How to Recover from a Google Penguin Penalty – the 2 Most Effective Techniques

Google's proactive approach towards ensuring that its users enjoy by far the best web experience with the search engine has never been more comprehensively established than with the two fascinatingly named and amazingly managed algorithms - Panda and Penguin. Among these, Google Penguin is dedicated towards penalizing websites that breach the code laid down by Google's Webmaster Guidelines. First implemented in April 2012, Penguin is Google's answer to webmasters using 'black hat' SEO tactics to establish backlinks supremacy. Whether it's about webmasters cloaking keywords to leverage low quality and unmonitored blogs for leaving backlinks, exchanging links with other webmasters, buying links, creating large number of thin websites to link back to the main domain – Google Penguin is coded to be severe on all such websites, and reducing their rankings.

Google Penguin analyzes websites' backlink profiles, and if it deems that a large number of backlinks to the website come from irrelevant, low quality, or shady sources, then it levies a ranking penalty on the defaulting website. Penguin takes a lot of factors into consideration, each contributing towards identification of trustworthy, worthwhile, authoritative and valuable websites as well as the ones lacking on these aspects, so that the latter can be appropriately penalized. At its heart of hearts, Google Penguin is about dissuading webmasters from indulging in back hat SEO tactics for backlinks, creating useless networks of websites that clog the web, and using closely matched anchor text links to lead readers towards irrelevant content, so that the web browsing experience of a user can be fulfilling.

How to understand that your website has received Google Penguin Penalty

It shall help you to engrave in your mind that Google Penguin intends to find and penalize all websites have several link-backs unrelated with the quality of the website. Realizing that a Penguin penalty has been levied on your website is the pre-requisite to be being able to make amends and regain your lost rankings.

Smart webmasters should be vigilant about certain changes to their website's rankings that are indicative of a Penguin penalty having struck. Among these are:

  • Massive fall in rankings for a keyword, or a group of similar keywords - Use any link profile analysis tool to identify whether keyword specific penalty or ranking drop has befallen on your website. For instance, if your website's rank, for keyword 'old cars for resale New York' has plummeted from 13 to 350 odd, you have reasons to believe that Penguin has penalized you.

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  • Pages containing a particular keyword being de-indexed from Google, but the remaining pages being intact
  • If a manual penalty has been meted out, you might find a message in your Google Webmasters Tools profile, under Manual Actions option

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Unintended pages show up in search results instead of the main pages, for specific keywords that have led to the penalty

How to recover a website from manual penalty because of unnatural incoming links

Your GWT inbox is where the manual penalty information will come like a kiss of death to catch you unawares. There are two basic types of manual action notices that you could receive:

  • Site-wide manual penalty - This notice tells you the reason behind your entire website being penalized
  • Partial manual penalty - If specific parts of your website are penalized, this notice will explain the reasons and the extent of the penalty

Let's jump straight on the recovery boat. The recovery exercise is best understood by breaking the efforts and tactics into successive steps:

  • 1. Take your time, it's the smart move - Of the few webmasters that are really geared up for recovering their website's ranking, only counted ones are smart enough to realize that quick cures are just not meant for recovering from manual penalties. It's in your interests to not jump into sending a reconsideration request to Google and use ample time to ensure that your recovery efforts are substantial enough to lead to results. Be prepared to slog it out for a few weeks before submitting reconsideration request.
  • 2. Begin a comprehensive link audit- This is the core of the recovery process, before you begin with the manual link removal and Disavow actions. Whereas manual link removal refers to asking webmasters to remove links pointing to your websites from their domain, Disavow is a Google tool that you can use to point out to Google the backlinks that you have no control over and want excluded from being considered for assessing your website. A word of caution – Disavow is best used only when efforts of manual removal are exhausted. Use Google Webmasters or any other reliable link profile analysis tool to identify the kinds of backlinks connecting to your website. Depending upon the category the links fall in, you'll need to do one of these:
    • Let them be, if you're sure that they come from great quality websites and are not what would have caused the manual penalty. Also, social media links are something you'd like to keep, as they're mostly nofollow.
    • Plan to disavow them straightaway without any manual removal effort. Such a course of action would be valid for or links from pages that can't be found, are offline, or are from websites with spam TLDs such as .ru domains linking back to an English website, spam websites that are exact copies of other websites, and domains with PageRank 0 unless they're related to your website and new on the web. Prepare a proper list of all such links.
    • Request removal, for links that come from websites that are themselves penalized manually or algorithmically, blogs hosting closely matched anchor texts for manipulative link building to your website, and multiple websites that are part of a link network.
  • 3. Set up a Google Drive account to trace your clean up job - It's best that you create a Google drive spreadsheet with tabs such as Source URL, Destination URL, email/contact of webmaster of source website, dates of first, second and third requests for removal of your website's link, and the status of the link (removed/still live). By meticulously recording, monitoring and fine tuning your efforts, you'll be able to get the best possible results. Write a well-worded request for manual link removal to webmasters, and follow up twice. It's only after you exhaust your sincere efforts of manual removal of unnatural links that you should add links that still end up being live after this step to the list of links for Disavowing that you prepared in step 2.
  • 4. Use the Disavow tool - Head over to your Google Webmaster Tools account and use the Disavow tool. Select your domain and provide the file containing all the links that you want disavowed.
  • 5. Send reconsideration request - Remember, your sincere efforts towards cleaning up unnatural links could come to a zero if the reconsideration letter is not well-worded. Realize that you're message will be read by humans and not machines, so be as detailed as possible in terms of explaining what could have caused the problem, all that you've done to rectify the same, and that you'd never let it happen again in the future. After sending the reconsideration request, be patient and wait for Google's response. Also, never forget that as and when the manual penalty is revoked, you will be under stricter monitoring than other websites, so be ultra cautious and proactive about ensuring that there are no unnatural links pointing to your website.

To round things up, here are some interesting facts about manual penalties from Google:

  • More than 400,000 manual actions are initiated by Google every month.
  • In parallel, 20,000 reconsideration requests submitted by webmasters are also processed.
  • Most of the websites that receive manual penalty don't even attempt recovery.
  • On an average, webmasters can expect to hear from Google on their reconsideration requests in a period of 30 days or less.

Now that you're aware of the way out after being hit by a manual penalty, let's try to see how algorithmic penalties are dealt with.

How to recover a website from algorithmic penalty because of unnatural incoming links

A quick note on how manual and algorithmic penalty (Penguin) differ - Whereas both manual link penalty and Penguin algorithm deal with unnatural links, the real difference is really in the sense that manual penalties are decided upon and levied by a human, whereas Penguin is purely a code that runs on your website and automatically works a penalty, if it's needed. Manual penalties are, obviously, one site at a time and could well result from a complaint made against your website by another, whereas the algorithm would scan websites 'attributes, compare them to what it considers correct, and then takes appropriate action. The big question – what does a webmaster have to benefit from by appreciating the differences between manual and algorithmic penalties? Also, how is an algorithmic penalty supposed to be tackled?

A Penguin algorithm penalty cuts deep across the way your website gets its backlinks, whereas the manual penalty, since it's human generated, could well be mapped closely to a particular deficiency of your website. So, it's as much about recovery as about prevention and preparation when it comes to safeguarding from algorithmic penalty. If you believe that a Penguin algorithm update has caused a dip in your website's rankings for specific keywords or otherwise, understand that your analyses and clean up will have to be very wide scoped and large scaled, as there will not be any specific leads on the kinds of backlinks causing the action, as is the case with manual penalties. Of course, this also means that a reconsideration request will not be of use, as nobody from the Google antispam team will evaluate your website. Moreover, the timeframes involved in recovering from an algorithmic update will be large, because Google needs to reassess your website via the same algorithm when it runs again, and needs to revaluate the signals that the algorithm considers important for deciding on or against a penalty. This underscores that trivial and specific improvements might not be enough to recover from Penguin; your efforts will need to cut across the entire spectrum of natural backlinks and quality attributes coded into the Penguin algorithm.

So, do everything you did in steps 2 to 4 in recovering from a manual penalty at a large scale and to the breadths and depths of your website, so that it's in good shape when Penguin comes visiting again.

What do you have to do for your website to not receive Google Penguin Penalty

Has Penguin come, flapped, and gone, leaving your website no better or worse off than you were prior to the algorithm's visit? Before you forget everything else in congratulating yourself, warm up to the fact that Penguin will be back sooner than you expect (the Penguin 3.0 version is slated for roll out anytime close to the end of 2014). So, bracing yourself up to keeping your website Penguin-proof is as smart as anything you can do for the sustenance and success of your website. Add to everything the fact that you might yet not be aware of all that Google Penguin likes and dislikes, despite surviving its clean up job. We round up this guide by surfacing out some sure shot tactics to help you remain immune from Penguin's fury, whenever it revisits.

Be very stingy with your guest posting – Several reasons make guest posting a mediocre link building strategy. Google can easily detect guest blog posts and comments that link back to your website. Moreover, guest blogging is what novices and incorrigible webmasters are doing to create backlinks, irrespective of that fact the Penguin has cracked down on such websites. Only indulge in guest posting when it's relevant and worthwhile.

Start thinking the LDR way – By the way, LDR is Linking Domain Relevancy, a factor that defines the relevance of the domain hosting a linkback to your website. Authority signals like Page Rank are being supplanted by LDR signals, which necessitates that you establish backlinks on credible and relevant domains, so much so that such high LDR links form the integral part of your backlinks profile.

Get anchor text diversity strategy in place – Penguin is always severe on websites that use exact match or very similar anchor texts for backlinks. Statistical analyses of websites and their anchor text variations show that Penguin survivors have almost 80% anchor texts unique, which is whopping. A rough outline would be to target 50% unique anchors, and the rest fairly equally spread over texts such as website's URL, webmaster's name, niche, etc. Just remember that anchor texts must not be too similar!

Build a branded website – Of course, we're not asking you to spend a million odd in brand building, but stressing upon the fact that Google does give preferential treatment to branded websites, which could stand you in good stead as the next version of Penguin rolls out. Work out detailed and comprehensive social media strategies to muster up Facebook and Google+ following, get a logo and a 1-800 number, and try to do what other branded websites are doing!

Be proactive with bad links clean up – Before Penguin takes matters in its own hands, it's better to clean out your bad links by analyzing your website's backlinks profile using a link analysis tool and then ensuring that backlinks from shade and un-trusted sources are removed. Also, use your time to ensure that the backlink profile boasts of a good spread of types of backlinks, such as from guest posts, article directories, press releases, etc.