A Website Comeback Story: Recovering after Google Panda/Penguin Updates

Many websites were hit early in 2012 when Google released their infamous Panda and Penguin updates. Sites that had been ranking high for years in Google search results suddenly experienced big drops in organic traffic.  Our firm, Coordinated SEO LLC, took on a project to turn around an impacted website that been at the top of the industry search results for monied terms. The damage was well done before our firm was contact in June.  From April through August, 2012, the owner estimates he lost about $150,000 in revenue as a result of these changes to the Google algorithm. As of September, 2012, his online revenue had returned to normal and he has declared his business recovered, and agreed to let us share a few of the details with you (absent his name, of course).

We started this project in late May. Our first action was to analyze his traffic history and try to understand if it really was the changes at Google that were impacting this client.  No manual penalties had been assessed on the site.  Mapping his traffic patterns to Google algorithm updates produced this chart:

Recovering from Panda/ Penguin. Case study
Impact of Panda and Penguin updates on a client site.

A deep dive into the site revealed important facts about his problem:

  • It had not been optimized for search engines
  • Much of the content on the site was aged, and some had not been updated in 3 years.
  • There were many HTML errors. Few pages were W3C compliant.
  • The site was below its peers for speed and reaction time
  • Internal linking was inefficient
  • There were issues with duplicate descriptions and evidence of keyword stuffing
  • The owner had previously hired a service to  place links in some free web directories
  • We had found duplicate content issues as the owner had copied text rom his web page and made it available through free article sites
  • The site had clearly been the target of negative SEO, with some disgusting anchor text pointing to the site from very bad neighborhoods.

Because the business was burning cash very badly, we needed to fight this battle on multiple fronts simultaneously. The first thing we did was to go through the site and fix the html errors and bad links. We also went through every page and created unique descriptions for all pages and images. These were the “low hanging fruit” things we could do. It was done within a week.

Next we engaged the broader project to refresh and improve more than 500 pages of content on the site.  Because of duplicate content issues on article sites, and because the content was aged, we hired a writer who worked with us to professionally rewrite the content and add in new product features and expand other content.  We replaced or renamed many of the images in the site.

In the process of improving content, we learned that the owner had many very similar pages on the site. This occurred while the optimizing the site for Google adwords landing pages.  We resolved this duplicate content issue by applying Canonical tags to the pages, and for good measure we applied Canonical tags through the site.

We spent some time to identify bad links pointing to the site, even though Google had not manually penalized the site. We wanted to be proactive on the bad links.  Because it was more efficient cost wise, we hired a person in the Philippines that we had previously worked with successfully on other projects and gave him with strict instructions about how to contact site owners.  We wrote his email communication and gave him a schedule to execute over 3 months. Out of the 2,000 links we attempted to have removed, we were successful in removing only about 150. Many of the sites we contacted asked for money to remove the links, but most simply ignored our requests.  With Google’s promise of a forthcoming “disavow” tool, we catalogued our link removal activities in a spreadsheet for future use in this tool, and also to proactively defend ourselves if a manual action should be levied against the site in the future.

Because this client depended so heavily on SEO for the traffic to his site, we also took some action on two fronts to mitigate the damage of future algorithm changes.

First, we worked to improve his Google adwords traffic by analyzing his account. This was a large project that involved creating many new ad groups, discovering new keywords, and abandoning words that were not productive. We also worked to improve conversion tracking so that we would have a better sense of what was working as we moved forward.

Second, we implemented a parallel content marketing strategy to build out a series of very specific niche websites with unique content and unique domains hosted at unique locations with unique IP addresses.  Because of some constraints on the main html website, the niche site strategy was embraced using sites at WordPress.com, Blogger.com, and hosted sites using WordPress software.

These micro-sites are focused on  very specific problems that the client’s software products solves. For each problem we wrote a 500-1000 word article complete with images and sometimes a short how-to video. About 30 articles were posted at intervals to each of these sites over a three month period, and now are posted at a rate of about two articles per month. Google has responded wonderfully to this strategy, and these micro-sites now send bring in hundreds of organic users each day on a wide variety of relevant long tail keywords.

Lastly, we undertook a link building strategy to try and improve inbound links. We analyzed the links of the client’s competitors and in some cases we were able to also gain links for the client’s site.  Our overriding priority while pursuing a link was to gain qualified traffic for the client’s site. In other words, we did not pursue page rank or any other goal, and we did not pay for links; our main strategy was to position his site in articles and in places were people may be found who were likely to be interested in his products.  In many cases, these “no-follow” links that presumably do not pass page rank. As our goal was not to gain page rank manipulation, but traffic, we were able to be razor focused on this effort.  With Google’s page rank update  in November 2012, his site did indeed rise from a PR3 to a PR4, although it was not our goal.

By September 2012, our client’s site had improved nicely.  Although the site has not yet recovered fully to the #1 position on the search results page (SERP), he is a very strong #2 most days.  In addition, some of the micro-sites we built are also on the front page, some in #1, others in #3 or  #4 positions for a wide range of long tail terms, and they are sending traffic that is converting.

This case study shows the importance of working your SEO efforts across multiple coordinated fronts. Coordinated SEO is a boutique shop. We work very closely with our clients to understand their business and their very specific needs.  We focus on the long term. Whether you are trying to improve your current site or you are planning an online strategy for your business, we invite you to contact us to discuss our project.  Call Darren at 1-651-815-4902 x703, or visit CoordinatedSEO.com for more details.