In April of 2012, Google released an update they called “Penguin”. The Penguin update was aimed at identifying (and punishing) sites with “unnatural” link profiles.
If your site experienced a significant decrease in organic search traffic on or immediately surrounding the following dates, you may have been hit by a Penguin update.
- Penguin 1.0 (Penguin #1) | 04/24/2012
- Penguin 1.1 (Penguin #2) | 05/25/2012
- Penguin 1.2 (Penguin #3) | 10/05/2012
- Penguin 2.0 (Penguin #4) | 05/22/2013
- Penguin 2.1 (Penguin #5) | 10/04/2013
What are unnatural links?
To Google, any link that exists solely for the sake of increasing your search engine rankings is considered an unnatural link.
Do you have a link on a website that nobody reads, that never sends you traffic, with cherry picked anchor text? And did you only cultivate that link in an attempt to rise higher in Google’s search results? Then Google considers that an unnatural link.
But let’s face it. All sites have some unnatural links in their backlink profile. So why did you get hit while competitors remained in tact? It’s often all about the percentages.
When we talk about building links, we often refer to a “natural backlink profile”. Websites that do “true” marketing have links in a variety of forms, from a variety of sources and are linked to using a variety of anchors.
If your backlinks consist of 90% guest posts and 10% directories, you have an unnatural link profile. It’s not about the hard numbers. It’s about what percentage of your overall backlink profile those links account for.
i didn’t get a “link warning” email from Google. Could i still be caught in Penguin?
So, if i identify and fix the “bad links”, then i’ll get my rankings back?
Yes and no. When you’re hit by Penguin, you’ll have to remove and disavow links – including some that were helping you rank in your pre-Penguin positions.
When you’re hit by Penguin, you get knocked to the point of near invisibility in the search results. When you recover from Penguin, you “break free” of the penalty, but will not be restored to your original rankings – until you get new, clean, legitimate links to replace the “gamed” ones.
After i remove the bad links, do i need to submit a reconsideration request?
If you were hit by Penguin and did NOT receive a “link warning” email from Google in your Google Webmaster Tools account then we would highly recommend you do NOT submit a reconsideration request, even after removing the “bad links”.
The Penguin filter is automated and a reconsideration request will not restore your rankings. You simply (and unfortunately) have to make the changes / fixes needed and see if your attempt to break free was successful once Google has discovered your changes / updated the Penguin filter.
Not only will reconsideration requests not help you in this case, but they could bring unwanted attention to your backlink profile. Humans are much harsher at what they consider a natural link vs. an unnatural one than the algorithmic filter.
If you received the “link warning” email (which is different than being caught up in the Penguin filter) then you will need to do a reconsideration request. And because those are overlooked by humans and not an algorithm, in most cases you’ll need to get rid of more links then you want to (ones that are actually helpful to your rankings and not ones that would be seen as unnatural by the algorithm – but would be seen that way by a human) to attain Google’s forgiveness.
Identifying which backlinks could be causing issues, which depends on which of the above scenarios applies to you, is the most critical factor in recovering from Penguin.