What is Google Penguin?
In April Google launched their "Penguin" update to their search ranking algorithm. For some sites, it was a day of reckoning. Their search rankings tumbled and their steady stream of traffic suddenly went dry. Like the "Panda" update a year ago, the purpose of these major changes is to "deliver the best possible search results, delivering the most up-to-date and original content". At least that's what Google spokesman Matt Cutts has stated. Google is on a quest for quality. Sites that have original, good quality content, that deploy good SEO practices.
I have a few "experimental" sites that I have used to test out some linking programs that I believed were on the edge of white hat vs black hat SEO. Turns out these got hammered by Penguin. They are not client sites, just experiments.
How Should I Respond to Penguin?
If your site got hammered by Penguin, then you likely have a quality issue. Either bad quality links or bad quality content. You are in trouble. If you have been buying links or participating in link schemes, it's time to get out of them. Contact the owners of the sites and ask them to remove the link to your site. Use a backlink checker tool to produce a list of who links to you. Don't use the "link:www.yourwebsiteurl.com" feature on Google. As with the Penguin update, links that they feel are bad links or spammy link are ignored and you wont find the bad ones. Next, take a look at your site content and do a major overhaul.
If all these actions fail to return your site to good rankings, then you are left with two alternatives. 1. Hire a professional SEO consultant. 2. Purchase a new website domain and start all over. Perhaps both.
Downgraded by Penguin but not Lost?
If you merely lost some ranking positions in Google, such as moving from the #5 position to the #12 (second page), or similar results, now is not the time to panic. Certainly if your site got hammered (see section above) then it's time to panic. If you are simply a little lower than you were before, then a steady approach to SEO should help you recover. Begin by checking out the pages/sites that have moved above you and do some reverse engineering. Find out who links to them, check their keyword strategy, look at their content, and compare to your site/pages. What are they doing better than you? Now, put together a plan to leap frog them by doing the same thing, but better. Adjust your content or develop new content. Manually request links from authority sites, focus your keyword strategy and monitor the changes in search results.
Google Penguin and Panda are major updates to the search algorithm, but they are not the end. In between Panda and Penguin have been many small updates and post-Penguin will be many more small updates. Keep an eye on your search results and keep tweaking to find that sweet spot where Google loves you again.