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The Google Penguin Over Optimization Penalty

by Brian Greenberg on April 26, 2012

in General

What is the Google Penguin Over Optimization Update?

Google has been trying to rid their search engine of low quality websites considered spam since it’s inception.  People have also been trying to manipulate the Google search results for years.  This has produced many low quality sites to rank on the top pages of Google, and hindered the ability for quality sites to rank, as quality sites have to constantly compete with those that use black hat seo strategies.  The biggest culprit in recent days have to do with keyword rich anchor text.  Producing low quality incoming links has produced incredibly positive results for web businesses, and has given rise to low quality content distribution networks.  Examples of these are:

  • blog networks
  • blog carnivals
  • 3 way link building schemes
  • article spinning networks

With the use of the above tactics, websites are able to produce hundreds, if not thousands of in content keyword rich anchor text links pointing to their domains.  And it worked!

With the Panda algorithm updates, many of these networks have been identified and de-indexed by google.  This is a good thing!

If you were participating in producing low quality content on any of these networks, you most likely have seen large decreases in your rankings over the past few months.  It appears that Google has not only devalued the links from these networks, but have also implemented a penalty to those sites that have used them.

If you have seen a large decrease in you rankings in the past few days (starting around April 23rd 2012) due to the new Google Penguin Over Optimization Update, then I would take a close look at the anchor text distribution for your website.

I use seomoz’s Open Site Explorer ( to see this.

My site has seen a large decrease in rankings from this Over Optimization Penalty, and I believe it is due to my anchor text distribution.

If your site has too high a percentage of incoming anchor text as your keywords… I believe a flag has gone off in Google, and your site will be penalized for Over Optimization.

In my particular case, I have a strong issue with this.  I have an Exact Match Domain, which means the name of my site (SEO Services) is my main keyword.  Many sites with exact match domains (EMD) have been hurt by this penalty.

Exactly what the limits are to have this Penguin Over Optimization Penalty flag your site is unknown… if I had to make a guess, I would say if over 25% of your incoming links are for one of your keywords, this would set the flag to the Google Algorithm.

I have looked at many of the websites that now rank on the first page of Google for competitive keywords, and have noticed that the highest used anchor text was either:

  1. The Company Name
  2. The Site’s Url
  3. Some other anchor text like “click here”, “visit the site”, etc.
  4. Partial match keyword anchor text that is very evenly distributed
Historically Google has initially been very harsh when rolling out a new algorithm change, turning the dial all the way to 10 (on a scale of 1-10), but the algorithm has always scaled back and settled somewhere around 6 on the dial of harshness.
I do believe Google will adjust this algorithm in the near future as they get feedback from the internet community.  The main issue I see it that too many quality sites have been flagged and punished by this update, and too many low quality sites are now ranking on the first page.  This will bring down the quality of the searches, and Google will most likely adjust their penalty.  So be patient until the dust settles, which could be up to a few months.

How Has Penguin Changed Online Marketing?

Thankfully, clients of SEO Services have done pretty well during this update, as we run a white hat seo company that focuses on quality content creation, social media, and producing high converting valuable sites for our clients… but there have been many great websites wiped off of the top 5 pages of Google due to this recent penalty.


Moving forward SEO needs to focus on:
  1. Producing high quality content, both on and off-site
  2. Building a social media community using an on-site blog, facebook, twitter, facebook, and Google Plus
  3. Collecting reviews and positive feedback from social networks, review sites, and product and site reviews.
  4. Displaying customer feedback to the engines using micro data in the form of  rich snippets
  5. Building quality websites that produce low bounce rates, high page views, and long time on site statistics
  6. Have your site produce successful searches (searches where a visitor does a search, goes to your website, finds what they were looking for, and does not do another search).
Less Focus on Anchor Text
In my opinion, anchor text is the major issue in the Over Optimization Update.  This really caused problems, since even sites that were producing great content, were including keyword anchor text links back to their site from within their great content.  Many white hat seo’s thought they were safe since we were doing exactly what Google told us to do… but the winners in this latest update were those that ignored anchor text.  So produce great content, but don’t include too many keyword rich anchor text.  The links still help, but the anchor text can hurt.

Why the New Google Penguin Over Optimization Update Needs to be Changed

Quality websites welcome the fact that Google is trying to weed low quality spam sites from the search results, but they included a penalty associated with this latest update that has caused high quality sites to disappear.
Successful websites invest in SEO.  If they invested in producing a quality site and quality content, they most likely included keyword anchor text in their content too.


Google should just devalue the weight of anchor text, rather than penalize it.  This would be great for everyone in my opinion.
I read a great post by Philip Nikolayev, PhD located here
It is a long read, but if you have been hit by this update, it is comforting to read this, and gives a persuasive argument as to why this update needs to be changed.


More weight should be given to sites with strong user behavior statistics.  
If a site produces content that users like, continually produces successful searches, quality reviews, low bounce rates, and high page views, the site should be protected from being arbitrarily penalized.  The fact that so many great websites were hurt by this update is disturbing, and will ultimately deprive Google searchers from great search results.
If users are subjected to low quality sites on the first page of Google, and the quality websites are buried on page 9, people will not only we upset and frustrated, but they will start to use Bing, or other Google alternatives.  When Google starts to see their logs producing poor search experiences by users, they will adjust, like they always have.

What to do Now?

  • Less focus on Keyword Anchor Text.  The incoming links still help, but using keyword anchor text needs to be kept in check.  Too many incoming links with exact anchor text can trigger the Over Optimization Penalty.
  • Keep producing great content (both on site, and off site)
  • Focus on social media… building a community, and producing helpful fresh content to your customers
  • Be Patient.  Google will make the necessary changes to keep their search results the best in the industry.  If you conducted yourself with reputable marketing tactics… producing a great website, user experience, and great content, your rankings will come back.
Please provide your feedback in the comments section.
I would love to know if you agree that the main factor causing this Over Optimization Penalty is anchor text distribution.
Do your own testing on your site, and the sites that are now on the first page of google regarding their incoming anchor text
How can we band together to voice our opinion about the damage this update has done to quality websites?




About Brian Greenberg

Brian Greenberg has written 9 posts in this blog.

Brian has been a leader in the SEO community since 2001. He has built over 50 websites himself, and has done SEO marketing for hundreds of websites. Brian is the founder of SEO Services Internet Marketing, LLC, and also owns and operates numerous successful online businesses in various industries. Brian is a contributor to SeoChat Forum, a DMOZ editor, and has a resume of proven seo results that includes some of the most competitive industries on the Internet. Brian holds a Marketing, Business Administration, and Berger Entrepreneurship Degree from the University of Arizona.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrew Cao April 26, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Hey Brian, thanks for your insight on our Motoza blog post,

I completely agree that Google needs to devalue link texts somehow, not throw it all to garbage. It’s basically destroying the whole link ecosystem and allowing spam sites another opportunity to get into the search results. Sometimes people do add anchor texts back if it makes sense. But unfortunately, as long as big G is at the top, us and other SEOs are at their mercy…

SEOwner April 26, 2012 at 9:15 pm

The update was a complete fail. I have posted about the “Google Penguin Wall of Shame” here:

To make it the absolute worst, Google didn’t even remember to penalize one of the example offenders in Matt Cutts screenshot! Wtf?

Wipe out everyone’s business, EXCEPT that guy? Look at the wall of shame. It’s pretty bad.

Christian April 27, 2012 at 10:59 am

Question. If a site has been hit for this “anchor over optimization”, what’s the best way to get out of it and is it possible to recover? If your main 2 keyword phrase is Seo Service, and you over optimized that anchor and now don’t rank in the top 100 for that keyword, what’s the next step to get it back? Focus on longer tail versions of that keyword in your anchors from now on. What if you’re able to get a great, high PR link on an authority site, do you not use your main 2 keyword anchor? Maybe a high quality link like that would help add some quality to the linking for that keyword and help it recover. Everyone keeps talking about the “anchor over optimization” penalty, but nobody seems to have a game plan or idea of how to dig those keywords back out of the penalty.

Brian Greenberg April 27, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Great question Christian.
There are a few options if you have been hit by this.

Keep building links (not on link networks!), but make sure you use anchor text that is:
1. Your Company Name (SEO Services… not good for me since I have an exact match domain name)
2. Your url ( or
3. Your keywords with your brand name (Company Name seo services, seo services by company name)
4. Partial match anchor text (Best seo services, organic seo services, Proven seo services)

The other option is to hang in there and see how this all plays out. Google is getting a ton of backlash for penalizing legitimate websites, and I think this algorithm will be updated several times until they get it right.
The Panda update has had over 4 updates I believe until they (Google) were satisfied with the results.

The last option is to complain to Google
There is a place you can submit your site for manual review if you think your site was mistakenly targeted.
Innocent from Penguin
But I would stay away from this personally until things settle down… maybe wait a week.

Hope this helps… I welcome any other opinions.

CZ Rings April 28, 2012 at 3:13 am


I like your analysis. I woke up couple of days ago to see most of my sites hit hard….None of my sites have been hit by Panda or anything in the last 2 years but this one was a slammer.

I agree that before I go overboard in re-working things, I reckon there will be a shake up and perhaps some of my sites may be given the better rank they deserve. I am not a user of link networks and my sites have good quality personally written content. I do think anchor text variation may have to do with it as well as uneven spread of backlinks across sites of various PR.

This shake up has really hit my entire SEO strategy that I have been working on for 2 years. My philosophy has been the slow, steady and natural approach and I deserve to rank better. The quick win, spamming, black hat approaches have also been hit and they deserve to be, but some balancing act is still reqiured here by google.

Craig April 28, 2012 at 10:34 am

Brian, great post, and my high-quality ecommerce site was wiped out too, and most likely because of anchor text over optimization. Christian asked you what to do and you said to keep building links (with new/different anchor text) but you said not in link networks. Can you please give more specific tools/places/methods to keep building these links? That’s the burning question I just don’t know.

Victoria April 29, 2012 at 2:45 am

I agree with you. But I have some items to comment.
For example, my main keyword is “ropa laboral online”. I had the one position in after google penguin my new position is five but the real problem for me is that I had more than 20 words between 1st and 2nd. page without anchor text (only with on-page technicals) and google got off of the ranking (making an effect on sandbox).
What are your advices or steps to do now?

Brian Greenberg April 29, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Great question Craig.
I use tools like seomoz’s to find the strongest links competitors have. You can look at the backlink profile of any site that is ranking well.
To use the tool for optimal link building information I would do a few things:

  • Under the “Inbound Links” tab… Customize the search to read, Show “all” links from “only external” pages to “pages on this root domain” and “group by domain” (You may need to be a paying member to be able to group by domain)
  • Then Click on the “Domain Authority” Column to organize the results.

A few notes:

  • I like to focus on getting links from strong domains, not strong pages (but make sure the page you get your link from is indexed!)
  • I personally think that links from “no follow” domains help rankings, and help build a more natural link profile

Using this tool, you can identify the strongest domains your competitors and other strong sites get their links from.

I think you will see links from:

  • Social media sites like facebook, twitter, youtube, tumbler, etc.
  • From authority directories like, yahoo, or dmoz
  • Comments from related websites and forums
  • Comments from .edu or .gov domains
  • Profile pages from authority review sites like yelp, merchantcircle, insiderpages, ect.

Let me know if this helps.

Alan April 30, 2012 at 9:09 am

Thanks for the article. I am finding it really difficult to get a handle on the facts but what you wrote makes a lot of sense. I do have 2 questions for you –

I have a site that ranked #1 – #3 for a number of keywords for the last 2 years. Sometime during the evening of 4/24 I was penalized and I was dropped down to the 300′s – 400′s for many keywords. Today one of the words “recovered” to #100. Another word dropped from 1 to 23 and is still there. I haven’t analyzed this thoroughly but it looks to me like your theory is applying.

My question is this though – in my quest to figure out what is going on I noticed that 3 weeks ago I lost about 20 important backlinks from Do you think this was a coincidence? or is there something else I should be looking into as well?

My second question is, I purchased this site a few years ago and I know the link history since the purchase but I don’t know if the site had any link network links built previously. Is there a way to determine what sites were part of bmr and if they are on my link profile?

Thanks very much

Thomas April 30, 2012 at 10:53 am

Good read Brian thanks. I found a few of my sites got hit for the darn exact anchor text filter/penalty.

My one site dropped from 9th to bye bye. So to fix that I just started leaving links with my URL as the text. Seemed to work because now im back

Brian Greenberg April 30, 2012 at 11:00 am

Hi Alan,
I wouldn’t think the loss of the links would have such a severe impact. has recently revamped their whole business model, so many people have lost their links from them. Is the site in question ?

Jack Flaming April 30, 2012 at 11:38 pm

That is really a great post about Google Penguin update. I found here all about this new update. As per my observation, this is really a great initiative from Google to ban over-optimized websites. But the point of considering anchor text for that is a little disturbing. Whatever we give in link text is something about our website or product. If we wont give our keyword of any related keyword in anchor text, how our user are supposed to know that what is our website about. That is the main purpose of using keyword in anchor text to acknowledge the user or visitor about our business. Suppose I have a website of online marketing and I am creating a back link from other website, if I give anchor text of that link as “Online marketing”, the visitor will easily understand that this website is related to Online marketing but if we simply use website URL, it will be less expressive than the first.

SadBusinessOwner May 1, 2012 at 4:10 am

Got to say I think you are spot on. The sites that appear to be largely affected are those that have high % of anchor text – my site had 40% of anchor text for one keyword and had good rankings previously – it has now dissappeared from number 2 to number 186.. brilliant. The thing I dont get is that we are a good website, people link to us for this phrase because its what we sell. A lot of our sub-pages arent even coming in the top 500 results when they were in the top 10 previously. So depressing, we have over 200 google seller reviews (all genuine, some with Google Checkout) and have analytics and webmaster tools installed so if Google wanted to see how genunie and good we are they could. But either they dont rate these factors or they dont rate them high enough.

The only question I have really is: if this is a penalty, how long will it take to clear and will all my sub-pages also be brought back. If not there is little point me continuing as with Adwords I was only breaking even, with organic listings thats where my company turned profit.

Its a sad time, I have to be honest.

Brian Greenberg May 1, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Hang in there. Google always releases updates to their algorithm changes. Panda had over 14 updates. The best thing you can do to speed up the process is sign The Please Kill Your Penguin Update petition.

I could be this week, or this month… but I believe Google will correct this issue. They put way too many great sites out of business.

Matthew May 2, 2012 at 8:32 pm

Not only has Google’s latest algorithm dropped me in rankings, but Google has simply stopped crawling my website. It’s not as big a deal as it might be because my website is not a commercial enterprise, but it does frighten me that Google can use its monopoly power to simply eliminate bloggers from the worldwide conversation. And they’re the only ones who even know who has been sent out into the cold and why.

Valley May 9, 2012 at 3:04 pm

@ BrianG

You are exactly right about the same anchor text
Way I see it is that the anchor text is expressed as something as simple as your indexed links, but cushioned by high TR links

I have some spam sites which are still there even after Pands
I have one authority site that has been top of quite a few competitive terms for years than has shot back.
The penalty seems worse the denser the keyword density

A website linked to my authority site using a dynamic directory and generated a few thousand back links for same anchor
Now this is what I think sent the site into the automated penalty
But surely a reconsideration request should sort this now fixed…..
But it hasn’t
Maybe there is a fixed time penalty and no amount of relinkbuilding will help
Meanwhile site bounces up and down
While the top ten now has sites that have openly bought site wide links

pete May 11, 2012 at 11:29 am

this is so complete, thanks man

Cate from Macgamesandmore November 6, 2012 at 9:19 am

I got hit by a competitor buying “mac games” links for my site, i have 5k+ facebook fans, but i got vanished in the results after beeing for nearly 10 years on page 1 of google for “mac games”.

Negative SEO is a FACT and google doesn’t care :(

I am devastated, it totally destroyed our income.

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