How to Recover from Google's Penguin Penalty

A penguin with a broken leg

The Purpose of Penguin:

Google's Penguin algorithm was designed to drop the rank of websites that have over-used their main keywords in the anchor text of links pointing at their websites instead of using their brand name or domain name. This resulted in a majority of low quality spammy looking backlinks.

Sites that were affected most, may have purchased too many links all at once, were interlinking several of their own websites, submitting to blog networks, or using other spammy techniques that made it obvious to Google that these were not naturally gathered links. It also makes it obvious that these backlinks were procured by the site owner instead of provided by visitors to the website (Google prefers the later).

According to one of Josh Bachynski's SEO videos, Google's Penguin algorithm is dead, i.e., no longer in use. This is likely due to Google's AI (machine learning) algo has absorbed it's ranking factors so you can no longer tell it was a Penguin penalty that hit your site if your ranking drops suddenly. And the same goes for Google's Panda algorithm. Therefore what is said in this article no longer applies to the Penguin algo, but Google's Ranking factors in General

There could be other factors that caused a drop in rank, like a Panda penalty, which usually occurs due to an over-optimization of your keywords (too high keyword density) on the web page and other factors. Your site could have also been affected by competitors buying thousands of links and pointed them at your page(s) although Google "claims" to be able to recognize negative SEO now. Technical issues can also cause a drastic drop in traffic or rank.

To determine if Penguin is the culprit check the date of the beginning of your traffic drop with the following dates:

Official Penguin Updates: *

* The list of official Penguin Updates was derived from Search Engine Land. Google said that any future updates will run in real time, i.e., bad links will affect your pages right away and getting rid of them will result in a quick Penquin recovery.

How to Tell if you were hit by a Penguin Algorithm Update

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 the updates. If your site was affected, there is still hope of recovery by taking the following 10 steps:

How to Recover

1. 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 Search Counsel Tool and comparing the date of the traffic drop to the date the algorithm was launched.

This site has a chart showing the dates of Google Penguin updates which you can compare with your own traffic or ranking history. Here is another tool that does the same thing Google Penalty Checker. Google often sends out a pre-test of algorithm changes a week or two before the actual update so watch for those dates also.

2. Check all your web pages to make sure you haven't over-optimized your content. Read your pages with a critical eye and check and see if you repeat your main keywords too often in the title, headers, text on the page or elsewhere.

To prevent over-optimization use semantics instead (other words with a similar meaning). Also make sure there is no spammy content in image alt or comment tags or within the code. Over-optimization is one of the big factors preventing a speedy recovery. A good tool that allows you to analyze your pages for over, or under, optimization is Page Optimizer Pro.

3. Check the Quality of your Backlinks. Check your Trust Flow and Citation Rank in several SEO tools. MajesticSeo, Moz, Ahrefs, SemRush, CognitiveSEO, among others, offer this information. Citation rank indicates how many times the site is mentioned on the Internet with no link, and trust flow shows the quality of backlinks coming into a site.

These tools also usually indicate if the links are nofollowed or not. A website with a low citation or trust flow ranking is usually considered low quality which is another factor of a Penguin penalty. If you have links coming from a website where the citation and trust flow 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 flow).

Another sign that you have been hit by a Penguin Penalty is, if you have set up Rich Snippets within your code and after several weeks they are still not displaying in SERPs. Google has indicated that it doesn't display Rich Snippets on sites that have received a manual penalty for inorganic links because they have lost Google's trust, see here for more info.

It is therefore also possible that this could affect sites hit with a Penguin Algorithm (which, by the way, Google is no longer indicating when it is updated as it's now often included in the Core Quality Algorithm updates.

4. Use a Backlink Analysis Tool to Determine Unnaturalness. There are several tools on the Internet that will check your backlinks to see if they are natural or not. Some are free and others charge a fee. Most of them provide you with a list of backlinks that you could get disavowed which will help with a Penguin recovery.

5. Check for an imbalance of anchor text. 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 anchor text or get enough links removed so your backlink profile is no longer out of balance.

6. Look for sitewide links, or multiple links from single domains. Some sitewide links 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.

7. Look for links coming from blog networks. 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 also cause a penalty. 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 a backlink analyzer tool. If you own several websites that are linking to the one you are analyzing then remove those links as Google may think you are trying to manipulate their search engine results.

8. 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 may draw Google's attention.

9. Negative SEO. Request removal of 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. However, 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 Tool so it won't count those links against you.

Google "claims" that it is ignoring unnatural links now, but if your site was hit by negative SEO (by competitors buying links and pointing them at your site with your most important keywords in anchor text) you may want to disavow them anyway. Use the disavow tool on any spammy links that you can't get removed by other means.

Read the instructions on how to use Google's Disavow tool very carefully first. Then wait a few weeks to a month to see if your ranking recovered. Google doesn't index penalized sites very often so it may take awhile to recover. There is no need to send in a reinclusion request to Google as that only applies to manual penalties, not algorithm changes like Penguin.

Watch this video for many other methods of targeting your site with Negative SEO other than spammy backlinks.

10. Get 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).

If you haven't already set up internal links to your most important pages then do that also. The links need to be within the content of your other pages. Three internal links should give you the same quality as if it was one link from another website.

The highest quality backlinks you can get are those that you receive without asking, i.e., people linking to your website because the information is so good they intend to return for more or they place comments on social sites, in forums and blogs about your website or link from their own website without you asking.

A Penquin Recovery is only 10 steps away

Other Rank Recovery Articles:

How long does it take to recover your ranking in Google?

If you need help to determine if your website was hit by a Penguin penalty consider an SEO check of your website:

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Lori Eldridge of Lori's Web Design
© 6-21-13 - updated 1-10-20
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