Perhaps you have no idea what Google's Penguin update is. If that's the case, let me give you a little background. As Ian Lurie explains on the Portent blog:
The engineers at Google constantly tune their search software to provide (hopefully) more accurate results. Most of these tune-ups are pretty small, and go unnoticed by anyone except us hardcore search geeks. They’re like thunderstorms: You don’t name them.
Every now and then, though, Google rolls out a humungous change that throws the search world into a state of meteorological higgledy-piggledy (that’s a lot of Gs). Those are named updates. Panda was one. Penguin’s another.
Google rolled out the Penguin update April 24th. It appears to target artificial link acquisition, or ‘link spam’.
In the next few days, we’re launching an important algorithm change targeted at webspam. The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines. We’ve always targeted webspam in our rankings, and this algorithm represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content.
....Sites affected by this change might not be easily recognizable as spamming without deep analysis or expertise, but the common thread is that these sites are doing much more than white hat SEO; we believe they are engaging in webspam tactics to manipulate search engine rankings
In short, Google is penalizing the sites it feels are manipulating search results by using tactics that are against its quality guidelines. More specifically, it seems to be targeting people that are building links to their sites in manipulative ways. This might include:
It's important that we dive a little deeper to understand the nature of the update and the reasons your rankings and/or site traffic may have been impacted. I have already run into situations where law firms are rushing to try and "fix" the problem without an understanding of how the update impacted their firm's website.
There is debate in the SEO community over whether Penguin is an update that penalizes sites with manipulative incoming links or simply allows Google to do a better job of filtering out the links that should be ignored. In other words, are you actually penalized for having these bad links pointing at you or did they just stop counting?
In my opinion, some of the law firm websites I've looked at, were not penalized outright by Google's Penguin update. Rather, many of the links pointing to the firm's website simply stopped counting. In other words, your rankings before the update were being propped up on the backs of suspect links. Once Google stopped counting those links, your rankings dropped.
There is no full-proof way to assess whether you've been penalized or had links that stopped counting. However, here are a few things to look for:
If you go through these items and find that you are on the wrong side of the answers, there is a good chance you have been penalized. However, if a few of your keywords have dropped in ranking but everything else is still holding up, there is a good chance you have links that stopped counting.
In the event that you think you've been hit by Penguin, here are a couple of reputable resources that discuss next steps to take:
Google Penguin Update Recovery Tips & Advice
What You Ought to Do If You’ve Been Punished by Google’s Penguin Update
If you think that your drop is a result of links that stopped counting it might be a good time to do an audit of your current SEO strategy. Are there on-page elements you can clean up? Have you or your SEO professional been engaged in shady link building practices? Are you focused on creating content that people in your sphere of the web want to share, comment on, and link to? If not, it might be time to reassess your strategy moving forward.
If you aren't sure what is going on, feel free to reach out to me and we can schedule a time to take a look at your site.