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Have you noticed a drop in your website’s organic rankings? Have you felt a significant decrease in organic web traffic and leads? Whether you’re actively investing in SEO or not, it’s possible that your site has been penalized by Google’s Penguin 3.0 update. Before we help you determine if your site has been hit by Penguin, let’s first review what exactly Penguin is.
History of Google Penguin Updates
Google’s Penguin updates have been panic-inducing for webmasters and SEO managers around the world since its creation in 2012. While Penguin 3.0 rolled out last Friday, here’s a history of the major (and announced) Penguin updates over time:
- Google Penguin 3.0 on October 17, 2014
- Google Penguin 2.1 on October 4, 2013
- Google Penguin 2.0 on May 22, 2013
- Google Penguin 1.2 on October 5, 2012
- Google Penguin 1.1 on May 24, 2012
- Google Penguin 1.0 on April 24, 2012
With each update, Google’s algorithm gets more fine-tuned for catching websites attempting to manipulate search rankings with unnatural link profiles. Because the algorithm continues to become stricter for what it will consider a natural link profile, more websites are penalized each time a big update drops.
If you think you’ve been hit by Penguin 3.0, use these simple checks to determine if your website really is penalized. At Blue Corona, we’ve helped a number of clients get their Penguin penalties (read: unnatural link penalties) lifted. If you think you’ve been penalized and you want that penalty removed as fast as possible (of course you do—search traffic is likely a huge source of traffic and business to your site!!), contact us today.
Drop in Organic Website Visits
If you have Google Analytics set up correctly on your website, you can tell if there is a sudden drop in organic traffic. Google algorithmic updates that lead to penalties impact organic rankings, and thus organic traffic. When analyzing whether you’ve been hit by Penguin 3.0, use Google Analytics to determine the different sources sending organic traffic to your site.
Be sure to look at your organic traffic historically (is there a drop in traffic because you never have many users on your site on a Saturday or because the Penguin penalty rolled out on a Friday and you were hit?) and for any normal organic trends that you see. With that, you’ll find anything out of the ordinary that could indicate you’ve been hit by Penguin 3.0.
In Google Analytics, you can also check if other sources of traffic have dropped as drastically as Google organic. A Penguin 3.0 penalty won’t impact the number of users from traffic sources such as CPC (pay-per-click), direct (“(none)”), or referral.
How to Check Organic Website Visits
When you’re in your Google Analytics profile, go to Acquisition > Keywords > Organic. This shows all your organic traffic (from Google, Bing, and Yahoo). To filter the results to only show Google results (remember, it’s Google’s penalty), set your Primary Dimension to Source and click “google” in the table (likely in spot #1). You’re now looking at only Google organic traffic to your website. The traffic showing in Analytics can be a few hours delayed (since it has to be processed and tagged by Google), but you can look and see if you’ve had a huge dip in traffic in the last week, month, year, etc. by changing the date range settings.
Drop in SERP Impressions
If your visits have dropped off, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve been penalized. It could be that other webpages are beating you in search rankings (they’re better optimized and more users are clicking on links pages found in the SERPs—or search engine results pages—other than your website). To truly find if you’ve been booted from Google’s search rankings, check Google Webmaster Tools for a drop in impressions. (To first do this, make sure you have a Google Webmaster Tools account set up with your website!).
An impression is each time a link to your website is shown on a search result page. If you rank #2 for “Chicago HVAC company” and one user searches for that, regardless of whether or not that user clicks on the second link to your site, it counts as one impression. If your Chicago area HVAC company gets penalized by Penguin 3.0, you’ll likely drop many of your rankings (even branded rankings for searches of your specific name) and you’d see a huge drop in impressions in Google Webmaster Tools.
How to Check Impressions in Google Webmaster Tools
In your Google Webmaster Tools profile, the middle box of the home page is called “Search Queries”. Click on that and look at the blue line (this is Impressions). You can also get to this by going to Search Traffic > Search Queries in the left side navigation. Within this page of Google Webmaster Tools, you can change the date range. If your site has been hit by a penalty, you’ll see a drastic change in impressions on one day. You can look at the number of impressions to your site for the week before Penguin rolled out and compare it to the number of impressions for the week after Penguin possibly penalized your site. If penalized, it will be clear that suddenly Google is no longer ranking your site for keywords that users would normally use to find you (i.e. they found you for a number of searches pre-Penguin 3.0, and you’re not getting those same impressions post-Penguin 3.0).
Search Volume & Seasonality
The one caveat to the last statement is that impressions may have dropped due to a lack in search volume. If you are in a very seasonable industry, your search impressions will likely drop when that season is over because no Google users are searching for it any more. For example, imagine you own a pool cleaning business in Minnesota. Starting in October or November (when the temperatures begin to dip into the “frigid range”), very few people in your service area will be searching for pool cleaning. You can check with Google Trends Tool to determine historical seasonality for a vast number of popular search terms.
How to Check for Search Seasonality
In the Google Trends Tool, search a common, broad level keyword for a service that you over. You can see search interest over time (dating back to 2004). When I search the term “furnace repair” in the Trends tool bar, I see a huge dip in the middle of every year (as I would expect since few homeowners need furnace repair in the summer). If you see a huge drop in search traffic/interest for these terms now and historically during this time of year, you might not have a Penguin 3.0 issue but rather a seasonality issue.
Traffic from Google Search Networks vs. Non-Google Search Networks
I mentioned earlier to keep in mind that the algorithmic update is from Google—meaning that Bing (and Yahoo, and many other smaller search engines) search traffic shouldn’t change in the drastic manner that Google’s and their search network do. You can easily check this in Google Analytics (because it still tracks traffic to your site from other organic sources).
First, let’s review which search engines are powered by Google and which are not.
Google Search Network:
- AOL (enhanced by Google)
- AVG (powered by Google)
- Comcast (enhanced by Google)
Other Search Networks (Non-Google Search Networks):
- Bing (independent)
- Yahoo! (powered by Bing)
- Ask (powered by Ask)
- DuckDuckGo (powered by a handful of different engines, including Bing and Yandex)
- Yandex (independent)
When looking at organic traffic from Google Search Network vs. Non-Google Search Network, you’ll want to compare percentage share of sessions for each source rather than the number of sessions from each source. Looking week over week, you might see that traditionally Google provides 84% of your organic traffic and Bing provides 8%. When you’re hit by Penguin 3.0 and almost all of your Google organic traffic goes away, the Bing percentage share should skyrocket.
How to Check for a Difference in Traffic from Google Search Network vs. Non-Google Search Networks
We taught you earlier in this blog post how to look at organic search volume. As a refresher, Go to Acquisition > Keywords > Organic and set your Primary dimension to Source. This will show you for the timeline you’re looking at as a whole, how much Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. make up of your organic search traffic. If you want to look at it as percentage share over time, you can create a new Segment. To do this, click “Add Segment” above the graph. You’ll then create a new segment by clicking the red New Segment Button, going to Traffic Sources, and typing in “google” for the Source Contains row. Add more source contains + google search network search engines (i.e. AOL, AVG, etc.). This will be a segment that shows Google Search Network traffic. You can repeat this to create a new segment for just Non-Google Search Network traffic (start with Bing and Yahoo)—be sure to name them so you can quickly use these again!
Then look at your year over year traffic for each, Google Search Network’s advanced segment and Non-Google Search Network’s advanced separate individually. See how Google’s 2014 traffic dips compared to the historic data from 2013:
But the Non-Google Search Network’s 2014 traffic stays relatively flat during the same time period comparison:
Keeping Up With Google’s Algorithms
Google changes their algorithm on a frequent basis (our team has kept up with Google algorithm changes called Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, Pigeon, and much, much more—although they aren’t all animals). The best way to future proof your SEO efforts and avoid having your site penalized is to adopt a content-centric approach to SEO. An ethical SEO strategy is as simple as this: Establish and promote your company as THE authority for what you do in the markets you do it by creating and promoting content that is of genuine value to your prospective customers.
Focus not on short-term rankings and SEO tricks, but instead build a trusted brand—online and off. Fight the temptation to rely exclusively on organic search as your only source of leads and sales. Savvy marketers are always testing new marketing strategies so that they have four to five concurrent, profitable lead generation sources.
If you think your website has been penalized and you’d like help fixing it, check out our Google Penalty Recovery Services or contact one of our SEO experts today!
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About The Author: Hannah is the SEO Team Lead at Blue Corona. If she's not busy daydreaming about the training session for her team, you can find her improving client conversion rates and planning her next trip.
View more blogs by Hannah Nelson