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How To Recover From A Penguin Penalization

By now, you’ve probably heard all about Google’s algorithms. If you’re not familiar with Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird (the algorithm’s cutesy code-names), be sure to read this excellent, in-depth guide.

Google’s not-so-fluffy algorithms have been sending the SEO community into a spin since 2011, when the first (Panda) went live. And frequent updates have continued to wreak havoc on unsuspecting websites.

If you’ve been hit by an algorithm penalty, it may feel like it’s the end of the road. Watching your rankings tank and your organic traffic decline can be devastating, but it is possible to recover. In fact, it’s even possible to improve on your pre-penalty rankings and traffic.

A few blog posts ago, we showed you how to recover from a Panda penalty. Today, we’ll be showing you how to bounce back from a Penguin penalty.

A Brief History of the Penguin Algorithm

Before we go on, let’s first take a look at what the Penguin algorithm is and does. Announced in April 2012, Penguin decreases the search rankings of websites that violate Google’s guidelines. More specifically, it targets sites using manipulative black-hat tactics such as link spam and keyword stuffing.

There have been 5 further updates (confirmed) to the Penguin algorithm, which amounts to roughly 2 or 3 a year. The most recent was on October 17, 2014 and it impacted around 1% of all English search queries. This number may seem insignificant, but in reality it means millions of pages were de-ranked.

Identify the Penalty

If you wake up one morning to discover your rankings have suddenly tanked, you’ll probably want to leap into action. The very first thing you need to do then is identify the penalty. You can’t fix the problem if you don’t know what it is.

There are two types of penalty: manual and algorithmic. Manual penalties are easy to identify – you’ll find a message from Google in your Webmaster Tools account. Google won’t let you know if you’ve been hit by an algorithm penalty, but a severe and sudden drop in traffic will give it away.

Sudden Drop In Website Traffic Indicates A Penguin Attack


Sudden Drop In Website Traffic Indicates A Penguin Attack
To find out which algorithm has affected your website, use Algoroo or Mozcast to check for recent updates. If for example you noticed a decline in traffic after October 17th penalty.

Analyze Problem Areas

Bad links and on-site spam are the usual suspects for a Penguin penalty. First, you will need to analyze all of your sites inbound links and get rid of harmful ones. Second, review your website for issues with keyword stuffing, hidden text and link cloaking.

Jason DeMers claims that the overwhelming majority of Penguin penalties are doled out because of link spam, so that’s what we’ll be focusing on today. Bad inbound links might include:
  • Paid for links (not advertising)
  • Links on article directories and link farms
  • Links in non-industry specific directories
  • Links embedded in spammy content
Use Google Webmaster Tools To Check Inbound Links To Site


Use Google Webmaster Tools To Check Inbound Links To Site

You can use your link profile (found in Google Webmaster Tools) to search for these types of links. This may be a long and tedious process, especially if you have thousands of back links but it is absolutely necessary for recovery. Here is a really useful guide to performing link audits. However, if you don’t have the time and/or patience to do it yourself, consider enlisting the help of professional auditors.

Remove and Disavow Bad Links

Now you have a list of all suspicious looking links, it’s time to get rid of them. There are a couple of ways to do this – you can ask the source website to remove the link or you can disavow them. It’s important to note that just disavowing links may not be enough, so you should absolutely try to have them removed first.
Disavow Tool - Blog WooRank
Google Disavow Tool

Contact the webmaster of the source site and ask politely that they remove the link/s. There’s a great email request template at the end of this post (though the whole article is worth a read). Send a follow-up email after a couple of weeks if you don’t hear back. In some cases your request will be denied or ignored so this is when you will need to disavow the link instead. Some SEO’s recommend performing disavow requests on every bad inbound link, even the ones that have been removed. This is entirely your call of course, but it’s definitely worth considering.

Reassess Your SEO Strategy

‘Prevention is better than cure’ or so the old saying goes. The cost of being hit by a Google penalty is too great to ignore. It’s time to clean up your act.

You need a new SEO game plan that plays by the rules. Familiarise yourself with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, shun all spammy practices and focus on creating a marketing strategy that will make your mother proud. The three pillars of excellent SEO are: killer content, a great social media campaign and natural inbound links.


Remember, the tactics that worked a few years ago are old hat today. Don’t risk another penalty by continuing with these shady SEO tactics.

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