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

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 angry Penguin Real Science