In April of 2012, Google released an update they called “Penguin”. The goal of the Penguin update was to identify (and punish) 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 the 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
- Penguin 3.0 (Penguin #6) | 10/17/2014 | Multi-week roll out
“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 intact? 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 get 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 manual action notification from Google. Could I still be caught in Penguin?”
“So, if I identify and fix the ‘bad links’ I’ll get my rankings back?”
Yes and no. When Penguin hits your site, you’ll have to remove and disavow links – including some that were helping you rank in your pre-Penguin positions.
While affected 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 manual action notice from Google in your Google Search Console account you won’t be able to submit a reconsideration request. Google made that option exclusive to sites with manual penalties a while back.
The Penguin filter is automated. You simply (and unfortunately) have to make the changes and fixes needed and see if your attempt to break free was successful once Google has discovered your changes / updated the Penguin filter.
If you received a manual action notification (which is different than being caught up in the Penguin filter), then you will need to do a reconsideration request. And because those are reviewed by humans and not an algorithm, in most cases you’ll need to get rid of more links than you want to. Links that are helpful to your rankings and not ones the algorithm would identify as unnatural. But since a human would view those links as unnatural they’ll need to be removed to attain Google’s forgiveness.
Whether the hit is algorithmic or manual, identifying which backlinks could be causing issues and removing them (or disavowing them) is the most critical factor in recovering from Penguin.