If your website has been penalized by Google, it is incredibly important that the issue is corrected. Once you’re hit with a penalty, your website will first lose visibility on Google, then traffic, and then conversions. And that's bad for business. After all, what good is a website if nobody can find you?
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to recover from penalties. Although it can sometimes take a few weeks (even months, in some cases) to see any type of improvement, the sooner that you get started the sooner you can get back to where you used to be—hopefully in the good graces of Google.
Background on Google Penguin penalties
There are two primary types of algorithmic Google penalties: Panda and Penguin. These penalties occur because Google makes a change to its algorithm. This means that everyone on the web has the potential to be affected by the penalty (as opposed to just your site) because the algorithm has altered what Google views as important for ranking on the web. There are also non-algorithmic manual penalties, but this type of penalty is specific to your website and something a Google employee has determined you have done wrong.
For the purpose of this article I am going to dive deeper into Penguin penalties.
Penguin is all about link spam. This includes low quality backlinks, text advertisements passing PageRank, having too many links with optimized anchor text and other link schemes like excessive link exchanges. You can visit this link to see all of the Penguin penalties rolled out by Google, but below are three of the most recent:
- Penguin 2.1: October 4, 2013. This had a moderate impact on sites and was primarily a data update as opposed to a major change to the algorithm.
- Penguin 2.0: May 22, 2013. People suspect that this update was targeted toward the page level. It was also a moderate change that hit a smaller number of sites.
- Penguin 1.3: October 5, 2012. This was incredibly minor, affecting only 0.3 percent of queries, but it’s interesting to note how long it took for Google to hit us with 2.0.
The severity of your penalty and subsequent rankings decline will depend on your overall link profile. The most effective way to tell is to match up your rankings and traffic decline with the times of the updates. If you see a significant decline coinciding with an update, you most likely have been hit.
Tips to recover from a Penguin penalty
Your very first step is always going to be diagnosing the type of penalty. You should first check your Webmaster Tools to see if there is a manual penalty notification. If not, check online to see what Google algorithm updates may have occurred. This will usually be much publicized.
Once you have identified that it was a Penguin penalty that hit you, consider the several different steps you can take to recover:
1. Create a list of all your backlinks. There are many different tools you can use to help you build this list, including Google Webmaster Tools, Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO, Ahrefs, and many others. I spoke with search expert Jason Bayless, founder of BestSEOCompanies.com, and he actually recommends you pull reports from at least three tools. He says” It’s a good idea to draw reports from two or three tools so that you can cross-reference your data. The more data you can collect, the easier it is to make sure you’re not missing a lot of links.”
It’s a good idea to take this list and form your own spreadsheet in order to stay organized. This will also help you in the future if you want to monitor your backlinks to make sure you don’t get penalized again. Most of the tools have export features, so it should be simple to start your own excel sheet.
2. Analyze all of your links for quality. The reason you are penalized is likely because you have a lot of unnatural links pointing back to your site, but this doesn’t mean all your links are bad. It’s up to you to figure out which links are coming from spammy sites. There are several types of links Google tends to scrutinize more such as:
-- Links from non-indexed sites
-- Links from websites with low page rank
-- Links from irrelevant and untrustworthy sites
-- Links from blog networks
-- Site-wide links
-- Disproportionate anchor text usage
-- Article directories & forums
Again, it helps to go through all of your links and categorize them as either “OK” or “definitely not OK” or “needing a second look.” This will help you speed up the process while also making sure you’re not making any rash decisions on a link. After all, there are several factors you can look at to make your decision.
3. Keep track of the links you want to remove.
You should definitely create a master spreadsheet of all the links you want to keep and which ones you want to remove. The quality of links you build can change over time, so having a list of all your links and going back and doing a link audit is an excellent idea to make sure you’re keeping a clean profile. Include information such as the URL, contact information of the Webmaster, any changes you’ve made to the link, etc.
Also just as a side note, if you ever get hit with a manual action penalty, a list is also going to be important for you when it comes to recovery.
4. Start talking with webmasters and disavowing links.
Once you know which links you need to remove, you have to actually remove them (imagine that). The best way to do this is to reach out to webmasters and ask them to remove the link. Asking to remove a link is a completely acceptable thing to ask. You would be surprised at just how many webmasters get back to you.
Once you have reached a point where you don’t believe you will get any more responses, you can move to using the Google disavow tool. This should always come after link removal requests. You use the Google Disavow Links tool to make this happen.
Once you do recover from a Penguin Penalty, it’s important to make sure you don’t get hit with one again. Make sure you’re only following white hat practices and are actively keeping track of your links.