an algorithmic update, not a manual penalty. If you didn’t receive a notice of “unnatural links” in your Google Webmaster Tools account, you basically have 2 choices.

  1. First – and obviously the most drastic option – you can start over with a new domain name and website. We would not recommend this unless you have suffered a very significant rankings loss. But if your site previously ranked in the top-10 for many of your target keyword phrases, and not you’re nowhere to be found in the top-100, this may be the best option.
  2. Two, you can start trying to “clean up” your backlink profile. This requires a full analysis of the backlinks to all of the pages on your website. Any links from low-quality sites should be removed if possible, and you should also attempt to lower the percentage of “good links” that use exact-match anchor text by change the linked text to be your company name.

Once this cleanup process has been completed, it won’t likely result in immediate restoration of previous rankings. It will likely be a matter of playing the waiting game, and – unfortunately – no one except Google knows what that timeframe is. However, if you don’t currently have a process for building new high quality backlinks, that should definitely be a priority moving forward.

Effect Web Agency has a process for auditing your backlink profile. We can investigate and provide you with a full report of the problems we find and clear action steps on what to do about it. If you need this kind of help, please contact us with the form on the right.

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