Is Penguin a Ceiling?

Does Bad SEO Prevent Future Growth?

Most of the conversations surrounding Google’s Penguin update have centered around drops in traffic. Dramatic drops in traffic. However, little to no attention has been paid to the smaller sites that never received big traffic in the first place.

What happens to the small business website whose visibility online was predicated on local and used spam links to get there? Can that business use their flawed foundation to now build a content marketing campaign, or will the low quality link profile prevent meaningful long tail traffic for months, and potentially years, to come?

Does Penguin act as a ceiling that prevents growth?

When it Comes to Penguin, Local Businesses Have an Algorithmic Advantage, But Only on Their Home Turf

After Google’s Venice update, local and organic ranking factors joined forces. David Mihm’s annual list includes many issues related to links and domain authority in addition to the more traditional citation and NAP concerns. This provides an advantage to small businesses who relied on local search, but who were vulnerable to Penguin due to aggressive anchor text and spam links. A bad link profile didn’t sink their battleship, because their link profile was only one of the reasons they ranked where they did. The diversity of the local algorithm kept them relevant  despite a less than stellar organic track record. This is why you see sites with awful link profiles still holding on to valuable local visibility, their links aren’t the whole analysis. Citations, reviews etc. are propping them up. However, this should only hold true for Map results, not pure organic results, where the bad links kill long tail traffic. Once the business leaves its local web neighborhood, performance should suffer.

Is Content the Cure?

Sometimes these site owners want more than just local visibilty. They’re ready to move forward with a conversion strategy that isn’t focused solely on the home page, but does their bad SEO act as a ceiling that prevents the desired growth? The issue that interests me is what happens when you try to build on a URL that may (or may not) have been hit by Penguin. Perhaps the overall link profile is modest, as many small business profiles are. The list of niche directory and otherwise acceptable links is peppered with some bad black hat blog networks and directories, but local visibility is still there. The bad links, while present, aren’t egregious. Traffic never really died because it was never enormous to begin with, maybe 600-700 monthly visitors.

Does the tainted link profile prevent long tail traffic for future content marketing efforts?

It’s an open question that I’d love to see the SEO community address, but it seems to me that the answer would tend to be yes. No two sites will be exactly the same, however, look at this famous screen shot of WPMU’s huge drop in traffic after Penguin first rolled out.

SEO traffic drop

Why wouldn’t this work in reverse? Rather than a dramatic drop (which would be impossible), the low traffic level represents the ceiling that the low traffic site can never break through. Scary thought considering the low traffic site owner doesn’t have the advantage of confirming a problem, they’re left guessing as to why their content is ineffective.

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