WordPress, Penguin, Google and Matt Cutts’ take on WPMU.org

So, on the off chance you’ve been living under a rock for the past fortnight, let me introduce to you the Google Penguin update.

Essentially on the 24th April, the Goog rolled out an update named Penguin, with the intended function being to penalize sites that:

  • Engage in ‘keyword stuffing’
  • Participate in ‘link schemes’
  • And are generally of low quality

And while usually this would result in much rejoicing as purveyors of fine content, such as ourselves, watch the spammy copycat / autoposted to / RSS sucking uselessness disappear out of the results (as it did, to a degree, as a result of last years Panda update)… this time round it wasn’t quite the same.

For, ahem, example, take a look at what happened to the google referrals to this very site:

The word is “ouch”

Yep, that’s right – Monday 23rd April saw 8,580 visits from Google. Monday 30th saw 1,527.

Holy. Crap.

But, since we are not involved in any keyword stuffing (well, Tom does sometimes use a few tags, but really, come on ;), link schemes (although I get multiple emails about them every single day), or poor quality content… why did this happen?

Well, fortunately we were able to ask Matt Cutts!

Oh, ok, not directly, but we reached out to the largest news site down under (the SMH), who interviewed him and asked him what the problem was specifically with wpmu.org. We may or may not appear in an article shortly… I’m hoping may.

He gave them three links, copy and paste the below:

  • http://baydownloads.info/11580-Wordpress-Membership-Plugin-Wordpress-PayPal-R-Plugin-show-5starserve.htm – a site pirating our software, presumably linking to us for credibility
  • http://computerofficechair.blogdetik.com/category/tak-berkategori/ – a splog, using an old version of the Farms theme pack (which did have a link to wpmu.org in the footer)
  • http://computerchairs.blogdetik.com/ (the same splog)

And said that we should consider the fact that we were possibly damaged by the removal of credit from links such as these.

My thoughts on that are, in a nutshell… arse!

We’re a massively established news source that’s been running since March 2008, picking up over 10,400+ Facebook likes, 15,600+ Twitter followers and – to cap it all 2,537 +1s and 4,276 FeedBurner subscribers – as measured by Google!

How could a bunch of incredibly low quality, spammy, rubbish (I mean a .info site… please!) footer links have made that much of a difference to a site of our size, content and reputation, unless Google has been absolutely, utterly inept for the last 4 years (and I doubt that that’s the case).

And then there’s the fact to consider that have…

  • NO keyword stuffing
  • NO links schemes
  • NO quality issues

So, how did this happen?

It’s clearly down to being punished for distributing WordPress Themes!

Here’s how it works:

  1. You create and release a really great WordPress theme, for free
  2. Some spammer decides to use it on their sploggy / nasty / low quality / keyword stuffed pages
  3. YOU get penalized because of that

Given that we were the folks who outed the dangers of searching for free WP themes in terms of the danger they could pose to your site, especially even in Google’s eyes, the irony is not lost on me.

And I’d be willing to bet an extremely large amount of money that a great number of WordPress Theme developers, even if they haven’t been rolling out themes in the last 3 or 4 years, have been hit just the same (or a heap worse!).

So, what can you do if you’ve been affected? And what are we gonna do?

Well, first up give up 11 minutes of your life to watch the always excellent Rand Fishkin explain how Penguin has worked, and what folk might be able to do.

Then, consider doing the following (it’s pretty much what we’re going to have to do :/):

  1. Find the spammiest and nastiest sites using your themes and beg / offer to pay them to remove the attribution
  2. Remove or rel=nofollow every attribution link you ever put in anything you release, do that now
  3. Look around your own sites and remove any links that aren’t 100% branded (and by that I mean a link to WPMU.org should read ‘WPMU.org’ or ‘WPMU’)
  4. And then, and this bit makes me feel kinda sick as we’ve never done it, go out and engage in what your non-penalized competition is doing… namely ‘legitimate’ link building (want a guest post from me, look forward to the email, ugh ;)
  5. And last, but not least, add in non-branded, keyword-rich, links to all your competitors sites and include them in your free releases… should serve you a treat!

Well, OK, obviously we’re not going to do the last one, but clearly any malicious SOAB could do that, in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s happening right now :/

And who knows if you’re gonna be the victim, or what you could possibly do about it.

Image credit for the arse UmNET, for the angry Penguin Real Science

102 Responses

    • New Recruit

      So Leo, are you telling me that our position in the SERPs was down to links on the footers of a few MU sites and not our established massive audience, social media presence, massively credible and entirely organic existing link graph and the great posts we’ve been putting out for the last 4 years?

      Because if you are, I just don’t get it :/

      • Unfortunately it’s not just a few links though is it, from taking a look at your site’s backlink profile it’s hundreds of thousands of links. These links were likely responsible for your search engine rankings, your twitter followers, facebook likes, etc don’t have any (proven) influence on search rankings.

        Your natural link graph was entirely dwarfed by the sheer quantity of links you have out there with just one or two different anchor texts.


        Shows the extent of it. Almost 3/4 of a million links for 3 different anchor texts, and then a tiny number of other anchor texts.

        Unfortunately tons of spammers released WP themes in order to rank their sites higher in the search engines, using one or two different anchor texts too. Those guys have been rightly punished (the guys that snuck base 64 code and hidden links into themes), but unfortunately the “legit” guys like you that had links in your themes can’t be distinguished by an algorithm from that spam.

        I’m not sure now though how exactly you can diversify your link base with 750k links already out there, it’s a huge (& expensive) task..

          • You site ranked higher than what it should have due to the sheer volume of links you have, but now those links have been devalued you have dropped back to your natural rankings. All you do is attract high quality links in an attempt to climb the rankings again.

        • Hi,
          today I changed the links for several free wordpress themes I offer and I noticed that one of the bigger “free css templates” sites Styleshout, has a bad backlink profile. In their case the results are still the same (I’m not sure because I don’t monitor them)

      • LEO’s on the mark IMHO. Just show’s how bad google have gotten in determining value and the difference between spam and valuable sites. They’re using bleach, killing anything in sight, taking out the good with the bad. In short, the update sucks, hundred’s have said as much, and respect for the Big G is less and less with every day.

    • Google specifically describes the new Penguin behavior as a “penalty”. Regardless of all other factors, they are now imposing a negative value for any spammy links or other “excess” behavior.

  • I’m starting to feel a little confuse with Google, really. I own a website about Ubuntu Linux, and in Brazil, we are the only website that cares about content.

    We create videos to show people there is no need for command line, we show command line, for people who likes it. We make reviews, we write news… anyway, content, and our users love it.

    But still… Google thinks a competitor’s website is better, even when he writes 2 lines or articles or just copy/paste from another places, without putting the source oO

    Maybe it’s because we do link trading to help smaller websites? Even if we use nofollow? Google… y u no make sense anymore?

  • James, this is a deep burn.

    I know there have been more updates that may have contributed to the fall out of Penguin, but it just baffles me that Google will do an update to help quality of search and combat web spam when the results after the update seem to be worse than before.

    And they keep saying about quality content, when there are now more blank pages or pages with just one word on them ranking for hugely competitive search terms.

    I see more and more pages in SERPs that just aren’t relevant to what I’m searching for than before the updates.

    And it makes all this discussion about negative SEO even more scary because lets face it, you can’t always control who links to you.

    I’m just baffled.

  • My understanding from this is that you were receiving too much recognition from Google previously due to spammy links. I don’t really see any problem here. From what I can tell, Google is doing exactly what they should be doing.

    • New Recruit

      Ryan, did you actually read the article :/ In saying that you’re essentially blithly stating that what we do, what has been recognised as immensely valuable by a wide audience over a heap of time… actually isn’t that good and has deservedly been knocked down.

      Honestly @Ryan & @Leo, can you come up with some stats… any info… any reasoning at all besides simply stating your position?

  • @Leo and @Ryan I think you are being a bit naive about Googles action. It has already been proven that sites are indeed being punished: https://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/the-rise-of-negative-seo/

    Again I said who makes Google Judge and Jury! I think Google could be making a BIG mistake here by doing this to legitimate sites. I mean Google is so powerful they are literally playing with peoples lives and livelihoods!

    Im all for google cutting out spam but cant the just discount these links and not list the link farm and sploggy sites?

    @Ryan James isnt talking about recognition hes talking about visits! People dont visit WPMU from splog and link farms (I mean who actually goes on these sites), no Google has punished the site for “taking part” in such sites even though it hasnt. So WPMU has obviously dropped in organic lists, yes you could say this is because Google is now discounting all these spammy links….but wait I thought they were doing that anyway (since Panda or before)….so why the big hit now? Google playing judge and jury, do they have to much power? Maybe we should start Bing-ing it………nahhh ;)

    • Google is only powerful if you let it be so.
      Contrary to what many think, Google is not “God” and doesn’t run the Internet like it thinks it does. PEOPLE run the Internet and I think the people have put up with enough corporate bullying, something that Google is very good at.

      To all of you webmasters who have been hit, this affects me too, though I’m small. I should not be penalized for giving away free templates and themes because some bad neighborhood site decided to leave the attribution link intact and neither should you.

      So here’s my suggestion. Treat Google like you would any other monopoly. Break that monopoly, slowly weed yourself off of using their tools and replace them with other tools: eg: remove Google Analytics first and replace with another stats program…stop using Google search. I did. I now use Bing.

      Bell Canada pissed enough people off here in Canada so now we have way more choices. Bell Canada is no longer the monopoly it once was.

      Google is a monopoly and we have the power to change that. In the meantime, though, don’t rely on Google anymore for your free traffic. Instead, harness the power of every other social media site, and other traffic generation methods, and treat any traffic you get from Google as bonus traffic.

      As one entrepreneur to another: I did not get rid of one boss to get stuck with another boss: Google. Screw that.

  • This brings a whole new meaning to the term “google bomb”. Can you imagine how effective link spam can now be to eliminating your competition?

      • Lulz at “hire some good seo folk to artificially make us look more ‘natural’”

        Reading this post was incredibly disheartening… I have a feeling Penguin will either get a new update or get rolled back. It seems a lot like this update did more harm than good.

      • Site Builder, Child of Zeus

        I bet only spammy links made before Penguin was rolled are penalized.

        Else with a bot we could make Wikipedia disappear from Google.

        Rather than hiring a SEO, I’d try to ask your readers, members and supporter (us) to join forces and give a little help with enough quality links from our sites and blogs to balance the bad anchor text ratios and root links.

        I would partecipate and probably many other would. If lovers are more than haters, shouldn’t take much to recover a situation with less than 4k links…

        Just my 2 cents,


          • wooh i think google have already built a system to do just that… its called google plus.

            the old style citation type link that google was built on is gone….. or at the very least going… to be replaced with the activity graph…social graph.. call it what you want…

            if people find your site, linger a while, browse around… comment on and like/link/plus it then you’ll float back up to the top… but just try and get 10 or 10,000 links to do the same thing… without the activity as well then goodbye..

            does that mean its all a popularity contest… sure is..

            Think ! what do i want when i search for something…
            usually not what some seo or whitehat/blackhat internet marketer in a hurry wants me to have…..

            but if your site is providing solutions then it will float back to the top…

  • The only thing I see on your site that might have caused the Penguin penalty is that you have 3k linking root domains, and 748k links. This means that you have quite a few site-wide links.

    I completely agree though… quality sites should have been protected from this filter!

  • You havent been penalized as you wouldnt be getting any Google traffic, you have just lost the benefit of all those sitewide links. The same thing has happened on a smaller scale to me at WPLift.com as I released some free themes and plugins.

    What Im hoping is that this initial algorithm gets tweaked a little and we get some of the traffic back.

  • I’m equally disturbed by the fact that your site has suffered as much as it has, and Google has pretty much verified your initial traffic figures were being bolstered by crap/pirate/spam sites…

    If I knew links from those sites had worked as well as they obviously did, I’d have purposely ignored Google’s “guidelines” and cashed in years ago.

    This admission by Google is frankly an embarrassment and a piss-poor excuse for demolishing site authority overnight.

  • So James you are going to have to conduct a de-linking campaign! lol What a bloody joke! Just seems wrong somehow like de-forrestation…

    Sort it our Google, perhaps a campaign is in order. I dont like the feeling that Google can just do what it wants and us honest web devs just have to eat the crap Google shovels.

      • Here is my point:
        http://www.woorank.com/en/www/wpmu.org a rank of 80

        BIG drop in traffic but guess what :)

        Statistics Summary for wpmu.org
        Wpmu.org’s three-month global Alexa traffic rank is 4,166. While about 24% of the site’s visitors are in the US, where it is ranked #3,907, it is also popular in Australia, where it is ranked #1,944. Its visitors view 1.7 unique pages each day on average. Compared with internet averages, the site’s users are disproportionately Caucasian, and they are disproportionately childless, more educated men browsing from home. Roughly 14% of visits to Wpmu.org are referred by search engines. Show Less

        So i geuss GOOGLE go GOOGLE your self WPMU ROCKS THIS BLOCK

        • so only 14% of traffic comes from search engines.. mmmm

          and then look at page load times.. is it in the to 10% of sites on the web… nope 75% of sites are faster..

          Average Load Time for Wpmu.org
          Slow (2.324 Seconds), 75% of sites are faster.

          and bounce rate
          Estimated percentage of visits to wpmu.org that consist of a single pageview:
          Bounce %
          Yesterday 75.4
          7 day 74.4
          1 month 75.5
          3 month 75.8

          that seems fairly consistent… ly bad..

          and time on site

          Yesterday 02:08
          7 day 02:34
          1 month 02:02
          3 month 01:58

          i’m willing to bet..
          as the traffic goes down and time on site goes up then position in search ranking will rise again.. and so will conversions..

          just sit tight a little while and see what happens would be my recommendation ..

          if what has floated to the top is more worthy of the position in terms of its relevance to what people are seraching for then you have a problem.. but if your site is really where the solutions they wanted reside then you can be almost certain that you will float backup….
          why! because its not just backlinks that google are looking at.. and while you may have copped a body blow because of the “spammy links”.. the activity graph will overtime..lift you backup..

          that is of course if you are the best most relevant site.. and not just a site with a lot of spammed traffic.

  • Has wordpress.org been affected in the same way? If you have hundreds of thousands of backlinks, they must have millions – and all with the same anchor text.

      • Site Builder, Child of Zeus

        I don’t think it’s only about number of backlinks and anchor text ratio, but how many of those are coming from spammy sites or domains that are known to be out of control with bots submission. (forum profiles and so on…)

        One of the biggest thing for the past 2 years was wpmu networks left abandoned for people to spam and maybe a lot of them where using wpmu.org free themes with their links on the footer.

        On the other side, almost everyone removes credits from commercial themes on legit sites…

        Having more links coming from blogs marked as spam made them drop.

        I think for wordpress ratios are a bit different…

        BTW, wpmu.org hasn’t been penalized for keyword “wpmu” which I guess was the anchor text of most spammy links. They are 3rd on google for that.

        Probably they were generally penalized for a bunch of other keywords…

  • Hi James, they hit all sorts of legit sites. Classroom Displays blog vanished from the serps & no idea why.It’s come back now but only to page 3 or 4. No back linking campaign ever done there. Maybe all those teachers on Blogger who have it in their sidebar :( Meanwhile sites with dubious owners & splogs are ranking for some education keywords. What a mess!

  • Site Builder, Child of Zeus

    My only site to drop badly was the only site I ever did test with automatic link building techniques.

    I had great results, to good to be true, which immediately made me think that google couldn’t let this happen for too long. That was almost 2 years ago. :)

    I never used such techniques for any other of my sites and they are still strong in top positions for all keywords.

  • Other quality sites which got nailed hard by the failed Penguin update include Comcast, DSLReports, AppBrain, GHacks, Robtex, and Dictionary.com.

    I wrote a bit about this here: http://www.tech-faq.com/google-update-punishes-quality-web-sites.html

    The cure for web sites penalized by Penguin is, oddly, massive link building. You have to build massive numbers of links with diversified anchor text to bury the links which you natually earned which has too focused anchor text.

    Google is, quite effectively, forcing people to engage in search engine manipulation.

    • “Google is, quite effectively, forcing people to engage in search engine manipulation.”

      This is like something out of The Onion.

      Google slap the hell out of high quality sites who spend most of their time writing fantastic content and then tell them the only way back is to basically spend your time building backlinks instead. Wasn’t the whole point of Google’s algos to be able to focus on QUALITY as opposed to QUANTITY??? Sounds to me like Google is finding it increasingly harder to detect quality and is now falling back on quantitive analysis.

      This doesn’t bode well for the future of big G.

          • i could think of a faster way to get your site deindexed… but it would involve removing the site manually from the web… LOL

            how many lines of code will it take for google to go..
            a. has this site had “bad” links dicounted..
            b. is the rate of new links being built beyond the average new links built over the past 3..6 months..
            c if a. is yes and if b. is yes..

            then.. deindex..
            and let them try and explain their way back into the index..

            but you see they have an answer to your proplem.. as shawn k hall mentions they will count the 1+ or is it +1…

            anyway they will count the human activity.

  • Come one people, seriously?!?!

    It’s really clear. You used to get a major push from all those links on the splogs and, when finally Google discounted them due to their questionable quality, you lost quite a bit of the link-juice stream… and your traffic/rankings fell. I’ve experienced this myself.

    Blaming this on negative SEO is a joke and self-victimization. It’s trendy to suffer from Negative SEO nowadays. Actually, Negative SEO used to boost your rankings and you now lost it. It’s plain and simple.

    And this is a good from Google. Thousands of crappy sites rank ‘thanks to’ sitewide footer links, mostly purchased. Your site is good… but those linking were not and they were finally calculated at their real value of nuttin’.


    PS: It’s not bad that fixed-anchor sidewides are being more disregarded than taken into consideration. Probably many themers will take a hit these days. It should have been like this since forever.

    • You’re misrepresenting the facts, C.A. If this were simply a matter of discounting the links it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but it’s NOT.

      This isn’t simply a matter of links being “discounted” as you claim, but these links are being used to *penalize* WPMU.org. The difference is HUGE. The implication of the former is that spammy links no longer matter *at all*. The fact is, in the new reality under Penguin, links determined (at Google’s sole discretion) to be spammy now *harm* your visibility in Google.

      And that new reality means that even if you had nothing to do with spammy links, they can be used to punish your competition. Gone is the day when people tried to create a wonderful site with great content, ethical business practices and reasonable linking. The “penalty” mindset can only result in a new industry that will emerge to create spam links — the spammier the better — to your *competitors* sites to knock them out of the SERPs. This penalty will be applied, and your site will end up climbing in the SERPs as a result.

      • LOL …. the bit that is being missed.. is that google is effectively discounting your spammy links and that is causing your site ranking to drop…… a competitors site without the spammy links is unlikely to be harmed by someone adding spammy links.. it just won’t have any elevatng effect… so your problem can only be solved by you getting some more good links.. and doing it in a way that doesn’t trigger an if a.and if b. the c. reaction.. (see comment above)..LOL (What a fun way for google to sort out the seo crowd and internet marketing spammers).

    • New Recruit

      I’m not even sure myself whether there is any negative SEO involved, odds are there isn’t and this is just the algo, my point is more that it’s a rubbish algo that whacks us that much – given that our readership is huge even *without* google (we’re still pulling 7-8k+ visits p/day) and given the quality of what we offer.

  • Flash Drive

    It’s a pretty pathetic algo update that forces you to employ SEO tactics to “make your profile look more natural”.

    I can see why Google have done this and understand that it’s hard to differentiate between black hat methods and your genuine methods, but ffs.

    I assume you’ve filled in their “Panda Form”, so I hope the next update (as it seems that Penguin now probably updates on a monthly basis like Panda) resolves the issue.

  • Well you’re footer links across the wordpress themes have been devalued to pretty much nothing, so its hit you particularly hard.

    I like releasing free themes for SEO purposes – I’m giving up my time, creating something unique and giving it away free. I feel that this kind of effort does deserve an increase in ranking.

    However, I see little point in doing this any more. Although, I have been thinking – What if I ‘spun’ (as much as I hate that term) the anchor text that my wordpress themes have… it wouldn’t be too complex to build up an array of terms.

  • James,

    Lets play devils advocate here. And please understand – I personally think WPMU offers GREAT content. This is just a detached look at why Google may in fact have been right to cause you such pain. Because in taking a detached view, you may be able to breath, catch your breath, then tackle this new unwanted challenge with more positive passion than you seem to be about to as it is now.

    For illustrative sake I’m only going to be able to go with that organic visits screenshot you posted, plus the stats you provide on your social popularity.

    8,580 visits on the Monday before Penguin. x 365, that’s 3.1 million organic visits a year.

    1,527 visits on the Monday after. x 365, that’s 558 thousand visits a year.

    The overwhelming majority of sites (I’ve been in this business 18 years) are blessed to get a 3% “conversion” rate on various calls to action. It’s typical to see 1% to 2% if you’re doing good.

    With 3.1 million visits a year, 60% of which are new, that’s 1.86 million unique visits a year from organics. 3% of those gives you 558,000 conversions a year from unique visitors. On the low end for a high quality site, it would be 186,000 conversions.

    Now, you may get a lot more conversions than social affirmations, so I can only talk about those.

    2,537 +1s
    4,276 subscribers

    Total 32813 conversions. All in one year? No – that’s spread out over how many years? so we’re talking about fractions of single percentage points of conversions.

    But wait. There’s more!

    Your organic visits account for 60% of total visits. So the actual conversions is half again as small a percentage of your total visits.

    total time on site average 1 minute 27 seconds. Temper that by acknowledging it takes most people who actually read your content twice to four times or more time to read any single article, that means a boatload of people (in the millions a year) who spend mere seconds on the site and then bail out.

    Since your bounce rate is 80%, the overwhelming majority of people pop in, then jump ship. Or they go to one page, then quickly to another, and then jump ship. 1.45 pages viewed in a whopping minute and 27 seconds is NOT very sticky from a big picture perspective.

    What does this boil down to? How valuable where all those visits in the first place? How many people out of the millions “lost” really were your ideal target market? Google is all about providing quality content that’s relevant to visitors. From the data above, I’m not seeing that as far as organic visits.

    I am NOT saying that many weren’t getting quality content (WPMU rocks for those who really care about the topics here), or that you’re not losing anything significant. Clearly, WPMU will now lose countless high quality highly relevant viewers. All I’m saying is when looking at the real data from a detached perspective, it totally maps out to the fact that Google’s changes actually reflect what I just described.

    That’s another CRITICAL factor few people in the search industry are discussing. Penguin wasn’t an isolated entity. It is intrinsically tied to other metrics that Google has at its disposal. I can almost guarantee that fact. (hey, we could all be so fortunate to learn that on the next Penguin refresh, your site bounces back) How do I know this though?

    Because I’ve got some big clients who suffered no negative impact from Penguin even though they have hundreds of thousands of crappy links they didn’t ask for, pay for, or otherwise seek out. Except the differences I’ve been able to identify in my review of those sites compared to yours is they have a much stronger conversion rate, much stickier pages, and much more engagement on all points across the spectrum as a percentage of total visits.

    SO – those who are saying that “you were getting a lot more ranking than you deserved”, in my opinion, are likely very correct in their judgement.

    Just my opinion.

  • crap. pasted the unedited version to the comment. Wrong data sucks.

    With 3.1 million visits a year, 60% of which are new, that’s 1.86 million unique visits a year from organics. 3% of those gives you 55,800 conversions a year from unique visitors. On the low end for a high quality site, it would be 18,600 conversions.

    Which is actually in line with total conversions if they’re all in one year. And if you don’t count the 40% of your visits from other sources.

    So while it’s not a couple tenths of a percent conversion, it’s still less than 1%.

    • New Recruit

      Thanks for the comment, appreciate the analysis and data and you;d be correct in assuming that most google visitors use wpmu.org to answer their question and then leave… sure I’d prefer it otherwise but that’s ok with me :)

      However, clearly it’s a penalty

      And given that regardless of whether folk may have a higher time on site, or bounce rate, to us (ours isn’t exactly that bad, all things considered what people will be looking for and what we offer!) the fact is that we, as per googles guidelines, in every way are ‘quality’.

      I think that we are still pulling 10k visits a day (on Friday, for example), regardless of what’s happening here, is indicative of that… whether or not you agree with it.

      And last, but not least, what kind of impact do you think this post would have had, had it been more ‘positive’ per se… in there I think you’ll find the answer to my approach at the moment (which fortunately aligns with the fatc that I’m spitting chips too ;)

  • New Recruit

    Hey James, Alan, All!

    I think it is easy to get bogged down in the specifics and still kind of miss the point.

    Sure, the web design and theme industries are an edge case where they tend to leave their brand (link) on client sites so they have an unusual amount of sitewides and an inflated total link count but… is it 1999 or something? It’s a sitewide footer link, devalue it, ignore it, is that not the Modus operandi?

    So, okay, a huge chunk of their backlink profile was made up of these links, so if that was the case, SEO logic assumes that most of them should not have counted for much if anything at all in the first place. So… if penguin removed a lot of nothing from their link portfolio, then that may have caused a bump, a blip, some effect but this?

    Also, is not one of the stated goals of this update to “To give sites that have great content a better shot”?

    So, if we all agree that WPMU has a bunch of really strong content, they are a leader in the WordPress section, then should they not get a positive bump from the content love that overruled the disallowance of a bunch of links that should not have counted for diddly squat in the first place?

    Those links that Matt provided as an example, real dirge, horrid sites, not exactly the kind of links that are rocking to the number one spot eh? So, losing them, so what? Not going to destroy your traffic surely?

    But, this is where it gets interesting for me – so, lets just assume for a second there is no more to this and the wpmu.org site loses a bunch of links and they lose the value they were passing so the ranking of the site suffers somewhat. If that is the case, why do they not come up for their own ‘the wordpress experts’ slogan that is in the sites page title? Why, do they not come up for ‘wordpress experts’ in the top 50 or so results when the results for this get really weak by the second page? Even worse than that, why do they not rank for their own articles? I searched several articles titles, fairly unique stuff like ‘Create Your Own WordPress Widgets on the Fly’ and they are nowhere to be found. They are nowhere to be found, but a bunch of crappy scraper and feed sites republishing their own content come up.

    So before the cute fluffy penguin branding of this update, let us remember this was first introduced as an ‘over optimisation penalty’. A penalty. Not ranking for your own content? Not ranking for a term that is a rich description of what you do? Not coming up in results when you actually are one of the best results for that users search query – that all sounds like a penalty to me.

    So, the point, at the end of all of that waffle (really should not comment after a few glasses of red on a Saturday night but…), the point is that Google’s job and subsequently the job of any of these additional filters is to improve the quality of the search results. Well, if I want reliable WordPress advice, and I search for WordPress Experts or some such, I would expect WPMU.org to come up. If i search for a very specific subject, and WPMU has a post on that, and they are a niche authority, I would expect them to come up and if they don’t, Google is not doing its job properly in my mind.

    You know, I am wholeheartedly behind getting rid of falsely inflated results, but I simply can’t believe this is just a devaluation as it smells a lot like a penalty to me and that kind of sucks. Putting a theme out there with a link in the footer as recompense is fair enough. That kind of thing was the early equivalent of having people embed your infographic or some such, it was fair enough. If Google does not want people to do that anymore, fine, tell us, put it in the guidelines and devalue anything else.

    I would really love to see what the top 25 terms that drove organic traffic were before and after the drop/penalty. If we see loads of big obvious terms before, things that are a little broad in scope and do have big numbers but a crappy bounce rate and now we only see long tail sort of stuff then it would certainly look like other penalised sites I have seen in the past (a few innocent ones as well that got penalised through other people nicking their content).

    I am all for an improvement in search results, all for it, but something about this ‘it’s just a devaluation of your millions of footer links’ smells a bit like bullshit to me.

    • I wondered why they called it Penguin. Maybe the idea is that every link is now being attributed as either “spam” or “natural”, and if any are spam your entire site will be left out in the cold?

  • Ouch Ouch Ouch!! That a little link in the footer can cause so much damage…if that is the true culprit and judging by early analysis from the experts it may just be. It is after all a large number of links from potentially dubious sites all with the exact anchor text.
    Does this mean that theme developers can no longer claim credit for their work by building a link into their themes? It would be a shame because I’m sure most people are happy to allow such a link on their site (most probably don’t even notice it).
    I’m not an expert in theme development but would it be possible to remove the links by releasing an update to all your themes?
    Time will tell if this was the true problem. I guess we will just have to keep watching this space.

  • I can say only one thing: if this is true, than the gates of negative SEO are opened. And damn yes, I will try it out and if it’s works, SEO will never be easier than now …

  • Thanks for the valuable information on this still controversial topic. Always find such an article useful for gathering information on a new (not so new anymore) update in Google Search Algorithms. Thanks for sharing.

  • So when I look into this, I notice that they also lost 35k backlinks right around the time penguin hit.

    I’m thinking this isn’t just a penguin issue. Perhaps the only reason you ranked for some terms is because of those crappy links like the examples Matt pointed out. When they stop counting those, plus the lost links… you no longer rank for those terms. It’s not a penalty, moreso a change in your link graph.


  • Damn man… Sorry about your traffic. I really do feel bad for you. I was upset my site’s traffic got halved…

    I guess google is actually ignoring social…

  • I think the answer as to why you got ‘penalised’ is very simple. Lack of anchor text diversity. Because you give out free theme’s with the same anchor text in the template, linking back to you, you got done.

    Should you have? No. Why? Google penalised (Yep, pushed down, penalised, far beyond just reranking to legitimate links) any sites that had a load of the same anchor texts. Spammers used this. Legitimate site’s used this.

    Google keep screwing up, by applying these ‘blanket rules’ and taking out spam, along with a boatload of great sites, in the process.

    Matt Cutt’s example of what was bad is weaker then a wet tissue, and i’m embarrassed for him. You’re an established website with a large following, anyone with half a brain isn’t going to buy into the fact that three links pulled you down.

    Google are only showing now that they don’t care about SERPS enough to filter out good from bad, applying updates that are grossly thought out and over-reactive. As it stands, anyone is now susceptible to being ‘taken out’ for any reasons, regardless of the whole picture. It’s akin to being thrown in jail because you wash your clothes in the same Laundromat as a real criminal.

    Fail, fail, and more fail Google. Cutt’s isn’t even involved in search engine quality, he’s part of the anti-spam team. How he managed to become the spokesperson for google is beyond me. Sometimes it sounds like he’s just guessing, as he’s speaking for other departments in google that he is not directly involved with. He’s contradicted himself multiple times, and he’s got a hard job on his hands trying to make google look like good guys when the hate for google grows with every new update…

  • Google really have jumped the shark with this update.

    In doing the whole thing so badly not only have they demoted excellent sites but promoted absolute garbage in way too many cases.

    On my own sites I’ve found sitewide links to be the new no-no, and I’m assuming that what’s happened here. Apart from 301’ing anything that links to wpmu.org (the absolute nuclear option) it’s difficult to see how you can recover from a hit like this. No amount of single quality links can overcome a tide of crappy sitewide links.

    This update has just been done incredibly badly and there’s no excuse for that. On a side note I’ve seen an increasing number of generic Adsense ads appearing on subject specific pages. Perhaps chickens are coming home to roost there as well.

  • Penalizing sites doesn’t really make sense from a search engine point of view. Google would not want to penalize the site that carries the best answer to the query that the user typed into Google—even if the site engaged in questionable SEO. If Google did that, Google would be penalizing itself by returning less relevant results.

    My traffic for WinkPress.com has dropped about 20% during the last month (instead of continuing its natural climb), but I think if Google continues to evaluate websites based on their SEO practices rather than the innate quality of their content, it’s doing its users and ultimately itself a disfavor.

    Perhaps it’s time for Google to get new, young, and creative people to run their spam unit. Having said that, we don’t really know what his exact reply in the interview was. Where’s the link to that review?

  • New Recruit

    So… it seems like you guys have bounced back? When this first hit I could not find you with a search for WordPress experts or by searching for post titles – in fact, Googling a bunch of your blog posts brought up crappy scraped versions!

    But now, you are popping up for WordPress experts and blog posts.

    Is this since the penguin 1.1. update? Would be interesting to know what, if anything you have done and whether this is some ‘tweak’ in penguin which was claimed to just be a ‘data refresh’.

    Interesting times!

    • It’s good to see you having recovered from the “Penguin attack” ;)

      Although curious, have you completely recovered all lost ranking spots and are back to normal traffic levels or is it still a bit lower than before?

  • Just came by to offer congratulations for the footwork and resulting rebound. Definitely going to keep this case study in mind as others begin to report recovery for sure…

  • You only bounced back because of publicity, its the same every time with Google, and Matt Cutts. Ridiculous company. I still have quality client sites which have tanked, what a twatty company.

  • You guys did a great job in recovering so well. But clearly, your site shouldn’t have been penalized in the first place. Its not your fault if spammy sites are linking to you.
    Well Lord of SEO is right in a way, many small businesses are facing a lot similar issues but are not able to do much about it since they don’t get to ask Matt Cutts for his opinion.

  • I don’t think sites are being penalized for receiving spammy links. Otherwise we would create a new SEO tactic: destroying your opponent with negative SEO. What is really happening is that links from sites which were spammy are not being taken under consideration.

  • “Find the spammiest and nastiest sites using your themes and beg / offer to pay them to remove the attribution”

    ….you just gave the spammers a nice idea to make an extra buck…

  • I’ve emailed the host, domain manager and owner of this domain but they haven’t removed this from this domain. http://www.modamusic.com/london-hot-desi-girl-sex/

    I’ve emailed Google about this and they haven’t replied or done anything about this. So i get penalized when someone else does this to me and Google states that’s its impossible for anyone to effect your rankings. Garbage.

    It goes down to the quality, lack of quality of the staff that work at Google.

    Seems this happens to a lot of NON American owned sites and Google will not help you fix the problem. They won’t even tell you what the problem is.

    Where i live if you do this to someone they will be extremely harsh on you, and rightly so.

  • You should always use the nofollow tag from the offset. You must have thought to yourself ‘if we put links in the footer of all our themes, we can get loads of backlinks and good rankings!’ this is what Google is trying to avoid, people gaming the rankings just because they can build links easy… Also it was fairly obvious your WordPress themes would have ended up on spammy sites… Lesson learned!

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