Profits Still Frozen ? [Penguin Recovery Guide]

Andrew Birkitt

Lead Technical Engineer
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It has been several months since the black and white furry critters from the depths of Google‘s algorithms rocked the worlds of many website owners, webmasters and SEO companies alike. This post intends to focus on the positives and how you can begin to get your site and more importantly the traffic back on track rather than on the woes and suffering that the Penguin and Panda algorithm updates have caused. We will discuss Penguin recovery in greater detail later in this post so before we go any further let’s get rid of some of the confusion that surrounds the two.
What are the differences between Penguin and Panda?
Panda also known as the ‘Farmer Update’ was officially launched on February 24th 2011 and there have been many updates and iterations since then with the latest being Panda 3.9.1 which rolled out on August 20, 2012 ( When the update was first launched way back when Google released an official blog post in which it said the following:
“This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on”.

The long and the short of the Panda update is that it was designed to target websites that were mainly consisting of ‘thin content’ and by this we mean pages that may not necessarily be classed as spam but are of a poor quality. The first update hit many sites hard but in particular it hit the sites known as ‘content farms’ that were basically sites were users could post or publish numerous articles that were of no real value to anyone and were stuffed full of keywords and generally badly written and of poor quality.

The Panda algorithm update makes use of a ‘site wide’ penalty and as such if Google deemed that there were enough pages on your site that were classed as having thin content it could result in the whole of your site being penalised and many of the so called ‘content farms’ did disappear into the ether.

Penguin on the other hand, also known as the ‘Over Optimisation Penalty’ was officially launched on April 24th 2012 and according to Google it was considered an “important algorithm change targeted at webspam. The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines.”

Penguin is very much designed with webspam in mind and is specifically designed to penalise websites that are not following Google’s quality guidelines  and utilising such Black Hat techniques as keyword stuffing and comment spamming.

Nobody in the industry knows the exact signals that Penguin is targeting but many have speculated on the possibilities and the following are a list of contributing factors that many consider to be the prime culprits.

  • Keyword Stuffing in your internal/outbound links
  • Low quality article marketing
  • Blog spam
  • Overuse of exact match domains
  • Aggressive exact match anchor text

Google have assured everybody that they will continue to make improvements to the search algorithm in order to deliver the best results possible, so these updates are not going to go away and will be continually improved upon so if you have been hit by either of the above then it’s time to start putting things right.

While I was researching for this article I also came across this really cool google vs panda infographic that explains the differences nicely.

How do I know if I have been hit by Penguin?

It is fairly easy to determine whether you have been hit by penguin or some other penalty even though there were two updates to Panda at around the same time. Firstly ask yourself this question what day did your rankings drop? If it happened on or near about to the 24th April 2012 then you can be fairly certain that the drop in your traffic is in fact related to Penguin.

Of course to be certain we would recommend logging into your Google Analytics account, once in the account go to Traffic Sources>Search>Organic

Set the date range for your analytics to between the 31st March 2012 and 31st May 2012, if you have been hit by the Penguin update then you will see a clear and marked drop in your traffic between this period generally around the 24th April the date Penguin landed, setting the date till the end of May will also capture the Penguin 1.1 update which landed on the 25th.

Another way of telling if you have been hit is to take a look at your position within the SERPs and how your keywords were performing before the 25th of May to the current date as you would expect them to have taken a serious hit.

One thing we can be certain of is If you have a webmaster tools account for your website (and if you haven’t then I recommend you get one) you would NOT have received a message from Google warning you that you were in breach of their guidelines, this is something different.

The Road to Recovery

OK!! So we have correctly identified that you have indeed been hit by the Penguin update and not something else so how do we go about getting your website on the road to recovery? Remember the things that we are looking for

  • Non branded identical anchor text
  • Paid Links
  • Over use of same anchor text in all links
  • Over use of exact match keywords in links
  • Linking in Private Paid blog networks
  • Link Exchange

The first thing that we need to do is an analysis of the website and in particular what is known as its backlink profile and there are various tools on the market that will assist with this task, please note that I say assist as there is still a lot of manual work involved in the recovery from penguin. There are good chances that there are a lot of links that you weren’t even aware you had and we would expect that the majority of these would be good links and perfectly acceptable to Google, whereas there are others that will be deemed unnatural or suspicious and its these links we are interested in.

Tools such as Open Site Explorer from SEOMoz or Cognitive SEO which actually takes several feeds from various other tools are a good place to start, of course there are other tools available such as AHrefs, Blekko and Majestic SEO. Of course there may be other tools out there as well and as long as it allows you to pull out such data as anchor texts, the actual link types and some sort of link value you should be able to apply penguin analysis techniques.

Actually getting the backlink profile is in fact a relatively easy task; once you have this the real work begins and the first thing to do is identify what types of backlinks you actually have linking to your site. Of course we are looking for the links that Google would consider as unnatural and liable to get your website either penalised or cause a drop in your rankings and traffic.

  1. Link Networks – these are generally automated blogs or forums were the link is placed in small generally poorly written blog posts, there is generally no pattern to the articles that surround the post in question so there is not continuity and the focus is usually on the keyword and anchor text and not quality content.
  2. Blogrolls, Sitewides and other paid for exact match anchor text links – These types of links that are generally paid for include links that appear in footers or side bars on blogs etc and will appear on every single page on the site, thus they will show up in link profiles in high numbers.
  3. Comment Spam, Forum Comments and similar, these will almost always be flagged as they are generally gained by users leaving comments with exact match anchor text or spammy usernames such as’ Top India SEO’
  4. Over optimised anchor text, if all of your links are coming from money keywords or a high number are from the same keyword terms then these need to be looked at, you don’t necessarily have to remove these as you could get the anchor text changed to give a more even profile. A good thing to look at here is that there shouldn’t be any anchor texts higher than your brand terms or url, if there are then you have a potential issue.
  5. Links you shouldn’t really have, by that we mean links such as high PR domains with .gov or extensions, unless you have a legitimate reason for these. Spammy domains such as anything with a .co extension and links that are coming from totally irrelevant websites for example a site selling ladies shoes that links to your welding equipment tools site.

While you are looking through the link profiles and all of the varying types of back link don’t just dismiss them straight away you are going to see a lot of links that fall into these categories and some of them may still be worth trying to salvage rather than just get rid. A good indication is to look for good domain authority but low page rank factors as this is a good indicator of a link that needs removing. Other links may still have a good enough authority and it may be worth getting the anchor link changed and in this way it will help to give a more balanced anchor text profile. Once you have your lists it will pay to de-duplicate them and take out any urls that you may have collated more than once to make the next stage a little more simplified.

Once all of this is done and you have a list of links that need removing and a list of anchor texts to get changed its time to start the painful process of actually getting them actioned. As we have already intimated in this post there is no quick fix for this, there is not at the present time any tools that can automate this task (unlike buying the links in the first place) each and every one of the links you have identified will have to be visited individually and either be requested to remove the link or change the anchor text to something more natural.

Contacting and Removal of the Links

Contacting all of the relevant webmasters or site owners is not always an easy thing to do with some of these links so there are a few things that you do to try and make this simpler. Fortunately for us Google does have a command that allows you to search for the ‘contact’ or ‘email’ of the page and it takes the following format:

site:[put url here] “contact” or “email”

so for example: – “contact”  or “email”

If this doesn’t work it’s a case of browsing the site to see if you can see a physical contact detail or as a last resort you can use the domain tools whois website available here to see if there are any contact details.

Once you have the details for the links it is a case of emailing the relevant people to request the link to be removed, we would recommend creating an email template for this phase of the process. This email should explain that you are either the site owner or an SEO working on behalf of a site owner whose business is trying to recover from a Google penalty, request that the links be removed/or anchor text changed depending on what you have decide, provide the recipient with a list of the aforementioned urls, the anchor text that is being used for the link and the url that it is pointing to on your own site. Provide them with as much information as possible to make it easier for them to identify the link in question and remember at all times be polite and respectful as they are under no obligation to comply with your request.

Be prepared for some of these webmasters to come back with a charge for removing the link, so ensure you have a little bit of budget for this, the costs will no doubt vary and always be prepared to negotiate.

What Next?

Unlike with Panda or a manual penalty there is no reconsideration request for a penguin penalty (unless you feel that this has been done in error). However this doesn’t mean that you should be resting on your laurels and waiting for a recovery.

Moving forward you need to focus on a new link building campaign utilising correct methods in order to create a balanced anchor text profile with links from great sources and exceptional quality content.

I really hope you enjoyed this post and please feel free to leave a comment or question.

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