Google's Penguin algorithm was designed to drop the rank of websites that have over-used their main keywords in anchor text of links pointing at their sites which results in a majority of low quality spammy looking backlinks.
Sites that are affected most often purchased too many links all at once, were interlinking several of their own websites, submitting to networks, or using other spammy techniques that made it obvious to Google that these were not natural links. It also makes it obvious that these backlinks were procured by yourself instead of provided by visitors to your website (Google prefers the later).
Official Penguin Updates:*
- Penguin 1 or 1.0 - April 24, 2012
- Penguin 2 or 1.1 - May 26, 2012
- Penguin 3 or 1.2 - October 05, 2012
- Penguin 4 or 2.0 - May 22, 2013
- Penguin 5 or 2.1 - October 05, 2013
- Penguin 3.0 - October 17, 2014
- Penguin 4.0 - September 23, 2016
Google says future updates will run in real time, i.e., bad links will affect your pages right away and getting rid of them or disavowing them will result in a quick recovery.
You can usually determine if your site was hit by a Penguin penalty if your website dropped in rank around the time of one of Google's Penguin Updates. If so, there is still hope of recovery by taking the following 10 steps:
- Compare the date of your traffic drop to Google's Penguin Updates. This can be done by using your preferred traffic statistics program or Google's Webmaster Tools. Google often sends out a pre-test of algorithm changes a week or two before the actual update.
- Check all your web pages to make sure you haven't over-optimized your content. Read your pages with a critical eye and check to see if you repeat your main keywords too often in the title, headers or text on the page. If you put your preferred keywords in the title, 1st header and 1st paragraph it's obvious you are trying to rank for those words and this could cause a drop in rank due to the Panda algorithm. Make sure you don't repeat your preferred keywords too often in the paragraphs either. Use semantics instead (other words with a similar meaning). Also make sure your image alt tags are not spammy or that there is any spammy content in comment tags within the code.
- Check the Quality of your Backlinks
- Check your Trust and Citation Rank in several SEO tools. MajesticSeo, SEOMoz, Ahrefs, CognitiveSEO, etc. Citation rank indicates how many times the site is mentioned on the Internet with no link, and trust rank shows the quality of backlinks coming into a site. They usually indicate if the links are nofollowed or not. A website with citation and trust ranking below 30 is usually not the best quality. If you have links coming from a website where the citation and trust rank are in the teens or single digits then you might consider getting those links removed (keep in mind that new sites will have low trust rank).
- Use Backlink Analysis Tools to Determine Unnaturalness
- Webmaster World offers a free backlink analysis tool to check if backlinks are natural or not, however you still need to check each site manually as this tool is not always correct in it's analysis. This tool allows you to click boxes for links you have determined are poor quality and then provides a list of backlinks you can submit to Google for disavowing the links. The only problem I've seen with this tool is you can only use it once a week and there is no paid version available for frequent users.
- Cognative SEO offers a backlink analyzer tool (a paid version). This is a very useful tool that lets you know which links it thinks are unnatural and allows you to set them up for disavowal in Google (you have to check these visually also). You can set up an alert when new links are added. It also has a keyword rank checker available.
- You can use these same tools to check the quality of your competitors backlinks and to find where they are getting good links.
- Check for an inbalance of anchor text of your backlinks. Look for a large majority of anything other than your business or domain name. When there is a majority of anchor text for your prefferred keywords this can look suspicious to Google and cause a penalty. If so, you need to either try and get new links using only your business or domain name as the title or text or get enough links removed so your backlink profile is no longer out of balance.
- Look for sitewide links, or multiple links from single domains. Some sitewides are ok. For instance a relevant blog to your website lising only relevant sites in it's blog roll. If it is not a relevant site and lists sites from a multitude of niches then consider getting those links removed or ask the owner to put no-follow on them as they will be considered spammy by Google.
- Look for links coming from networks of sites. The best way to determine this is to check the IP address of sites linking to yours and see if they are on the same server. This tool won't tell you if those sites are interlinking to each other, you'll have to do that manually. If you paid for links from a network which is linking to your site and especially if you traded links with them, then it can harm your ranking. You can often tell a network by visually checking the different sites as they often have the same layout but different backgrounds, fonts, images, logos, etc. You can also easily find them by using one of the backlink analyzer tools listed above. If you own several websites that are linking to the one you are analyzing then remove all links as Google will consider this as you trying to manipulate their search engine results.
- Look for an inbalance in your link profile. Are there too many link trades, too many blog comments or press releases or articles? Google's Matt Cutts stated Jan. 20, 2014 that hereafter some Guest Blogging articles will be considered spammy links. What Google wants to see is links coming into your site with varied anchor text, from a wide range of topics and from many different sources. Anything out of balance could raise a red flag to Google. If it's obvious you procured all the links yourself this will draw Google's attention.
- Request removal of your links from sites that are putting out poor quality spammy links. Even if you didn't set up those links yourself (it may have been a competitor) you still need to get them removed or list them in a disavow file, as Google may not know the difference. Google may not pay much attention to your submission of a Disavow List until you manage to get some links removed.
- Use Google's Disavow Links tool on any spammy links that you can't get removed by other means. Read the instruction on how to use this tool first. Then wait to see if your ranking improves. This may take several weeks or months for Google to index all your backlinks on other websites as it doesn't index penalized sites very often. There is no need to send in a reinclusion request to Google as that only applies to manual penalties, not algorithm penalties like Penguin.
- Get more quality backlinks to replace the bad ones. If you don't get new better quality links your rank may drop further due to decreasing your link count, so seek links from a variety of sources using varied anchor text (mostly using your business or domain name) and also write better content for your website.
* The list of official Penguin Updates were derived from Search Engine Land
I have a link analysis and removal service (14 sites analyzed so far), however I only do this for current clients or sites that I have performed an in-depth seo analysis on first (see below).
If you need help to determine if your website was hit by Penguin you might need a SEO analysis:
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