Penguin v2.1 Recovery Options

by Tim Hill (aka Doodled)

October 9th 2013
Google's Penguin has hit again - guilty or not, is there a way to recover?
Google's Penguin has hit again - guilty or not, is there a way to recover?

Well Google has rolled out another update of it's Penguin Algorithm aimed at websites who have been ranking high due to poor quality links from spammy type sites (link farms, content farms, etc.).

My mailbox has been buzzing with people who have seen their traffic plummet since the weekend and as this algorithm is still rolling out there may be more to come.

So what are your options if you have been hit, and you are pretty sure it was because of Penguin 2.1?

First you have to decide which one of the following you are:

Scroll down to find more information on the one that applies to you.

Yes, I was building/buying spammy links and I've been caught

First understand that in most cases Penguin is not a penalty. It is just moving your site to the correct place in the rankings now it understands that many of your backlinks are worthless.

It can feel like a penalty but it isn't. Up until now you've just been lucky, but that luck has run out.

Should I use the disavow tool?

There's not much point telling Google you think all those links are spammy because, by adjusting your rankings down, Google has just told you that it knows.

The next question is to see if Google knows you are the guilty one.

First look in your Google Webmaster Tools for a message similar to this:

“This site may not perform as well in Google results because it appears to be in violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines.”

Followed by something like:

Unnatural links to your site
Google has detected a pattern of unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative links pointing to pages on this site. These may be the result of buying links that pass PageRank or participating in link schemes. Learn more.

If you did, read on. If not, scroll down to No, I didn't receive a warning message from Google.

Yes, I received a warning message from Google.

If you have this message Google is pointing its finger at you as the guilty party and if you are the guilty party don't flaff around trying to deny it. Google has obviously found a trail that it feels is concrete enough proof. How does Google know?

At this point you can spend days trying to get all those robot or sweat shop generated links off the web and then appeal to Google for reconsideration. But if you are looking at thousands of links the time spent, and the risk that Google will still say your efforts are not enough, don't make much sense.

Instead follow these steps:

  1. buy a new domain and rebuild your site there;
  2. remove all the content from your old domain except a 404 page. On this put a graphic
  3. with your new domain name (but don't mention it in any alt tag or text);
  4. do not use any 301 redirects or links as they will affect your new site;
  5. Keep your new domain clean of spammy link building.
    1. No, I didn't receive a warning message from Google

      So right now Google doesn't have enough to pin the dodgy activity on you. Doesn't mean it won't in the future so look out for this message and consider the possibility now of moving to a new domain depending on how badly your rankings and traffic have been affected.

      For the moment your lower rankings are because the poor quality links you were relying on are no longer helping your site. Not because of an active, manual penalty being applied by Google to your website.

      No, I didn't build/buy spammy links but an SEO company I hired might have

      I always find the “actually I did hire a SEO company a while ago but I'm not sure what they did” type response from website owners gets me shaking my head.

      But no point kicking you while you are down. Too late to say things like “What were you thinking?”. The only question now is where do you go from here?

      Well first check Google Webmaster Tools and see if you have a ridiculous number of links and if many of those seem to be coming from spammy looking websites.

      Second check for a message in Google Webmaster Tools similar to this:

      “This site may not perform as well in Google results because it appears to be in violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines. ”

      Followed by something like:

      Unnatural links to your site
      Google has detected a pattern of unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative links pointing to pages on this site. These may be the result of buying links that pass PageRank or participating in link schemes. Learn more.

      If you have this message then Google has manually downgraded your site for using spammy links because it has found a trail which links you to their creator. You used SEO company X and SEO company X made spammy links. Your ignorance is no defence. How does Google know?

      Trying to beg by proclaiming you didn't know won't help much either. Spending days (possibly weeks) trying to track down and get rid of hundreds or thousands of links off the web and then appealing to Google for reconsideration isn't going to make sense. Especially as Google may just shrug its shoulders and say “not good enough!”

      Follow these steps:

      1. buy a new domain and rebuild your site there;
      2. remove all the content from your old domain except a 404 page. On this put a graphic
      3. with your new domain name (but don't mention it in any alt tag or text);
      4. do not use any 301 redirects or links as they will affect your new site;
      5. Keep your new domain clean of spammy link building.
        1. What about the disavow tool?

          It won't help in this situation either because once again you are only telling Google what it already knows. Closing the stable door, as it were, after the horse has bolted.

          No, I definitely didn't build any spammy links or hire anyone that might have done that

          This is the one that has most website owners scratching their heads. They definitely played by the rules and now their rankings are gone. No warning messages from Google in Webmaster Tools so what is going on?

          The chances are one or more websites that link to yours were up to no good and because they have had their link juice taken away, they no longer have link juice to pass on to you.

          Some of the most respectable looking websites can turn out to be some of the biggest abusers of the web. Several high profile brands in the past have been exposed for these shenanigans.

          But from your immediate point of view there is no need to move domains, disavow or anything else. You are not guilty of anything except trusting the wrong websites. You'll just have to crack on with your usual SEO efforts as normal.

          How does Google know?

          You're probably shaking your head now and thinking how could Google possibly know all these things about where you go and who you hire?

          Google knows far, far more than most people realise. Ticking a “Would you like to help Google improve the web” type box when installing Firefox or Chrome is similar to saying, “help yourself to lots of data you find on my computer”.

          Google can see, from your history, where you have been and what you have been up to.

          So say on one day you logged into your own admin panel … Google knows. Then you visited www.superspammylinks.com … Google knows. You filled out the payment form for a bulk link buying service … Google knows.

          But it could even conceivably work it out in numerous other ways. For example, you log onto the internet in the morning using a certain IP number which you will have with you all day. If that IP number can be seen acting as an administrator for your website and then acting as a customer for www.superspammylinks.com … well … guilty.

          And so the multitude of ways Google can track down your guilt go on, even tracking it down through a third party that you instruct.

          Google has been known to make mistakes, big mistakes, in its accusations and there are some innocent victims so I'm not suggesting it's perfect. But for the blogger or small business owner it's hard to make your appeal heard among the thousands who also plead forgiveness but are outright guilty.

          In these situations, while you recover your position or build your new domain you may need to consider some sort of Pay Per Click Campaign.