How to get back the rankings after the penguin update

At the end of April 2012, Google has deployed a ranking update called “penguin”.  The penguin is eating a lot of fish from our site. The traffic of has decreased by 50% from one day to another. (Before this update we had about 200k visits per month, after the update we would be happy about 100k visits…) We have lost many good rankings at many keywords. According to figures of Sistrix, we have lost about 72% “visibility” in Google. (We are one of the main looser in Germany.)

We have done a lot of research on SEO sites and Twitter, talked to several SEO people. Probably there are three main reasons for this ranking disaster.

Read here our steps to get back the rankings after this ranking update.

First of all let’s have again a look at the possible reasons:

1. Article submissions in the year 2009

We have written six different articles about astrology and related topics in English. An agency from India has submitted the articles to 100 different “article websites”.  In these articles, exact keywords are linked to our site. (Service costs: $50 x 6 = $300)

We have almost forgotten these articles. I think they don’t have a big impact, but maybe they harm our rankings.

We are not able to remove these articles because we don’t have the username and password for the site. The agency from India is asking for $10.00 for each successful removal. (I think, about 300 articles are still active, so it could cost $3,000 (!!!).)

So, this is far too expensive for us. We are a little bit helpless at this issue.


It’s not necessary to remove them because Google is intelligent enough to recognize duplicate content. The entries will disappear from the scene over the years. Google has devaluated the articles, but has not penalized (!) them.

We will not stop using the “article submission” possibilities in Germany. We are using press release sites like newsaktuell, pressetext, APA OTS and so on.

2. Link building by “comment spam”.

We have done too many comments / links with exact keyword links – probably. But we have not received any warning in Google Webmaster Tools as others have reported.


The links have worked, but they have no power anymore. Google can’t penalize them (otherwise “negative SEO” would have an open door.) But we are not absolutely sure if there is nevertheless some kind of other penalty for the links and / or the anchor texts (keywords).

We have started to remove links which could be seen as “link spam”. If this will have an effect, we will see this in some weeks / months.

The best info so far about “unnatural link building” is a blog entry at seomoz by Modesto Siotos: How To Survive Google’s Unnatural Links Warnings & Avoid Over-optimisation

Rand Fishkin thoughts about negative SEO

3. Too much onpage optimizations

There were warnings by Matt Cutts (chief of Google’s webspam team) that too much onpage optimization could be penalized.

We have not done any bad things like cloaking or other stuff like that. But we have used our main keywords in a very concentrated way. We have overused them – probably.

I’ve created already a blog entry about that issue

Penguin action plan

We will never know for sure what has happened. We did not get any warning by Google.  A lot of SEO people are suggesting doing only little things in such a case is the best way. Otherwise there is a big risk that you ruin the site by drastic measures.

Well, the site is already ruined, so we can try drastic measures… ;-)

After penguin onpage optimization

We have removed low quality content: Our link directory (including about 900 do follow outbound links) and our event calendar (a lot of duplicate content). So we have about 2,000 pages less on our site. Advantages: No further support needed, people would not miss the content (very low page views), more space in the menu.

Removed menu SEO tweak: We are using the pull down menu from YUI2. To hide the links to the second level (and reducing the amount of links on a page) we were creating the second level menu by JavaScript. So, the first level was visible for Google, the second level wasn’t. At the moment, the second level is again visible. (By the way: Any tip for a good, fast, clean JavaScript pull down menu? I don’t like YUI anymore.)

We have restructured the content of the right column. Our editor is removing content from the right column which could harm the internal ranking (keyword over use).

I’ve removed any spare external JavaScript which slows down the page loading:

Twitter box: slow loading…

Wibiya toolbar: Such a nice toolbar, but they have too much success. It slowed down the page loading and has decreased the user experience. – Such a nice real time stats, but it slowed down the loading.

Alexa: Quit the premium account, removed JavaScript (maybe a bit to paranoid, but anyway…)

Moreover, I’ve minimized the html code, I’ve removed the whitespace.

Result: The page is loading faster again. Chrome is very fast (1-2 seconds), Firefox needs some more time, IE9 is faster. The user experience is better than before.

Articles are not linked by the exact keyword anymore.

Old, optimized style:

<h2>Aries (longer, descriptive title)</h2>
<p>short description of aries</p>

In that case the “aries” keyword in the description was linked to the article, not the headline.

Now we are back to “default”:

<h2><a href=”/Aries”>Title of the aries article</a></h2>

Editorial work:

We have reworked the content of the homepage, edited teaser texts and lot of stuff like that. We have reduced the amount of our keywords.

First results:

There seems to be a small traffic increase since yesterday. But it’s too early to say something detailed.



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