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How I Recovered From A Google Penguin Penalty – Case Study

Rankings decreased after a Google update? Have you suddenly lost traffic and you suspect Google Penguin has filtered your website from the search results? I know how you feel, because I’ve been in the same situation as you are now. But, don’t get discouraged, there’s still hope you can recover your rankings and traffic. I’m going to share with you my whole story and walk you through how I managed to recover my website from a Google Penguin penalty. This post is going to be a step by step guide, and if you follow my strategy, you can recover all your rankings and traffic as well. Any Google Penguin penalty can be defeated using the right techniques.

What exactly is Google Penguin

Along with Google Panda, Google Penguin is the most common penalty that affects websites that are involved in aggressive link building strategies. This algorithm penalizes websites that are attempting to manipulate Google’s search results by building low-quality backlinks and over optimizing anchor texts.

When Google detects unnatural links to your website, it will penalize you for the group of keywords you were targeting. The result is less traffic from Google and for online businesses that rely on this traffic, this can mean bankruptcy.

How do you know if you’ve been penalized by Google Penguin?


The easiest way to detect such a penalty is to check when Google has released an update for Google Penguin. Since 2012, several Google Penguin updates have been announced. These are as follow:

  • Penguin 1.0 – April 24, 2012
  • Penguin 1.1 – May 25, 2012
  • Penguin 2.0 – October 5, 2012
  • Penguin 2.1 – October 4, 2013
  • Penguin 3.0 – October 17, 2014


If you lost traffic right after these updates occurred, most likely your website was filtered by the algorithm change. To be 100% sure this is the case, you’ll also have to look at low-quality backlinks and your website’s anchor text distribution. If your backlinks are unnatural and most of your links are of low quality, most likely you were penalized by Google Penguin

How I knew I was penalized by Google Penguin

My website was getting a decent amount of traffic when out of a sudden, when Google announced Penguin 2.1, on October 4, 2013, my traffic dropped considerably.

Google penguin 2.1 penalty

Just like most website owners, when I’ve seen the traffic loss, I immediately went into a denial stage, thinking this is something temporary, and everything will get back to normal in a few days. Of course things didn’t go as I hoped they would and my denial stage quickly turned into anger and then depression. I felt like this:

smash google

It was hard for me to understand why my website was penalized considering it only had high-quality backlinks, at least that’s what I thought at that time. My website had links from well known trusted sources like HuffingtonPost, NBCNews, Forbes and more. Nevertheless, I had to accept that Google Penguin thought different, and I had to find a way to get my traffic back.

Why I was penalized by Google

The answer is simple. Penguin hit my website, because of me. I didn’t pay attention to all my website’s backlinks. I only cared about the backlinks I was building, which I knew they were of high quality, instead of monitoring every backlink my website gets. I never thought that the backlinks others were creating for my website, will eventually hurt my rankings.

As I said at the beginning of this article, Google Penguin is all about low-quality backlinks and anchor text distribution. Matt Cutts and John Mueller often recommend webmasters to remove bad links, before submitting a disavow report. And so I did.

How I determined the links that caused my penalty

To analyze and determine my lowest quality links, I registered an account with Monitor Backlinks. I paid attention especially to the links coming from dodgy websites. The plan was simple; I had to remove the low-quality backlinks, change my anchor texts where possible and disavow all the other backlinks I couldn’t remove. I had to make my backlinks profile look natural.

First I filtered my backlinks by the number of external links. That’s because the number of external links is a clear signal of a low-quality website. However, do consider that this is not always a rule, and you should manually check each backlink before trying to remove them.

To filter your backlinks by the number of external links, from the upper side of Monitor Backlinks, go to the backlinks page and click on ‘filters’ and then on ‘High external links’.

backlinks-with-many-external-links

By filtering my backlinks like this, I was able to find lots of low-quality links I was not aware of having. After manually reviewing all these links, I decided to remove the ones coming from unrelated websites and those from websites with a poor user experience.

To easily find these links again, I tagged them as ‘remove’, using the Edit button located on the left side of each row.

tag your links

The second thing I’ve done to find the links causing my Google Penguin penalty, was to go to my website’s anchor text report (located at the bottom of the backlinks page) and find all the links abusing specific anchor texts. I noticed four keywords were used more than 50% of the time, making everything look unnatural. And to make things even worse, they were not brand keywords, as they should have been. That was like I was raising a flag to Google and telling them that I’m doing something wrong. Yes, most of my links were coming from very reputable websites, but they were over optimizing my main keywords, and made everything look unnatural.

Again I checked all of these links one by one and I tagged the ones I believed I must remove. Because they were so many and some of them were actually very good links from websites I’ve contributed with guest articles, I decided to email the content managers and ask them if it’s possible to change my anchor text for my links. I already had their contact details and to my surprise, most of them were willing to help me with this.

Moving forward to the process of identifying the links causing my penalty, I had to double check every dofollow link that was passing PageRank. From the upper left side of Monitor Backlinks, you can do this by clicking on the green icon.

find dofollow links

Using all the filters available, I sorted these links by their MozRank, PageRank, Social shares, and again tagged some that I thought I had to remove. Here’s an example of a link I tried to remove immediately:

remove link

Yes, a porn website was linking to me, and I wasn’t aware of that. Not very flattering, especially considering my website was in an educational niche.

How I removed the low quality backlinks

Once tagged all the links I needed to remove, I had to contact webmasters and ask for a link removal. Keep in mind that this process is very time-consuming and the removal rate can sometimes be discouraging. Here are some tips to consider when sending link removal requests:

  • Always use your business email address, instead of a gmail or yahoo address. That helps you gain trust, by proving the webmaster you work or own that website.
  • Be polite and friendly. Threatening the person you want a favor from will not help at all.
  • Make it easy for them to find and change your link. Give them the exact location of where their website is linking to you.
  • Keep it short.

Considering all the above, here’s an example of a link removal request:

Hi [name],

My name is [name] and I work for [Website.com]. I am reaching out to you in hopes you can do me a favor. I noticed your website links to our website on this page: [link] . May I kindly ask if you could please remove this link? The link is located at the bottom of the article, using the anchor text [your anchor text].

Thank you for your time, and I wish you all the best.

Regards,

[name]


And here’s another example of a correct link removal request I received a while ago.

 

link removal request

My removal request rate was close to 10%. For the websites I haven’t received a reply, I tried to contact the company hosting their website and ask for a link removal. This helped me raise my removal rate close to 20%, which is very good. To find their hosting companies, I used Whois.

Disavowing the links I couldn’t remove

Once I removed most of the links and changed some of the anchor texts, I submitted a disavow report to Google Webmaster Tools. In this report, I included all the links I couldn’t remove and also the ones I managed to delete. That’s because those websites were of very low-quality, and I didn’t want Google to associate my website with them by any means, even though they were removed already.

Creating a disavow report is very easy with Monitor Backlinks. Using the filters, from the top menu, you can find the backlinks tagged with “remove”.

find-tags

Now select all the links you want to disavow and click on With selected – Disavow – Domains.

disavow-your-bad-backlinks

Once marked my links as disavowed, I clicked on ‘With all’ – ‘Export disavowed links’.

Monitor Backlinks then generated a ready to submit disavow report and all was left to do was to submit this report to Google Disavow Tool.

Removed, changed anchor texts, disavowed, what else?

After I had removed most of the bad links, disavowed what I couldn’t and also diluted the anchor text distribution, I had to wait for another Google Penguin update. As silly as that may sound; unfortunately there’s not much you can do if you’ve been penalized by a Google Penguin update. At least that’s according to what John Mueller says, Webmaster Trends analyst at Google. Here’s a screenshot from a conversation he had on Google’s forum, where a user asks if there is any way to recover from a Google Penguin update, without another Penguin update.

recover from google penguin penalty

Judging by what happened in my case, I can pretty much confirm what John said. My website has recovered it’s rankings right after Penguin 3.0 has been announced, on October 17, 2014.

penguin 3.0 recovery

My rankings and traffic are now back to where they used to be before the update. Now I can concentrate on growth instead of recovery.

Conclusion

Recovering from a Google Penguin penalty is possible. I managed to recover my website by diluting the anchor texts and removing all the low-quality backlinks. Use the Monitor Backlinks SEO tool to easily identify the links you have to remove and those you need to keep.

What’s your story? Have you ever been penalized by Google? I would love to hear from you. 

 

Comments

14 Comments

Janessa

Hi Felix,

Thank you for sharing this article. It helped me recover one of my websites from a Google penguin penalty.

Igor

Thanks. Very useful and necessary information, plus your convenient tool to check all links of the site. I want to add that for this purpose everything, the patience is necessary.
Yours faithfully Igor.

Josh Lyons

Well written post Felix. I’m certainly familiar with the idea of wanting quality backlinks and not a bunch of low rank ranking backlinks. This is the first case study type of post on the topic that I’ve seen, and I appreciate you taking the time to share it. Congratulations on your recovery.

Felix

Thanks josh!

Alberto Rendon

Thanks for your article, it’s worth reading. So far my website is new and I have no experience about penguin. Now I know what to do when I can encounter such tragedy.

Felix

It’s best to prevent being penalized. That’s why you should pay attention to your website’s backlinks profile.

cristian

Hello there,

good to hear that it’s possible to recover. Looking at your traffic graphs it looks like the drop was huge, but the recovery not as huge.
There are no numbers on the vertical scale so I can’t tell if you had already recovered a bunch before Penguin 3.0
I am just saying, the gap after Penguin 2 is much bigger than the one after Penguin 3.
Can you explain? Thanks

Felix

Thank you Cristian. That’s because it takes time to recover the whole traffic. At first, you’ll recover about 70%…and if you continue to remove bad backlinks and build some quality ones, the recovery will be 100%.

Vaggelis

Excellent post. Do you know the average response – update time for Google, to SERP?

Eg, after cleaning our backlinks, the results in Google will change after one month?

Thanks.

Felix

You will have to wait for another Google Penguin update.

Mariusz Kolacz

Monitoring backlinks is key to deal with Penguin 🙂 We never know when our competitors try to kick our ass, so we must be ready for worst and constantly monitoring incoming links and even more because negative seo doesn’t end on it.

Felix

thank you for your kind words 🙂

Michael Smith

I dont understand one thing here. How tool can work better than manual review? I would prefer manual backlink analysis to filter out the bad links.

Felix

Hi Michael,

Indeed, manual reviewing your backlinks is what you should do. Tools can help you filter them by metrics to easily determine their value.


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