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A Tale of a Tornado…and a Penguin

Post image for A Tale of a Tornado…and a Penguin

by PotPieGirl on May 20, 2012 · 64 comments

This is yet another one of my posts that will start out with something that seems totally unrelated to the topics I normally talk about.  But, if you hang in there with me you will (hopefully) see my connection and why I choose to tell this story.

Once upon a time, way back in 1994, I lived with my (then) husband and my 2 small children in the little town of Grayson, Georgia.  One night on June 27, 1994 there were storms in the area.  Weather alerts warning of tornadoes were all over the local news and radio stations.  We stayed up that night until all the stations took all the warnings and watches away and told us it was safe – the bad weather was gone and no longer a threat.

Then, about 3:30 am, as I was half asleep in my bed, I opened my eyes because things just felt weird.  I looked out the window and saw that it was oddly calm out, the night sky had a really odd greenish tint to it, and lightning was popping quietly as if there were hundreds of photographers outside my window flashing pictures.

Now, let me give a bit of a disclaimer here – I am originally from the Atlantic City, New Jersey area – we didn’t DO tornadoes and I hadn’t had any experience with them in the 10 years I had lived in the South at that time either.  I didn’t think “tornado coming” as I was lying there….. until the wind picked up and made a sound I will never forget.  They say it sounds like a train, but to me, it sounded like a 747 just landed outside my house.

Whatever was happening was not right – that much I did know – and instinct jumped me up and out the room to the other side of the house to where my kid’s bedrooms were with their dad running behind me.  We each grabbed a kid and ran straight back to the master bedroom closet (previously deemed ‘safest place in the house’) and there I sat with my son (then 6) and my daughter (then 2) huddled in my lap as I did the best I could to wrap myself around them to protect them from whatever it was that was happening.

Then, the roof disappeared over our heads and it started raining on us in the closet.  We had a huge gable/attic area over that part of the house (operative word: had) so for rain to come in, something major just happened.

And just like that, it was over.

We opened the closet door and looked up – we could see the entire sky above us where the ceiling and roof used to be.

Being that it was still the middle of the night and there was no electricity anywhere, we couldn’t see anything.  Our only thoughts were to get out of there….get in the car and drive away.  But , we couldn’t…. a tree was on the car and the one road into our little neighborhood was blocked.

No one could get out from that street…and no one could get IN either.

We were stuck until daybreak at least when we could at least SEE what was going on and emergency folks could get back to us.  In the meantime, our neighbors house was basically untouched (weird how that happens, isn’t it?) so the kids stayed there in their basement while we did the best we could to check on other neighbors and make sure everyone was accounted for (thankfully, everyone was and no one was hurt at all in our neighborhood, which, as you will see, is a miracle).

Then, daylight came…and we all wandered out to see.

This is what it looked like from my front yard looking down my street.



Notice the red arrow.  That is pointing to one of those solid steel poles that are cemented in to the ground to hold up a basketball goal.  It is snapped in half.

Notice the orange arrow….Yes, that ENTIRE house is sitting in the street!

Look at the red arrow in the picture below… That is their Jeep that is still sitting in the driveway of their house…well, where their house USED to be.

View from my front yard after tornado

What’s amazing is that the dad and one of their teenage sons were home IN that house when the tornado hit.  They were in a downstairs half-bath holding on for dear life to the pedestal of the sink as the whole entire house was picked up and moved.  It is a miracle that they weren’t hurt!

Can you even imagine what it would be like to be in a house that was flying through the air?!?!

One of our neighbors had a small private plane and a few days later he went up and took some pictures of our little neighborhood.

This is what the birds-eye view looked like:

What’s so crazy is that the houses on the left-side of mine in that picture are all fine….but to the right, total disaster.  If you see a blue tarp, that means there was still something left to protect.  The driveways that don’t have blue tarps….or a house – well, total destruction there.

It was all surreal.  Even though you were seeing this destruction with your own eyes right in front of you, it’s like your brain refused to believe it was REAL.

But it was real…. very, very real.


So, why am I bringing this up today?

I’m not doing this to take a trip down memory lane (tho I did have a nice trip as I was rummaging through all my old pictures for the ones I’ve shared.  We all remember pictures, right?  You know, you put film in a camera, take the pictures, and then go have the film developed.  My how times have changed!)

I’m telling you this story because as I look through the current state of Google’s search results, ALL I can think is, “Man, it’s like a tornado came through here!!!!”

The destruction makes no sense…. sites left untouched that perhaps aren’t a great result.  Sites totally demolished….it’s messy – really, really messy.

Now, please understand that I am not saying that a life-threatening tornado has ANY comparison to whatever the heck Google is up to at any given moment, ok?  I’m just telling you how it feels to me as I realize I’ve felt this way before.

A tornado has come through….. and left massive destruction in its wake.

Let me show you some of this destruction, ok?

I’ve mentioned many times before that I follow query spaces.  In other words, I pick a keyword and then take the Top 20 or so web pages that are ranking in Google and put them into my (oh so awesome) rank tracking tool.

It might be a keyword I am invested in, or, as in many cases, a keyword space I have NO investment in.  Only watching your own stuff doesn’t teach you or show you anything.

Then, I watch.  If Google does something, I can usually tell before the news hits because I can SEE it.  I may not know exactly what happened, but I know something happened.

Most importantly, like the photo above from the plane, I can get a birds-eye view of things…. I can see the big picture and you can not get that if all you watch is your own rankings.

So, let’s take a look at what I’ve been seeing.

This next image is me keeping an eye on the Top 20 or so ranking urls in Google for the keyword discount auto insurance.  I have made it so you can’t see the various urls in the left column (because I don’t want to do all that – outing people or exposing their business is not my intent nor is it my style), but you can see their current ranking in Google by looking down the column with the little Google-looking icon at the top.  If you see a “0″, that means they can’t be found in the Top 300 results.

In other words, a ’0′ ranking means they have been blown away.

At the end of February, ALL of these urls ranked 20 or better in Google….. now, only 4 still rank in the Top 20.


Here’s another one for the keyword fat loss 4 idiots (strong affiliate space so I chose that one to keep an eye on as well since people think Google hates affiliate sites).

At the end of February 2012 , ALL of these urls also ranked in the Top 20 for the keyword fat loss 4 idiots – now, only 5 remain.

And then there’s the infamous make money online query space…..  At the end of February 2012, ALL of these urls ranked in the Top 20 of Google for make money online (yes, there are 21 urls because I added in that empty blogspot blog I talked about in this post that finally got removed from the top-ranking sites).


Only 8 remain now…the others have been blown away.

Now, this destruction I am showing is not just from Google’s Penguin update… this is results of LOTS of things that have been going on like Google’s Panda updates and the blog networks getting nailed, etc etc.

But all of this happened in what…. 2 1/2 months?!?!?  In like 10 weeks time, the SERPs are all WHACKED and look totally different.  Ok, they look WORSE…. much, much worse.

Now, my examples up there are just THREE of millions….trillions…of possible query spaces.  I’m not proving anything here… I am simply giving you a birds-eye view of what is happening.

After Penguin hit, I had to start tracking these query spaces all over again since there are virtually all new players ranking now.  It’s nuts!

Oh, and here’s a Fun Fact… there is a site/url now ranking for make money online (not in the Top 10 anymore…but back a page or 2).  That site has P0RN on it!  Yes, seriously!  The site loads with a nice banner of a “Golden Years” couple on it…but when you scroll down…. wow.  It’s EXACTLY the type of ‘make money online’ stuff this article should have brought to light.

Regardless of all that, when I track spaces like I do, I get to SEE which sites did NOT get hit when there was destruction all around them.

Why did a few urls still rank and come through the storm when others were being blown away?

Is it because they were big brands?  Some, yes…but not all.  In fact, I’ve seen a few brands get nailed.  Being a popular brand name is not going to protect you.

What’s odd is that while I can SEE what they might have been caught doing, I can also see other sites in that same query space doing the same thing and NOT getting dinged in their ranking.

Sites in query spaces that have absolutely been affected (like the 3 examples I’ve shown above) have very little that even kind of stands out between those hit and those not hit.

The sites that have survived (so far) are not all “squeaky clean” or “awesome content” or “big brands” or “AdWords advertisers”….they also do NOT have an “un-optimized” back link profile.

The sites that have surprisingly popped UP in the rankings to fill the spaces of those blown away don’t all have all those awesome qualities either.

By the way, I use this amazing tool to check back link profiles, anchor text, and what other sites rank for.  If you’re serious about all this, you get a tool like this – all there is to it.

I can find “bad” in sites that are still doing well…and I can find “bad” in sites that got hit.  I can see anchor text manipulation in both as well.

Thing is, there have been so many Google storms coming through in the last few months, that I’ve had to sit and see which site looks like it got it hit by which Google storm… and then take it from there.

That part is exhausting….and not very rewarding at all.  Just like how the tornado hit, it all just doesn’t make sense with these Google storms.

But what HAS been awesome is looking at the urls that still rank well – that have survived ALL the storms Google has thrown at us lately.  That has been eye-opening.

Even tho I broke up with Google, I still can’t resist being a storm chaser…lol!

So, what have I figured out?

I’ve learned that *I* learn more by looking closely at the sites/urls that have survived all this as opposed to trying to identify why the other sites/urls got blown away.

I’m sorry, but give me virtually any url and I can find some reason that they might have been hit by Panda or Penguin or whatever the critter of the week is.  For me, it’s easier and more rewarding to look at the sites that did NOT get hit when they were absolutely in the eye of the storm.

I know most everyone else is telling you what sites/urls got hit have in common, but that doesn’t help me.

Also, like most everyone else, I haven’t figured anything out for sure.  If someone claims they KNOW what Penguin is hitting (or not hitting) or claims they know how to “fix it”, well, at this moment, they don’t.  One of the best posts covering that “no one knows for sure” topic is from Ryan Jones and you can read it here.

Bottom line is this -

No one knows ANYTHING until the Penguin Filter is run again and we get to SEE which urls are “released”, who gets hit this round, etc etc.  And with so MANY storms blowing from Google, it can be pretty tough to know WHICH storm hit you…or even which stormS hit you.

It’s all a guessing game right now, please don’t let anyone tell you otherwise (or SELL you otherwise).  I know what’s out there… I know what’s going on – Do NOT fall for it. Please.

Like with Panda, the more times Penguin is run, the more we learn.  One more run of Penguin will certainly help, but with each future run after that, we learn more and more.

I am on to a strong hunch that is backed by trends I see – and I absolutely do plan on exploring it and putting it to test.  But I won’t know anything either until Penguin comes pecking again…and all we can do is wait for the Google folks to push the Penguin Button (and hopefully tell us they did).

What I Don’t Think It Is

I don’t believe it is purely back link anchor text manipulation…. Sorry, I just don’t.  If that was true, based on what *I* see, it wouldn’t be hit or miss like it is in the query spaces I watch (like the 3 I shared above).  Yes, I am testing that tho because I do realize you can get ‘slapped’ for being too “top-heavy” with your back link anchor text, but usually a simple round of dilution can clear that up.

And as I said above, I don’t think it is Big Brand favoritism either…tho at this moment with Google, the Big Brands are a safer choice to rank well.  General consumers know and trust the Big Brands so that, in turn, should help them trust Google.  Also, the really Big Brands just might actually have the resources to sue the pants off of Google, so there’s that too <grin>.

I also don’t think it is as much on-page stuff as is led to believe… I’ve seen PLENTY of “junk” ranking well now AND surviving the storms so far.

I also don’t think it’s to do with social signals either.

Sure, some of the hit urls might have had hidden links, or keyword stuffing, or duplicate content issues, or any of the things against Google’s Quality Guidelines…but they don’t ALL have that.

And I really, REALLY don’t think it’s the whole “create awesome content and let the links come naturally” that is allowing these urls to survive the storms.

For me, my hunch goes something like this….

You are either the one people are talking to and talking about, or ___________________.

And it’s the part that fills in that blank that is my hunch.  That is the part of a backlink profile that I think it causing issues.  Sorry if it doesn’t make sense – I’ll talk more about it if/when I think there really is something to share.

Yep, I could be totally off my rocker with this one even though Duane Forrester from Bing says I’m not a total “nutter” (thanks, Duane!).

Regardless of whether I am a “nutter” or not… I’ll talk about my hunch another time.

Here’s what I DO want to talk about…

The After-Effects…and the Opportunities.

Things are nuts right now.  Webmasters and SEOs are scrambling to get links removed.  What’s worse is that they are threatening action if a webmaster linking TO them does not comply.


(sorry, but that’s really how I feel about it)

So now we are going to have to worry about some sort of legal action if we link to other sources on the internet?  Really?  If I like your site and put you on my blogroll – meaning you get a site-wide link from me (ie, from every page on my site) – I’m gonna have to worry if you’re gonna take legal action against me?


I’ll tell you what…. If you decide you like my site and want to add PotPieGirl.com to YOUR blogroll so you can share my site with your readers, I’ll have nothing to say but THANK YOU!  I could care less what GOOGLE thinks about it! I don’t care if it’s a follow or no-follow link – just THANK YOU!

It’s a compliment, isn’t it?  I sure think so!

The more and more I watched as people talked about and went into a frenzy to get links removed and file reconsideration requests in HOPE that Google will forgive them for either placing those links on their own or :::gasp!:::: someone voluntarily linking to them, the more worried I became.

This is NUTS!

The internet is connected by links…without links, how would we find things??  (and yes, that means I see Google as one really HUGE link directory).  What happens if/when people get scared to link?  Then what???

Ironically, just as all those thoughts are running through my head, Chris Crum over at WebProNews came out with an article that is totally worth a read….and worth some thought.

Read:  What If The Google Penguin Update Inadvertently Killed The Web As We Know It?

Let that settle in and then think about what is happening right now…. kinda scary.

Fact is, you can NOT help how others link to you.  Ya just can’t.

True story…

I wrote a post that talks about Google and their Quality Raters (I had found a copy of their guidelines).  Barry Schwartz then wrote a post over at Search Engine Land and linked to MY post as a source.

Awesome, right?  You bet it is!

But let me tell you, from my own first-hand experience, what happened next.

That post at SearchEngineLand.com got scraped in ways that would make your toes curl as well as many other industry sites and SEO bloggers etc linking to Barry’s post AND my post.  And then there’s the sites that uh, “syndicated” that content all over the web.

Links, links, links coming from every direction.

To me, that was all fine and dandy… pretty darn cool, even.

But what if suddenly Google decided that those links were BAD and put some sort of penalty on MY site for it?

Do you think for a minute that I would run around and try and get them removed?  That I’d threaten other webmasters over it?  No way.

I don’t care what Google thinks… those links have just made my site more connected to the rest of the web.  If Google decides it’s not cool, so be it.  I did what they said – “create great content and people will link to it”.

That IS what they say, right?  But they don’t tell you what happens next after some really good sites do, in fact, link to you.

You get scraped, copied, syndicated, spammed, and so on and so on.  Those really good sites that linked to the original article and your post also get scraped, copied, syndicated, and spammed as well.

It doesn’t make sense that ANY of that can be held against you.  Like it or not, it’s how the internet works.

Sure, you might get caught actively BUYING links and some news article might force Google to take action upon you. But all in all, the nature of the web is LINKS and we can’t help how those links are worded. or where they are placed.

And those links that are all over the internet because YOU put them there because they USED to help you rank better…. do you think you’re ranking worse now because you got caught placing those links….. or because those links don’t give any ranking power anymore?

Think about it.  Seriously, THINK ABOUT IT.

I know Matt Cutts and the folks at Google want to make this all a “level playing field“, but that is SO unrealistic.

As long as Google massively controls the majority of traffic coming through the ‘front door’ of the internet, and as long as there are only 10(-ish) places on that coveted first page of a search result in Google, there will never EVER be anything level and fair about it.

You can be as compelling and awesome as you possibly can be, but if you don’t get out there and fight the good fight to get found and build your reputation, you’ll be blown away – just like the contents of my attic from that tornado.

I am really tired of reading all this “advice” as if we are ALL these big companies with conversion specialists and SEO teams and social managers and PR people.

So many of us hit by these Google Storms are one-man/one-woman shows that are working their way through the trenches….or are small one-man/one-woman small local business owners that don’t have the time or the resources to have a team work on their online presence all the time – and Google is wiping these folks out.  Heck, even the Wall Street Journal is talking about it!

Yes – I will admit that when you are working your way through the trenches doing everything you can figure out to get found online, what you do today that works may very well bite you in the butt tomorrow.

Hasn’t it ALWAYS been that way?

Totally depressed yet?  It DOES feel depressing when it all seems so gloomy.  When you look from your front yard and see all the destruction the tornado left behind it’s hard to NOT feel as if all hope is lost, isn’t it?

Where IS the hope now?

Here’s a thought…

Enter: The Opportunities

Ladies and gentlemen, right now there is a big, fat, glaringly obvious, major void in the Google search results.

Just for giggles, let’s call that void “quality results”.

Google is wiping out query spaces of the urls that USED to be the best answer, and still MIGHT be the best answer, but Google won’t rank them that way now…and possibly never again.

From my viewpoint, Google is STARVING for good, quality results to now rank well…. urls that have not manipulated their way to the top.

Their search results really bite right now so here’s an idea…

Next time you search for something and find a large chunk of junk on Page 1, why not PUT something GOOD there?

If you USED to rank well there AND made money from that ranking, what the heck are you waiting on?  Waiting for someone else to do it?  Waiting for Google to forgive you and give your ranking back? (please tell me you’re not holding your breath).  Waiting on someone to give you The Answer?

We are one-man/one-woman shows…we are flexible… we can turn on a dime.  We don’t have to answer to a team or a board or stockholders – or a boss.  If we get a wild hair to do something or try something, we can just go DO IT.

So why not GO DO IT?

If you don’t want to, or really can’t, fork out the $10 or so for a nice clean domain name – go grab a free web page and at least TRY.

No one ever said you are only allowed ONE chance with ONE domain or url to rank well.  We work in the trenches so get out there and fight for it – don’t just sit there and watch as it all blows away hoping it might come back.

In the wake of all this destruction, there is opportunity out there for those who choose to seize the moment.

If you got nailed by these Google Storms lately, you might have a tarp on your site for now….or it could be total destruction.  No one knows that for sure right now.  But you don’t need anyone’s permission to keep moving forward.

Thanks for putting up with my long-winded post (pun intended).

Comments are open!




Mike from Maine May 20, 2012 at 9:01 am

Im sorry to here about your house, but I’m happy no one got hurt. Unfortunately I think a lot more people were hurt by this darn penguin. I like how you point out the opportunities now with so many sites removed. Some might say its a rebirth of Google :-)

PotPieGirl May 20, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Hiya Mike =)

Thanks (re:my house) – it was a long time ago… these days I only think about it when it storms out ;)

There is a LOT of opportunity out there right now. We all see how Google is struggling to return results that are a) good and b) not manipulating their rankings or breaking some other Google “law”. The damage is done – why not be part of the clean up crew?

Charley May 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Hi PPG, I can’t thank you enough for this post – the best I’ve read in a week or so. I was looking for something good to read and then I hit twitter and found your tweet with the url to this post. And just to note… I didn’t skim through. I read every single word.

Really sorry about that major tornado event – that evil whirlwind – can’t stand it. Oh Google, you really got me mad this time! I’m experiencing the same as you. I was watching three query spaces and discovered something. There were three different sites all ranking in the No. 1 spot. After the penguin update hit, only one site survived and each site had a high percentage of exact match anchor text. So let’s just say google is distorted. Their engineers contradict themselves with their speeches and their algo has no real focus. Plain stupid! But I’ll keep on doing SEO.

Thanks again for this interesting post :-)

PotPieGirl May 20, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Thanks, Charley! And bless your heart for reading every word… I’m impressed!!

An event such as a tornado can really help put everything into perspective…and I feel the same about Google and all their “Storms” lately. Put it all into perspective and move forward.

craig May 20, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Even if google was really only trying to give us the best experience, the fact that they want to do these ‘updates’ so often (I think they’ll eventually be doing it every other day, lol) promotes the opposite result. When they update and the serps go thru the usual ‘dance’ for days/weeks, I always notice crap results in my searches for that time…certainly not what little g claims to want for their users! And google is becoming slower and more user unfriendly every day…but I suppose that’s inevitabe as g becomes more bloated, bureaucratized, cronyistic, etc. i know their software engineers need to justify their existence, but how much is too much before they drive away the users they claim to want to serve? And the deceptive way they started putting paid ads at the top of their serps lays bare their hypocrisy once and for all. As I recall, they changed the colored area with the ads in the 1st 3 results to a barely perceptible tint, and I’ve accidentally clicked them a few times…now there’s no ‘tint’ at all, they look like part of the results of a seach. Would they tolerate any of their adsense publishers diminishing their ‘users experience’ by practicing such blatant deception? I doubt it! Hopefully other nations are and will further stand up to google’s poor business practices :)

PotPieGirl May 20, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Hiya Craig =)

I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but when I ‘spring clean’ my house, it looks WAY worse before it looks better. I have stuff pulled out of closets and drawers and it’s a mess!

To me, that is what is happening with Google now – they are ‘spring cleaning’ and things DO look worse – and will continue to look that way until Google straightens things out AND we (hint hint) seize the moment and give Google the good stuff they so desperately need right now.

I agree about the ‘color’ of the ad backgrounds… I find myself now really having to be sure I’m looking at the first organic result and not the bottom of the ads. Pretty deceptive, if you ask me….but I don’t think Google will ask ME…lol!

Alan May 20, 2012 at 3:45 pm


My neighborhood got thumped by a tornado last November, so I know exactly how you feel. When I look back at the pictures, I realize how fortunate and blessed my family is.

I am curious about your hunch. There are some guru’s out there that are saying that links from authority article directories could be bad for your backlink profile. Just like everybody else, I had winners and losers. My “winners” have zero links from sites like ezinearticles and goarticles.

What are your thought about links from these types of directories since the latest Google updates?

Oh and by the way, War Eagle.

PotPieGirl May 20, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Oh Alan – “War Eagle”?!?! ACK!!!!!! Rolllllll Tide, baby! =)

Sorry to hear about your tornado experience. We ARE very blessed to be sitting here talking about it.

As for my hunch – I’m curious about it too. I had tons of tabs of backlink profiles open on my browser of winners/losers in a given query space….and it was all so frustrating because they all looked the same. I could see why ANY of those urls could have been slammed – but some didn’t. I even opened each url….looked at the page that is/was ranking…looked at the site. Man, some of the stuff that survived is pretty rough.

Then, I saw something in the back link profiles that caught my attention. I hesitate to just say it because it’s not a “make sure you do x% of this”, if that makes sense. I just need to figure out a way to test it and that is pretty tough to do – especially in the midst of the eye of the Google Storms.

As for GoArticles/Ezine articles… I didn’t see any specific trend as far as having those links hit/not hit. Now, many of the sites I looked at had THOUSANDS of links so it’s very possible that they did/do have them and I didn’t see them. I really don’t *think* those types links on their own will cause issues. However, if that’s the MAJORITY of a back link profile and the anchor text is not well-balanced, I feel sure it could cause issue.

Miles Baker May 20, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Hey Jennifer! Hope all is going well, looks like it is! What a scary event to be caught up in a tornado, and a fantastic lead in for this post.

Great post! I’m inspired. :)

PotPieGirl May 20, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Hey Miles!!!

Great to ‘see’ you!! That tornado was quite an experience that totally came to my forethought as I rummaged through the Google results lately.

Hope all is well with you as well!

Angela May 20, 2012 at 4:17 pm

A long article, but one I read from start to finish. A great comparison between physical destruction and cyber destruction. Yes, we do have to stop dwelling on what happened in the past and move on.

PotPieGirl May 20, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Hi Angela =)

Yep, that was a long one – even for me…lol! Took HOURS to get it out and get it right enough to publish.

But yes, it’s time to move forward…there’s opportunity out there!

Brian May 20, 2012 at 4:52 pm

We don’t “do” tornados here in Denver, either, but your description sent chills down my neck anyway.

Good advice here. I think maybe I should start looking at things I’m not “in” as well. I’ve never been blown away, per se, but I’ve gone down 6 spots or something and wondered if it was something I did. “Should I have not modified that header file?” I’ve learned to calm down, but you are right about how arbitrary it seems, and how overreacting to that usually won’t yield good results.


PotPieGirl May 20, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Hey Brian =)

Yep, over-reacting is very contagious right now – and I totally get why. Thing is, we just need to chill out a bit and see what happens. This is just a moment in Google time…no telling what will happen next.

In the mean time, keep moving forward. The time we spend worrying could be spent doing things more constructive, don’t you think?

Big T May 20, 2012 at 8:11 pm

I love how you put it – Google is starving for good quality results to rank well… But only if they have not “manipulated” their way to the top (whatever it is that they think manipulated means).

That’s the way i see this mess that are the SERPs now… You could have the Best site in the world for any given keyword, but it’ll be nowhere to be found if it broke Google’s “rules.” in place of the best site, you’ll find crappier sites ranking because they didn’t break the “rules.” but of course, like you said, you can analyze those sites individually and find examples of them “manipulating” the rankings.

One more thing – If someone scrapes content for any of the Penguin penalized sites, the scraped content is ranking ahead of the original. In my opinion, that’s the worst part of this mess.

PotPieGirl May 20, 2012 at 11:48 pm

So true, Big T… so, so true, and sad as well!

David May 20, 2012 at 10:24 pm

You are probably the only person I have ever heard make great sense out of the whole Google alog change deal. I’m this close to delete my rss subscription to search engine land and search engine watch these days. They are just a waste of time…. repeating and rephrasing the Google guidelines on every post related to google update….they make you fill as if you are a retard or something. Actually the whole SEO industry is getting retard these days. Nothing makes sense.

PotPieGirl May 20, 2012 at 11:52 pm

I hear ya David…and thank you! I’ve had to sort thru piles and piles of the ‘same ol, same ol’ as I’ve been researching all this – and yes, it gets annoying. Problem is, it’s NEWS, but there’s nothing NEW to really say about it because no one KNOWS anything else for sure.

I consider it my job to make sense out of things for both myself and for my readers. We’re all in the trenches together, aren’t we? Thank you for letting me know I helped more than me with this long-winded post! =)

Rose May 21, 2012 at 12:30 am

I loved the Tornado story – you might think about taking up descriptive journalism, it was that evocative!

Regarding what has been happening – G did another Panda update hard on the heels of the Penguin (I think Penguin was Apr 24th and Panda Apr 27th), and every time they re-run Panda they tweak the parameters. It might be that some of the sites that got so devastated got a double whammy, which is why they are so puzzled about what happened to them. It’s a mistake to run round thinking it was just about links, could’ve been on-page stuff instead but no-one is talking about that Apr 27th update.

PotPieGirl May 21, 2012 at 12:42 am

Thanks, Rose! What a nice compliment!

Oh yes, Google had double and triple whammies going on. Panda ran on April 19th and a refresh on the 27th…and Penguin was right in the mix on the 24th along with many, many sites losing links over the blog networks getting de-indexed in mid March.

LOTS going on….. LOTS and LOTS!

Big T May 21, 2012 at 1:02 am

Damn you, PotPieGirl… I just found this site for the first time today and just spent over 3 hours reading your posts and other posts you linked to. Now I gotta figure out how to stay away. You’re too good, you keep me hooked, and if I keep coming back, I’ll never get any work done. Damnit!

PotPieGirl May 21, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Oh no, don’t stay away! hahaha!

Hope you found some helpful information!

Jeff May 21, 2012 at 1:04 am

Hi Jen,

I am glad nothing really bad happened with you and your family during that night.
Of course, the house was wrecked but it is a comforting thing to know that you are all safe.

It reminds me of the Google Penguin (minus the happy feet)…

Lots of websites were whammed. What a bummer. But at least we can start all over again. (wink, wink and wink)

PotPieGirl May 21, 2012 at 3:52 pm

A house is just wood and sheetrock…it’s the people who make it a home and thankfully all our people were all A-ok.

Yes, looking at the birds-eye view of the tornado destruction is like looking thru Google’s results lately…but you’re right, we can rebuild ;)

Genevieve May 21, 2012 at 2:03 am

Hi PotPieGirl,
I love your posts and find them very informational.
In a tornado area myself, I’m always nervous when the sirens/news reports hit.
I have seen not-so-good content ranking in various niches on page one, and I shake my head in amazement. Surely the general public notices it too. Hopefully, this will all “blow over” soon, but it’s Google . . .
I am curious though: Since your “breakup,” are you still doing SEO services?
Wishing you the best!

PotPieGirl May 21, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Thanks, Genevieve!

and “blow over” – why didn’t I use that phrase in the post… good one!

I still have a couple “big” clients, but as for other stuff, only offering the LITEs now – my team was way too busy to take on more than that.

All the best to you as well!

Mark May 21, 2012 at 3:42 pm

A month or so down the line having seen my (good quality) sites and earnings drop like stones. Have decided that google is an unstable model (as it always was) to base expectations of earnings from. Not worth trying to keep up with it. Will only concentrate on driving traffic directly to my sites from now on. Search engines no more.

Would like to see some posts on that, would be useful. :-)



PotPieGirl May 21, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Hiya Mark =)

Search engines are only ONE source of traffic online. The problem comes when we depend on that traffic exclusively….bad things happen when storms blow through…ugh!

Alan May 21, 2012 at 4:11 pm

I love reading your posts. They are so well worth the time invested.

Google sucks!

Almost all of my Amazon product review sites (and all 3 of my Clickbank sites) have been dropped from the first 10 pages of Google. I’m adding quality content and started building Squidoo lenses for each of them in hopes they will return (sure can use the extra income). This is very time consuming as I work a full-time job away from the house.

Keep writing and sharing. I’m not going to quit!


PotPieGirl May 21, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Thanks, Alan! This particular post was really long (even for me) – thanks for hanging in there!

Sorry to hear about your sites…it’s a tough time for a lot of folks, isn’t it? Good for you for jumping in and getting new exposure with Squidoo. Excellent advice ;)

Glad you’re not quitting..there’s no reason to quit now – things are just getting interesting…lol!

Let me know how things work out for you!

Tamara May 21, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Great post! Noticed you recommend ahrefs. I’ve been comparing that tool to Majestic SEO. In entered one of my url which is about a month and a 1/2 old and ahrefs showed no backlinks, but Majestic did. Any reason why you didn’t choose Majestic over ahrefs? Sorry, got a little sidetracked. But one of my sites that was ranking #2 for a competitive keyword had disappeared in the Google search results with the Penguin hit. I did some social bookmarking and now it’s on pg 2:). But I was wondering whether or not you should just get new domains when your site has been hit. Guess you answered that! lol Thanks again!

PotPieGirl May 21, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Hiya Tamara – thank you!

I like ahrefs – I think it just suits what I want to see and how I want to see it. Also, my rank checking tool shows Majestic info so that’s already in front of me.

Not sure it’s time to dump any domains right now (but an additional one might be a good idea for those that are losing big money right now). Once Penguin comes blowing through again, we’ll all have a better idea of “Now What”.

Vicky May 21, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Great post Jennifer!!
Love the last part, just go do it!
That`s so great with this business you get as many chanses as you want. If you have or had a winner site, create another one.

Thanks Jennifer, always enjoy reading your posts,

PotPieGirl May 21, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Thanks, Vicky!

Yes, we have all the chances we want and go for. It’s time we stop stewing over all this and move forward. There’s as much opportunity out there as ever- if not MORE.

yquest May 21, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Potpiegirl…one more question. If you can get another clean domain and start brand new, can you move all of the content from the old domain to the new domain? Or is it best to rewrite everything?

PotPieGirl May 21, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Is your old domain totally deindexed?

Otherwise, yes you *could* do that… Here’s a post I did on how to do that:


yquest May 21, 2012 at 5:43 pm

No..the old domain is not totally deindexed. So in that case…I’m assuming it would need to be new content? Thanks for posting that post!

Franklin May 21, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Great info Jennifer..so glad you and family got through safe in the tornado..we’ve had some close calls here in northwest Louisiana for sure but no damage…

Totally agree with you about the opportunity marketers have right now. I did jump on a new domain a few weeks back. I’ve done little to backlink or promote it except for a few articles and some social pages, and it’s ranking well now…still got a lot to learn though

The opportunity is there for sure…

David May 21, 2012 at 5:12 pm

The Penquin is running amok and Batman is nowhere to be found……….

stevewyman May 21, 2012 at 6:10 pm

+1 Lol :(

Adelle May 21, 2012 at 6:18 pm

Well, as a Google user I find the results that a search serves up now as terrible. When I search for something about a product that I am interested in buying I don’t want to see 2 or 3 pages filled with Amazon, Ebay, Target, Sears, Nextag, Walmart, etc. I know all those URLs by heart and I have probably already been to them. I want to get some reviews or information about a product from individuals, even if their site eventually takes me to one of those big name sites to purchase.

And, I don’t want Google protecting grandma. Grandma can protect herself. Just give me the information and let me make a decision about what is best for me. Right now you can’t get a search results page that is anywhere near relavent to your search term.

I have had to go to Yahoo or Bing to really find anything useful lately.

PotPieGirl May 21, 2012 at 7:09 pm

Oh, I hear ya, Adelle!

Want a good laugh at Google’s expense?

Check out this post I did which shows some HYSTERICAL pages ranking on Page 1 for a certain keyword…


However, we have to keep in mind that this might mean things are about to shake up again.

GJC May 21, 2012 at 6:51 pm

This is about the 4th time in the last couple of days I’ve heard the recommendation to just start over (I think even Matt Cutts said it), so guess what—I am! But, oddly, I initially benefited from Penguin (moved from about 15th to 5th on multiple keywords), but was then “slapped out of sight” about May 16th-17th! Anyone else experienced post-Penguin slaps?

MaryAnne May 23, 2012 at 12:05 am

I did. Sites which didn’t have any obvious drops on the 24th or 27th were slapped down a week or two later. Penguin? Panda? I don’t know which black/white animal to blame!

Robert May 21, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Jennifer – this was an outstanding post. I read every post you email about an I always come away with something.
This post inspired me to take some action on some of my sites that were hammered by Penguin. Sure, why not get a new domain – I know a lot about the niches and keywords, etc. I’m not sure about using the same content or maybe spun content but at least I will be moving on.

How can you tell if a site is guilty of keyword stuffing?

steve May 21, 2012 at 8:34 pm

Most of my sites have gotten through this recent tornado untouched although I lost about 30 with the first Panda update. Things are messed up and it is hard to figure out what is going on. Google ran Penguin on the 24th but they also ran Panda on the 27th so it is hard to sort. Near as I can tell Penguin hit sites with unnatural linking patterns. Cant say they did not warn us though. I don’t think it has anything to do with content at all which is why some very good sites got hit. I think all we can do at this point is roll with the punches and not make any drastic changes until things sort themselves out. Oh yeah and watch out for “experts” that pray on peoples fears, claim they know what is going on and can fix things.

Stephen Byrne May 21, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Great post Jennifer, but for crying out loud I feel sorry for newbies to Internet Business and regular Businesses with all this malarkey going on, very scary, I am in the process of starting a new site and feel like staying well clear of backlinks.

HardbassTV May 22, 2012 at 8:12 am

That’s what I call a “motivational post”. All those one-man/woman-show webmasters are only crying and commiting suicuides, they are yelling “No, I want it BACK”. But this is the life god damn it. This is how everything works. There are tornados and there are shiny bright moments. And we need to learn to deal with both of them.

Of course it sucks what is happening, of course it’s bad for a lot of people. But seriously, who cares? Google doesn’t. And rest of the universe doesn’t care either.

Chetan May 22, 2012 at 8:37 am

Hello Jennifer- This was one of the greatest posts written within the entire SEO Industry…. I have stopped my subscription to Seo Moz & others (instead subscribed to your blog). It seems that those big SEO guys (Rand & others) are not doing SEO anymore… they are just protecting their brand with Google. These big blogs never seem to talk about the concerns of affiliates or how to rank their sites. They just got big clients (no affiliate sites) that they keep promoting/marketing with big budgets. They should stop calling themselves SEO’s… I have never read a single article that actually helps affiliate sites.

I truly appreciate your honesty about this whole algo mess.

One more thing, can you reflect a bit more on the “hunch” thingie? That’s the only part/sentence I didn’t quite understood (You are either the one people are talking to and talking about, or—–). Is that something you will post about in the future?

Look forward to reading more…



Aims May 22, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Hi Jennifer. Great article. Well worth the read! As always.

You mentioned that there’s opportunity right now and that we should be part of the “cleanup Team”. How do you propose to do this when nobody knows (yet) how to rank sites right now after the storm? Or should we rank/backlink them in exactly the same way we used to? Cheers

Judi May 22, 2012 at 3:28 pm

PPG…. I was waiting for *your* POV on this and can’t wait to read more down the road! You always seem to bring a breath of fresh air to a topic when everyone else seems like they are all spewing the same talking points.

Perfect analogy and wonderful advice! As one of the small sole props you described we got whacked and all I can do is read, learn and try new things. Doing business online is not for the weak of heart, right?

Thanks for keeping it real! ;-)

MaryAnne May 22, 2012 at 11:57 pm

Refreshing to read a post from someone who’s talking about the big honkin’ elephant in the room and not just parroting the Google party line :)!

I’m totally baffled by the apparent randomness with which my own sites were affected and the gawdawful mess which is supposedly their “improved” results…

Tony New May 23, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Wow. I originally found your website through a post on Squidoo. Eeekkk…you have a link to your website! Oh, wait, you said you take links as a compliment. — *grin* That’s good. So do I. :-)

The main thing that struck me as I read your article is just how MUCH I have to learn about this new venture I’ve started. *SIGH* I just *thought* that going from “unemployed out of shape librarian” to “fit, healthy, in shape Writer and Professional Dance Instructor” was going to be easy. Becoming writer and making money online was looked like it was going to be the straight forward half of the plan. Alas, I’m quickly learning how much I have to learn!

But with articles and websites like yours full of information, I’m sure that it will come to pass. Thank you for the entertaining article even if you did make my “to do / to read” list grow longer. ;-)

I’m glad that you, your family and your neighbors all survived the storm. Cheers and thanks again!

Jane May 25, 2012 at 12:54 pm

To simply sum up how I feel about the Google “tornados” and pandas and penguins etc., I find it such a mentally exhausting drain constantly worried about what is happening next, and sweating over everything I write. I really do. Certainly I will keep keywords in mind…they are important, but I’m just going to concentrate on writing what I want to and however I want to. I’m certainly aware of the “proper?” things to do in terms of SEO, but the irony of that is, it changes from one day to the next it seems. I’ll just stick to what I’m doing, and whatever happens happens.

penny May 25, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Great opportunities to spring clean and get great content out there – yes thats true
(Un)fortunately the days of half-hashed rubbish websites are long gone – even if Google is in disarray right now – we can all see where it is headed.
PPG, you won’t have any problems as obviously you are already used to providing top-notch content – I am very interested in your w-i-p… whatever your theory is about! Hurry up with that….

Henrygold June 4, 2012 at 3:30 pm

The good thing about this stupid update is i learn to build a brandable site that doent need google as a middle man.

Rich June 5, 2012 at 11:46 pm

Wow, that was quite a post ! I left the shores of the Jersey Shore 5 years ago and went to the great state of Atlanta. Bigger fishing pond, bigger fish..follow the money and find my true love and marry her. I knew the road was going to be tough but never dreamed that a huge tree would fall over and crush my home in Smryna, GA or that I would survive a stroke virtually unscathed. I had just bought my first computer, well second if you count the 2k me and my cohorts at RE/Max in Beach Haven, NJ had each kicked in to but that 28lb portable Compaq. Some how I found you found this PotPieGirl and started trying to follow her advice. How hard can this be I thought ! You just explained what happened the last few months. Thought I finally had a plan that was working and poof everything just stopped. Pesky Penguins! Computer in the shop and no money go fetch it, I took time to relax and ponder what happened and what should I do next. I can tell you it won’t have anything to do with hammers, saws or paintbrushes. It will involve pushing buttons and posting blogs, putting video’s on youtube, writing articles on WordPress and Squidoo, tweeting, hooting, fb, G+ and a bunch of other things. The thing that amazes me is how fast my following is growing. I have fans! Soon there will products for them to buy. Still a lot of things to figure out but I want to thank you for all your great help and advice. Rich aka NewLife4Rich@gmail.com

Kristian | SEOtext June 7, 2012 at 7:49 am

Hey Jennifer! Hope all is going effectively, seems like it is! What a scary celebration for being caught up in the tornado, and also a wonderful direct in for this article.

Wonderful publish! I’m inspired.

Mike June 11, 2012 at 8:09 pm

I have been all over the place since January this year. I’m literally on and off the SERP’s daily. One day, 2K views from Google, the next day 100. I am just concentrating on building my site for those who visit it, and will let whatever happens with Google – happen…

Brian Farley June 13, 2012 at 11:38 pm

Brilliant post in the wake of unfortunate domestic circumstances. This is the best post I have researched on Penguin – and I have researched A LOT! Great comments and true instances. I have suffered a great drop in rankings (although still there but pages down) in a lot of my sites all mainly dropping off severely on 25th April. Interesting that some of my subpages with very little content and no backlinks are now ranking higher than the main page! Agree that search results from G are rubbish at present and cannot help thinking it’s either to get all who have suffered to start paying for Adwords, or that G’s revenue from Advertising in the wake of competition from Facebook Ads has declined so much that it does not want to pay out to publishers so it’s ranking them down.

Any thoughts on this?

Jason Hefley June 18, 2012 at 4:16 pm

I like what you are saying about the anchor text theory and all of the other theories out there. My theory is that they have searched out the blogs that link building companies were using and unlisted them in google. Using my backlink tracker, my site’s PR rating went from 3 to 1 and all backlinks have disappeared. I have made my sites look more natural and lowered the keyword density. For my key words it is weird what has happend. I went from having my sales page drop off the rankings and two other pages now occupy in the top 10. My traffic to the site has went down, but has not gone away. In summary, I went from having one page in the top 10 and now have two, unfoertunatly they are not generating the revenue as my other page was. Other sites I have really benefited as now they are in the top 10 when previously not listed.

I primarily used linkvana for link development and thought this was a good way to get backlinks, but it looks like the Penguin update was targeting companies like linkvana. I am going to war, attempting to get me traffic by other means you have suggested. I appreciate your insight. Thank you as always.

Nasdaq7 June 18, 2012 at 9:05 pm

My heart bleeds when I read about Penguin. Google has destroyed the SEO business. How would I know, I still rank #1 for thousands of keywords and I am not making real money. The situation is hopeless. Every week I check if Google hasn’t closed some of my last remaining SEO tricks. We are doomed. If it is any consolation, the businesses that are really doing well are those that have returning visitors. Now building a website that good takes months and a lot of money. I’m happy to know that Google has destroyed SEO. Unless you can get returning visitors you are doomed. Why returning visitors? Because even if you do get some going through, chances are they won’t buy at the first visit. So you need an excellent website, which for some markets, just isn’t possible.

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