Two Penguins, a Phantom and a Manual Action: How Recovered on Google

Visibility of on

When we reported about the Winners of Penguin 4.0 in October 2016, a domain that stood out was Almost exactly 4 years ago, in May 2013, was hit by Google’s Penguin Update 2.0 (losing 40% of their visibility). 5 months later, in October 2013, it was hit again by Penguin 2.1. At the end of 2013, had lost 70% of their market share on Google – which their competitors were left to pick up.

For more than three and a half years, was trapped. Today though, the story is quite a different one. So what did they do?

Rebuilding the Link Profile

As if all these Google Penalties were not enough, was also hit by a manual action. When they got in touch with the Leeds’ agency Branded3 in April, 2014, they helped Watchshop revoke the manual action almost immediately and got to work on the other updates.

For this blogspot I got in touch with Branded3 to ask what they did:

“To address the Penguin issues, we knew we had to completely rebuild their link profile. This involved us running a number of different large-scale link building/PR campaigns which helped to acquire links from many of the UK’s biggest publishers. Coupled with this, we also ran regular maintenance checks (link auditing) on their profile to disavow any toxic links that had previously harmed performance.”

Exactly! You can get out of Penguin in one of two ways. Either disavow all bad links – or even better, get rid of them altogether – or get new, high quality links. That is all there is to Penguin: pass a threshold of too many bad quality links and you’re gone.

The only thing that can be done in such a scenario is investing in a sustainable growth of new, high quality backlinks, in order to counterbalance the loses. And this is something that can take quite a while. All of their measures enabled to escape the filter with the Penguin 4.0 Update. According to Branded3 this was one of the biggest recoveries they have seen.

Improving Content and User Experience

That went well until June of 2016, when one of Google’s Unknown Updates (sometimes also called Phantom Update), came around and spoiled the party.

“The Phantom update (June 2016) came as a bit of a surprise for us, they had previously never been affected by Panda/content quality updates so we didn’t anticipate the drop. We immediately started to diagnose potential issues relating to content and UX and soon realised that the product pages, were lacking in value-adding content so we worked on addressing this by revamping product descriptions, details etc. with unique, expert content. The recent Phantom update (early Feb) has yielded a positive boost in visibility so we believe we have addressed the issues Google found in June 2016.”

Looking at the data, we get a picture that endorses their hypothesis. Before they were hit by Penguin 2.0, just 14,5% of their Keywords ranked on the first page of Google’s search results. Today, has 43% of first page rankings, something that very few websites manage to do:

Ranking distribution of on the first 10 Google result pages, after rebuilding their linkprofile.

In order to have good, sustainable rankings, you have to consider four elements: the website’s technology, the content, the link reputation and the user signals. We have already mentioned three of these four pillars (content, links and user signals). So, we can nicely see how their keywords continuously move from the second page of Google’s search results to the first:

Number of keywords ranking on the first and second page of Google’s search results.

Final thoughts

Google’s fight against spam is understandable. Every marketplace (of which Google is also one) is continuously trying to offer the best possible quality of products or services in order to increase their customer traffic, customer loyalty and revenues. If a market would not filter spam, the only loser would be the customer, as usual. If you put your customer front and centre for your SEO decisions, it’s very likely that you are going to do right.

Please remember to optimize for Google’s users and not for Google! I want to give Branded3 the final word, on what can happen if you put the user first:

“Their organic traffic is the highest it’s ever been. The months following Penguin 4.0 have all been record high months for organic traffic. Organic traffic accounts for 46% of all site traffic vs 36% last year. Revenue via organic (based on last-click attribution) is yielding a 55-60% uplift YoY.”

I hope you like it and I wish you a nice start in the new week!

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