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Google Penguin Penalty

The Penguin penalty (officially called the “Webspam update” by Google) targeted websites using spammy and low-quality tactics to manipulate the search results. It was officially rolled out on April 24, 2012.

What causes a Penguin penalty?

As with other Google penalties, the Penguin update was released to improve the search experience for all searchers and was rolled out across all keywords and industries. With this penalty, Google sought to punish webmasters who used “black hat” techniques to game the search engine result pages (SERPs).

Strategies which result in internal and external over optimisation are most likely to cause Penguin related issues. The most common strategies that result in a Penguin penalty are:

  • Building unnatural links creating a link profile consisting of low quality, low power and irrelevant referring domains.

  • Keyword stuffing done either openly or with attempts to hide it from Google and users (such as including keywords in a white font to hide the text).

You can read Googles Quality Guidelines for more details on what they consider spam or check out their Spam Report page for a small list of frowned upon techniques.

If you or your previous SEO agency has implemented any of the tactics listed above, you should explore in more detail if your site is being affected by this penalty. 

How do I know if my content is over optimised?

Whilst experience allows our team of SEO experts to spot even the most difficult to find cases of over-optimisation, keyword stuffing which might have triggered a penalty tends to be much easier to spot.

You should look for sentences which do not seem natural. Keyword stuffed content will appear as though it has been written purely for search engines and will be difficult to read. In such content there will be multiple mentions and/or variations of the target keyword(s) and the text will often not make sense.

How do I know if my link profile is over optimised?

An over optimised link profile can be more difficult to spot. You may wish to consult an SEO expert on this if you believe your backlinks could be causing Penguin issues.

An over optimised link profile can present itself in many ways. You might be over optimised because you have too many of the same type of low-quality links (such as thousands of blog comment or footer links). Other times you might have an unnatural anchor text ratio. Out of say 100 links, 30 have your target keyword as the anchor text for example.

Diagnosing an over optimised link profile can depend on the number of referring domains and backlinks pointing to your site, the keywords you are targeting, the link profiles of the top 10 ranking sites and what action (if any) has been taken previously to remove low-quality links.

How will I know if my website has received a Penguin penalty?

If your website is suffering from a Penguin penalty, you will see a sharp drop in organic traffic around the time the update was first released (24th April 2014) or around subsequent Penguin updates:

  • Penguin 1.0 released on 24th April 2012.

  • Penguin 1.1 released on 26th May 2012. 

  • Penguin 1.2 released on 5th October 2012.

  • Penguin 2.0 released on 22nd May 2013.

  • Penguin 2.1 released on 4th October 2013.

  • Penguin 3.0 released on 17th October 2014.

If you have experienced a sharp drop in organic visibility, you should quickly check your Google Search Console account to see if you have received any manual penalty notifications. This is easy to do and can save you a lot of time searching for the cause of your drop in rankings if you have in fact been given a manual penalty.

If you have experienced a large drop in rankings around any of the key Penguin dates and have not received a manual penalty notification, it is much more likely that your site is being negatively affected by the Penguin update.

Most webmasters will quickly become aware when they are suffering from the Penguin penalty due to the huge drop in organic traffic their site will experience and the effect this will have on sales or conversions.

Note: Penguin can affect websites “site-wide” according to comments made by Google employee John Mueller. Even if only a few pages are causing the penalty, every page on your website may experience a drop in rankings.

How Can I Recover My Rankings?

As Penguin is an algorithmic penalty, to recover your rankings you will need to remove the issues that caused the penalty whilst consistently improving the quality of your website overall. You should see improvements gradually as Google reconsiders your website and ranks it accordingly. As Penguin is now a real-time part of Google’s core algorithm, you should notice improvements as Google crawls your site and takes note of your updates. There shouldn’t be any need to wait until any roll out/update of the penalty to see progress.

If your link profile is causing issues, you should gather all the harmful, low quality and irrelevant domains linking to your website and contact the website owners asking them to remove the links. If you have no response or this is not possible, you should submit a Disavow file in Google Search Console requesting that Google ignores such links.

When spam and over optimised content is causing issues, you will need to improve your website copy. Including your target keywords in prominent positions (such as meta titles, H1 tags, first paragraphs etc.) is important but your content should always be written primarily for users, not search engines.

Over the years Google has got a lot better at understanding content. Not only is stuffing your content with keywords dangerous, it is unnecessary. If you are writing high quality content and keeping your main keywords in mind, Google will be able to work out exactly what your page should rank for.

If you are stuck suffering from a suspected Penguin penalty, you should check out our penalty recovery service to find out how you can start to recover your rankings and organic traffic.

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