How to Recover from Google Penguin 2.1?
On Friday, October 4th, Matt Cutts announced the release of Penguin 2.1. Based on the amount of Penguin work I do, that meant one thing. Matt just threw a serious wrench into my Friday night (and weekend plans). Similar to previous Penguin updates, I began heavily analyzing websites hit by Penguin 2.1 to identify new findings and insights.
Needless to say, the past two and a half weeks have been fascinating, as I’ve now dug into 36 sites hit by Penguin 2.1. This latest update has definitely left a path of destruction across both large and small websites, from around the world.
A Tale of 3 Penguin Victims
This post is designed to give you a peek behind the curtains, into the world of Penguin. I will focus on three different websites, with three different outcomes.
The first story is a happy one, as I’ll explain more about a company that recovered during Penguin 2.1. The second company unfortunately took it on the chin, and twice. They were first hit by Penguin 2.0, only to get hit harder by 2.1. The third represents an all-too-common example of a company not understanding what its SEO agency was doing, and was blindsided by a Penguin 2.1 hit. Let’s begin.
1. Penguin 2.1 Brings Recovery
I know there are a lot of people that don’t believe websites can recover from Penguin. But they can; I’ve written several case studies about those recoveries in case you want to learn more. Once Penguin 2.1 hit, I quickly started reviewing the reporting of previous Penguin victims to see if there was any impact from our refreshed, icy friend.
During this most recent update, two websites I’ve been helping with Penguin hits recovered. I’ll focus on one of those sites in this post. While analyzing the site’s reporting, I saw a distinct bump in Google organic traffic starting on Friday, October 4th and increasing during the weekend. Note, this was a client with multiple issues, and was hit by both Panda and Penguin (historically). That’s actually a common scenario for a number of the companies contacting me. For this company in particular, I helped them identify technical problems, content issues, and link problems, and they have worked hard to rectify their issues.
A Penguin Recovery During the 2.1 Update:
The company was originally hit by a previous Penguin update, but delayed tackling their link issues as they worked on technical problems and content issues. If you know how I feel about the gray area of Panda or Penguin, I always feel you should move as quickly as possible while maintaining focus in order to recover from algorithm hits. The reality, though, is that not every company can move at light speed.
This company was no different. They had seen improvements from technical fixes and content work, and finally started to address Penguin over the past few months (after Penguin 2.0 rolled out). Unfortunately, Penguin was inhibiting their growth, even if they had showed signs of progress based on other SEO work.
During late spring and summer, unnatural links were removed as much as possible, while links that could not be manually removed were disavowed. By the way, that’s the approach I recommend. I’m not a big fan of disavowing all bad links, and I never have been.
Based on links downloaded from Google Webmaster Tools, Majestic SEO, and Open Site Explorer, the company tackled its unnatural link situation the best it could. Now they just needed another algorithm update to see if their hard work paid off. I recommend to any company hit by an algorithm update that they should keep driving forward as if they weren’t hit. Keep producing great content, keep leveraging social to get the word out, keep building natural links, etc.
When October 4th arrived, a spike in organic search traffic followed. The site’s Google organic traffic was up 43 percent following Penguin 2.1 (and up 67 percent to the specific landing pages that had been impacted heavily by the previous Penguin hit). The filter had been lifted and the site was being rewarded for its recovery work.
- Move quickly and keep a strong focus on what you need to tackle link-wise. Although this company recovered, it delayed its Penguin work for some time (and the negative impact remained).
- Be thorough. Don’t miss links you need to nuke. Penguin is algorithmic and there is a threshold you need to pass.
- Remove as many unnatural links as you can manually, and then disavow the rest. Avoid the knee-jerk reaction to disavow all of them.
After your Penguin work has been completed, keep your head down and drive forward. Act as if you aren’t being impacted by Penguin. You’ll send the right signals to Google throughout the downturn in traffic.
2. A Penguin 2.0 and 2.1 Combination Punch
The second example I wanted to explain was an unfortunate one-two punch from Penguin. You wouldn’t think a Penguin can pack a combination punch, but it has in several situations I’ve analyzed recently (where companies reached out to me complaining of a Penguin 2.1 recovery hit, after a Penguin 2.0 hit.) And worse, this was after thinking they addressed their unnatural link problem thoroughly.
After getting pummeled by Penguin 2.0 on May 22nd, the company gathered its troops, thought they identified all of their unnatural links, and worked hard on removing them. After what seemed to be a thorough cleanup, they eagerly awaited another Penguin update. When Penguin 2.1 was announced by Matt Cutts, they watched their reporting with intense focus, only to be thoroughly disappointed with the outcome. They got hit even worse.
The Initial Penguin 2.0 Hit:
The Second Penguin Hit on Oct 4th:
So what happened? Quickly reviewing the site’s link profile revealed a problem: companies put a stake in the ground and remove as many unnatural links as they can at a given point in time. They don’t continue analyzing their links to see if more unnatural links pop up and that’s a dangerous mistake. I saw many unnatural links in their profile that were first found during the summer and fall of 2013. Many showed up after their Penguin work had been completed. Those links are what got them hit by Penguin 2.1.
Fresh Unnatural Links Caused the Penguin 2.1 Hit:
The combination punch I mentioned above is a strong reminder that Penguin never sleeps. Don’t assume you are done with your link removals because you have a spreadsheet from a few months ago. You need to continually review your link profile to identify potential problems. If this company had done that, they would have picked up many additional unnatural links showing up this summer and fall, and dealt with them accordingly. I believe if they did, they could have avoided the nasty one-two punch of Penguin.
- Your Penguin work is ongoing. Don’t drop the ball.
- Have your SEO continually monitor your link profile for unnatural links (whether that’s an internal SEO, agency, or consultant).
- The one-two punch of Penguin is killer (and can be backbreaking). Avoid multiple algorithm hits. They aren’t fun to live through.
Unnatural links have an uncanny way of replicating across low-quality sites and networks. I have clearly seen this during my Penguin analyses. Beware.
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