Case Study: Recovery From a 98-Point Google Rank Drop After Penguin 2.0

Google changed the search landscape significantly in 2013 with a series of ranking and algorithm updates that scrambled some results. One of the biggest updates was Penguin 2.0, a May release that penalized sites deemed to have too many inbound links from low quality sites.

Among the sites hit hard by Penguin 2.0 was a client of Innate Agency; here’s how we helped this international company recover from the unexpected blow.

The Situation

After ranking #1 for its most important, highest revenue generating non-branded keyword for over a year, the client woke up one morning in May to a stomach-churning discovery: their site had dropped 98 spots, down to page 11.

Organic traffic immediately spiraled downward in response; the site was practically invisible in search.

Actions Taken

Phase 1: Remediation

We immediately moved into remediation mode. First we conducted a high level technical SEO audit to ensure that nothing structurally was preventing the site from being indexed properly. Once we established that the site was being indexed, we moved into an evaluation of what was impacting ranking.

Knowing that Penguin 2.0 had rolled out earlier in the month, our next focus was on the inbound link profile. Using tools like Ahrefs.com and Webmaster Tools, we pulled spreadsheets of every link to the site and began reviewing them, one by one.

Questionable links were reviewed with the client; some turned out to be affiliate partners. From the list of clearly toxic links—poor quality directory sites, spam blogs with gibberish text posts, cloaked redirects and more—we contacted each site owner to request removal and assembled a comprehensive disavowal file.

We kept a comprehensive list of links, contacts and removal request dates in a Google Drive spreadsheet as we worked.

After submitting the disavowal, we followed up with a reconsideration request, an option that was still available then in Webmaster Tools for all sites (now this option is restricted to those with a manual action applied). As part of the reconsideration, we provided a link to the spreadsheet in Google Drive to supply evidence of our efforts to have links removed.

Phase 2: Ongoing Recovery

With this immediate remediation completed, we moved to longer term, on-site efforts. One of our most significant steps was to conduct an audit of all content on the site and prioritize pages by importance to search and revenue, using such factors as number and quality of inbound links, page strength, current rank for most important keyword and conversion rate of the page.

We then re-optimized the highest priority pages, rewriting content, consolidating competing content, and creating new content as needed.

This focused the value from the remaining quality links into the pages that were most important to us in search.

In addition to these improvements, we also recommended changes to the HTML of the site templates to better position H1 and H2 title tags so they would receive the maximum SEO impact possible.

Results

Four months later—60 days of remediation and 60 days of site and content optimization later—the site returned to visibility, first hitting Page 2, then returning to the Top 10.

With the additional significant changes to the Google ranking landscape in the meantime, from the loss of organic keyword data to the introduction of the Hummingbird semantic search algorithm, Page 1 for our major keyword looks a lot different than it did earlier this year.

Competitors that held their rank post-Penguin began to fall and general volatility within the system increased. Since the release of Penguin 2.0, the composition of Page 1 results has varied consistently.

Moving Forward

2014 is a new year that is sure to bring new changes to the Google algorithm, but regardless of what they throw at us, we have adjusted our behavior moving forward.

Now the focus of our efforts has now shifted to creating new content and promoting it via social sharing. New content prompts more frequent indexing by Google, creates more opportunities for linking and sharing by others, and feeds into Google’s new algorithm, Hummingbird, that places a greater emphasis on what sites are about, not just the keywords they use. And social sharing itself is an increasingly important signal to Google for ranking.

For Innate, 2013 was a rollercoaster ride for SEO, but we managed to assess the problem, act quickly and reverse the effects of Penguin 2.0 for our customer.

  • Did you see any drastic changes in your site’s Google performance in 2013?
  • What things did you to remedy the situation?
  • How are you changing your SEO habits moving forward?

Is your site ranking lower than you’d like it to be? Contact Innate Agency today and we’ll start you on the road to SEO recovery tomorrow.
[Photo credit: opopododo, Flickr Creative Commons]

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