Been affected by Penguin 3.0? What you need to know and do to resolve it.

Getting ‘hit’ by a Google penguin algorithmic filter because of the links pointing to your website, as many are already aware, is certainly no laughing matter. Like other Google algorithms & manual actions to combat spammers, it can have a disastrous impact on any business.

Over the past few years I’ve had to deal with the fallout from many a so-called ‘SEO expert’ using a range of tactics to artificially increase rankings and traffic to websites. Ranging from private link networks, to misguided ‘SEO companies’ buying links to fulfill client link quotas. The most important thing I’ve learnt from those years fighting Penguin through research, testing, implementing and training SEOs to deal with Google Penguin issues is not to panic!

Don’t go rushing out buying expensive tools to automatically analyse your backlinks; it’s a waste of money, and it won’t get you your traffic back by next week as some claim. No matter how much you may want it to work!

There are several specialist Google penalty experts who are certainly worth their salt when it comes to Google penalty removal, although strictly speaking, Penguin isn’t a penalty as such.

The reality is that currently the Google Penguin algorithm only refreshes once in a blue moon, and therefore you will have to wait until another refresh in order to be forgiven your past indiscretions.

Google Penguin 3.0 - Updates once in a bluemoon
Image by Dylan Ashe from San Jose, USA

During this time between Penguin refreshes you will undoubtedly need to clean up your link profile (should you wish to keep your domain, that is), but you should also be implementing other marketing activities to induce amazing marketing strategies. This will result in not just highly engaging content, but also earning natural links to replace the link equity you will be shortly hemorrhaging when you disavow a ‘good chunk’ of your link profile.

The mistake many often make is that they become so obsessed, and engrossed by Google Penguin that they forget other marketing activities. Therefore I would strongly suggest anyone who has suffered from Google Penguin 3.0 seek expert help, rather than trying to fix the issue themselves. Focus on your strengths, rather than trying to tackle the mighty Penguin, which will absorb a lot more time than it takes someone experienced at dealing with it.

A little bit of a background to Penguin 3.0.

When was the Google Penguin 3.0 updated?

Well firstly, strictly speaking, this wasn’t actually an update, but a refresh according to Google UK employee Pierre Far… but I guess it’s now too late to call it Penguin 2.2!

I’ve covered the differences between Penguin updates and refreshes before so I won’t go into the details again, as nothing has apparently changed. As nothing has been added to the algorithm perhaps we should be calling it Penguin 2.3, rather than the title of Penguin 3.0.

In his post on Google+, Pierre mentions that the refresh is geared toward helping sites that have cleaned up their link profiles from previous Penguin iterations, as well as targeting new sites with dodgy link profiles.

The history of the Google Penguin algorithm

For those who don’t know (you must have been hiding in a cave if you haven’t yet read about what the algorithm objectives are) Penguin is focused at link spam, which is key part of the main Google algorithm. Initially launched in April 2012, it came as a shock to many people who had been practicing blackhat techniques for many years and getting away with it for a long time.

It obviously came as a big ‘reality check’ to many sites, including big brands, who were given manual penalties following the release of Google Penguin 1.0. Since then we’ve seen several updates and refreshes, as and when Google see fit.

Below are the documented dates of the various confirmed iterations of Google Penguin:

  1. Penguin 1.0 – April 24th 2012
  2. Penguin 1.1 – May 25th 2012 (32 days since the previous iteration)
  3. Penguin 1.2 – October 5th 2012 (134 days since the previous iteration)
  4. Penguin 2.0 – May 22nd 2013 (230 days since the previous iteration)
  5. Penguin 2.1 – October 4th 2013 (136 days since the previous iteration)
  6. Penguin 3.0 – October 17th 2014 (378 days since the previous iteration)

As you can see there is no pattern as such and importantly the last iteration took over a year which suggests that it’s currently harder to run Penguin than other independent algorithms. What is fairly certain is that it might be a while before the next refresh, so again, don’t panic and then do a thorough manual link audit!

So, cleaning up those link profiles – where to begin?

penguin-3-recovery-do-the-hard-work-get-results

Unfortunately, the job of auditing your links is fundamental to the success of lifting both Penguin algorithmic and manual actions for link spam.

There are dozens of ‘ultimate guides to Penguin’ on the internet, most of them nothing more than regurgitated slurry by the usual culprits… but let’s move on. It’s not rocket science, but it does take knowledge of how to do the job to do it properly, alongside experience. If I’d a pound for every email or call I’ve had from people who have employed SEO agencies who haven’t managed to lift manual actions or Penguin algorithms, I’d have enough for a pretty decent holiday. The secret is to collate as much link data as you can, and audit it honestly.

In theory you don’t NEED to remove the links if you have a Penguin algorithm issue; only a Disavow. However, I personally would try to remove the links as I’ve heard of one instance of someone getting a manual action after already disavowing the offending links.

Conduct a manual audit of all your links

There are two main issues with this arguably most important and time-consuming part of the process.

Firstly, collecting enough link data from multiple sources. I’ve previously recommended using Google Webmaster Tools (obviously), Bing Webmaster Tools, Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs, Majestic (Fresh and Historic) and I can now recommend adding Webmeup to that list as it’s proved very handy in a couple of negative SEO recovery projects I’ve worked on in the past year.

The second issue is ensuring that you actually know what a manipulative link is, so when you’re auditing them you can do it accurately. This is probably one of the hardest thing for most people as they didn’t make them in the first place! So understanding what is, and equally importantly what isn’t a manipulative link comes either from experience, or training. That’s why we’ve made this guide to help people understand the different types of manipulative links.

Protect your revenue and traffic driving links

Not all links which drive traffic (and more importantly revenue) to a site are natural links. Therefore links might be flagged in a review as manipulative and thus you may want to remove/Disavow them. I would strongly urge people to cross-reference their Analytics data to ensure that you don’t remove a link which is making you money. Instead, request that the webmaster nofollow the link and if necessary disavow the link at URL or domain level to remove it from the link graph.

Get that Disavow updated and keep it updated

If you have a Penguin algorithmic issue then the Disavow tool is your friend, and it’s something most people can upload and forget about in most instances.

However, if you’re working in a competitive vertical and you’ve been a victim of negative SEO which has led to a Penguin algorithmic problem I would advise regularly scanning for new links, auditing them and updating your disavow.

If you don’t update the disavow file with more recent negative SEO links, then any new links could stop the issue lifting on the next refresh of the data. If this is the case (and increasingly it is for many, sadly) I would personally recommend tracking your links using a tool and possibly setting up alerts to notify you if spikes occur in your link profile to warrant another audit and disavow.

Link removal (optional, but recommended)

I personally try to remove as many links as possible although not strictly necessary for an algorithmic issue, but I like to keep a tidy shop. Especially if I’m working on a site which has been the victim of negative SEO; then I like to notify webmasters of the issue for them to take the necessary action, and keep the web as spam free as possible.

When will Google refresh the Google Penguin algorithm?

As mentioned earlier, it may unfortunately be some time before Google choose to refresh Penguin again.

This may be due to many factors, but my personal view is that it’s not as simple as hitting a ‘big red button’. Like many companies Google has many different departments, all with different internal priorities.  I’d wager that the webspam team don’t have first dibs on the vast crawling and processing resources available to Google at the touch of a button. Added to this from the way the engineers and the PR machine (consisting of Matt Cutts & John Mueller) talk about Penguin, it’s harder to run.

For those who remember when Google Panda first ran, it began by refreshing periodically with larger time intervals, and, as reported in March 2013, was being integrated into the main algorithm for continual updates.

One thing is clear – Google are certainly looking at speeding it up:

We’re definitely working on speeding it up John Meuller speaking on a Google Webmaster Tools Hangout on 20th October 2014

After all, it’s in Google’s interests to keep spam down and users of its search engine happy, and tackling link spam is fundamental to a successful algorithm.

Having previously run tests as to what search results would be like without backlinks in the algorithm, I think it’s fairly safe to predict that they’re going to continue to be important for a long while to come:

“… at least for now backlink relevance still really helps, in terms of making sure that we return the best most relevant, most topical search results.” Matt Cutts speaking on February 2014

In summary, the sooner you audit your links and clean up your link graph, the sooner you can get on with marketing. Then, when Penguin does refresh, it should give you a nice surprise if you’ve earned your right to be algorithm free!

To conclude

I’ve always been puzzled as to why Penguin came as such a shock to SEOs, as link spam isn’t really very hard to detect if you want to; it was just a matter of time until Google went after link spam on a large scale. I even predicted what we know as Penguin back in January 2012, months before it happened, after working on more and more campaigns where manual actions had been given for manipulative links.

I’ve helped over 140 clients with both manual actions for link spam & algorithmic Penguin issues. Out of the manual penalties I and my various teams have dealt with over the years, we have a near perfect success rate. As far as the algorithmic issues are concerned, those who invest in doing proper whitehat SEO and marketing have flourished.

If you are experiencing issues which you believe to be Penguin/link orientated,  I would firstly confirm it, and if you’re unsure, or would like more information about the services I offer please get in touch.

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