How to Recover from a Google Penguin Penalty

By James Norquay | 29 Jul 2013

Many businesses have been feeling the unwanted effects of Google’s recent algorithm updates. This case study provides a framework for recovery, writes James Norquay.

Many businesses have been negatively affected by ongoing changes to Google’s search algorithm, with updates such as Panda and Penguin having serious ramifications for brands.

Having worked with a number of businesses that have suffered at the hands of these ‘improvements’, I would like to share with you a particular case study that involves a large start-up in the US and Australia, fixing the issues that prior SEO agencies had created.

This particular case study will be relevant to nearly all brands that have seen a negative impact on their search rankings due to recent algorithm changes. In this case, as in most, the key problem is related to the link profile of the specific website in question and the work which the prior SEO agency had completed.

The Problem

The client previously engaged with an SEO company that was using link networks and low quality link-building methods , which in turn had degraded the client’s link profile (sound familiar?). There was no transparency with the client in regards to what was been done on the project and this resulted in Google penalising the website quite heavily on the original roll out of Penguin. This resulted in the client losing significant revenue, due to a large drop in traffic.

The client has a large mix of branded traffic, direct traffic and also generic, non-branded traffic coming to its website.

The Solution

1. The Analysis Stage

Analysis of the direct problem areas involved investigation of the client’s link profile to find out exactly where the negative links are coming from. Some tools that can be used to view your link profile include the following:

Majestic SEO (Paid Tool)
Ahrefs (Paid Tool)
Open Site Explorer (Paid Tool)
Google Webmaster Tools (Free)

You need to determine which update has hit the website in question using Barracuda’s Panguin Tool. If your website has been hit by a Panda release it is probably a direct result of duplicate content on your website. Your web property could have in fact been hit by numerous updates.

Google updates graphic

Example report above from a different website in question, you can also find more information about the specific updates from this website.

Once you have looked into your link profile to decide which links are negative, be sure you’ve covered all bases. The problem is many websites have large, complex link profiles that can be in the 100,000+ range.

2. Further Analysis Stage

You will need to use a third party tool that provides further analysis of your link profile. Two tools currently on the market which do a decent job of this are:

Link Detox (paid tool)

Link Detox will provide a report similar to the one below, which will indicate what percentage of your link profile contains toxic backlinks.

Link Detox - a tool for link profile analysis

An example report from Link Detox.

Link Risk (paid tool)

A Link Risk analysis report.

An example report from Link Risk analysis.

Another tip is to contact your prior agency and ask them directly if they have been using any link networks or negative link building tactics, and to provide evidence from the information you have collected from the analysis tools above.

Further to this, you should disregard any links which are pointing to your website that are ‘No-Follow’ links, Google is only after ‘Follow’ links in its updates.

It is highly advisable that you also have a SEO professional who has link building knowledge to review the data provided by the reports from the tools above, because it can harm your website if you instantly take the data from the 3rd party tools as a final point of analysis. I have come across one case for a US-based client where they actually removed a large number of good quality links.

3. The Removal Stage

The next stage involves working out which links you need to remove, it is advisable to reach out manually to sites via email to take down links first, let each site know you have been hit by a penalty and email them on mass with the links you need to remove. If people ask for money to remove links, don’t pay – just move onto the next target and note this in your reconsideration request.

It is highly advisable to contact each site at least twice, you will need to retrieve the emails using the 3rd party tool above or by using a service such as Domain Tools to gather the correct contact details for the websites. The 3rd party tools listed above such as Link Detox will also provide a percentage of data on contact details.

The next step is to use the disavow tool. You need to add all the links and root domains into the tool. Also, please be advised you only need to use the Disavow Tool if you are 100 percent certain that you need to remove the links in question and you have not been able to manually remove these links.

Here is a guide from Google on how you need to construct your disavow file.

When this process is complete, you need to submit a ‘reconsideration request‘ to Google, which involves writing a full response on the process you have used to remove the links, including experiences with past agencies you have used, the impact a Google penalty has had on your website, the construction of the disavow report and also attach all documents and working from your reports as Google Docs links.

It may take a week, if not a month for Google to reply to the reconsideration request. If it is successful they will notify you. If it is not successful it’s back to the drawing board to remove more links and try again.

The Results

The client in question saw a monthly increase of around 400,000 (in organic traffic) unique visitors after the successful completion of link removal and the submission of a reconsideration request (the blue line pictured below indicates three months after the update, whereas the orange line is the month prior).

Further to this we also implemented a new strategy for the client’s business and conducted high quality content market and high quality link building efforts to do things the right way with a focus on long term results.

Google Analytics

A comparison of unique visitors one month before (orange) and three months after (blue) this SEO recovery process was undertaken.

Using the same methodology above, we have also been working on a different client in the US on a similar project that yielded similar results (please note the results below are quite new).

Graphs displaying increased search rankings and traffic.

The top graph indicates overall keyword increases, the bottom graph shows the increase in overall traffic according to Google Webmaster Tools.

I hope this top-level guide helps anyone who has been hit by a Google update after engaging with a low-quality SEO company. If you have any specific questions or you need additional advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch or leave a comment in the space provided below.


9 thoughts on “How to Recover from a Google Penguin Penalty”

  1. Jarret says:

    Hi James,
    Great Article mate, really comprehensive and pleasing to know i am following a very similar format 🙂

    Just one question i had though, in regards to sending in a re-consideration request, i have always thought this is really only feasible if you have a manual penalty notice? As with an algorithmic change they cant exactly flick a switch, just have to wait for the algo to register changes and then naturally your site will crawl back up the serps.

    That being said i normally do send in a re-consideration as there has been a couple of times where Google has replied back saying that the site in question has a manual action taken on the site, they must of just forgotten to send it…somehow


  2. Hi Jarret.

    Good question, I was going to delve more into the difference between manual and algo based penalties, you could probably write a posts on that alone alone.

    True often with an Algo based penalty Google will reply back and say their is no action taken on the site and it comes to a point where you have to wait for the next update roll out for things to take place. This is an area where their is a bit of a grey area on time here, that is why you really need to follow the index updates, and in cases the US changes may not be the same as the Australia market.

    We have had two sites come back from an Algo based penalty and yes it can be a very tedious process and take a very long time in comparison to a Manual penalty to recover.

    My advice is too 100% include a reconsideration request for algo penalties, Google search quality team will read them. We just work by things that have worked in the past and test different methods, many people in the search community will work off different methods and claim different things work.

    It is all part of the fun of been in this industry.

    Kind Regards,

    James Norquay

  3. Andrew says:

    Personally, i think Google is now clamping down so hard, all the smart site owners and marketers are simply moving away from Google as a source of traffic. Their methods are so self-serving, so unfair to any but massive brands, it’s simply not worth it anymore. We have seen fantastic sites run by passionate brands fall afoul and never recover, as much as black hat sites thriving. The playing field is not just uneven, it’s no longer fun to be in the game…

  4. Karthikeyan says:

    As far as I know, reconsideration request doesn’t work in Google Penguin penalty recovery. All other factors you have mentioned are more acceptable.

  5. Bhavik says:

    Nice post. I think people must remember that removing, no-following or disavowing links won’t recover your rankings but if you compliment this activity with quality content marketing then you will be in a better position to recover.

  6. Rick Lomas says:

    If anybody is interested in using the tools mentioned above, in particular the Link Detox Genesis tool, at a reduced rate, I can help. I am putting a community together (the link should be my name in this comment). The idea is to get 10 people together and I will help them get their penalties lifted. Why 10? This is because LRT are bringing out a new tool next week which will help speed up how quickly Google takes notice of the disavow file. Unfortunately the new tool is only available with the higher level LRT plans, which are quite expensive, so my plan is to split the cost 10 ways. In return I will help 10 people get their penalties lifted. I have completed the Link Research Tools Associate Training, but I want to get more experience and some testimonials, so this is the best way I can think of doing it. Membership is free, but limited to 100 before the community becomes a private mastermind.

  7. Victoria says:

    The only reason Google shakes up the rankings is to create new PPC advertisers.
    Google will do it again to knock out the current generic rankings

  8. There are plenty of tools available in the market which can help you to identify the spammy links. So you can filter them and remove them. Also if they dont removed, then you can disavow as well. But from my experience, Google Penalty Recovery is very tough. You cant win easily.

  9. Atinder says:

    Well, penguin is dangerous, specially for those who are not aware of Good Link building strategies. They can get hit by this algorithm update quite easily and recovery for them is also very difficult. Being faced this scenario in my blogging career, I can easily understand the pain of recovering a blog from Penguin penalty, as it can months to remove bad backlinks and then, wait for the penguin refresh, sot hat our blog gets free from penalty. Anyways, I must say, the post is quite good, well written. Thumps Up for this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *