Nothing gets the SEO community in more of a frenzy than the anticipation of a new or updated Google Penguin algorithm.  First released in April 2012, Google’s Penguin algorithm aimed to decrease the search engine rankings of websites that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines through artificially increasing their site’s rankings by manipulating the number of links pointing to their pages.

With many webmasters reporting devastating effects on their websites from the release of Penguin 2.0 in May 2013 and Penguin 2.1 in October 2013, it was with great anticipation, black hat marketers would say “dread”, that the SEO community was left in the lurch awaiting Google’s new Penguin algorithm to recover their sites.

Penguin Recovery – The Tried and Tested Approach

Like most digital marketing agencies, Only Digital have followed, implemented and succeeded with Google’s extensive support guides, recommending auditing and taking action on any backlinks deemed against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines that may have led to the Penguin penalty:

“First and foremost, we recommend that you remove as many spammy or low-quality links from the web as possible.”

Through this approach we collect and audit all backlink data available through Google’s Webmaster Tools and a number of third-party software packages. The next stage is to attempt to manually remove any suspect links and if unsuccessful, submit a disavow file to Google. We also create high quality, highly engaging content that will naturally acquire high quality links over time. This approach ensures that a site’s backlink profile is compliant with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, protecting the site from future Penguin updates or a manual action penalty being applied.  

Penguin Recovery – A New Approach?

At Only Digital we like to keep our finger on the pulse by following industry news to ensure we are on top of our Penguin game and delivering the best advice and results for our clients. Therefore, when Google deviates or contradicts their own guidelines, we immediately begin a campaign of implementing and testing of their new advice to ensure our operational efficacy.

John Mueller, Google’s Webmaster Trend Analyst, recently highlighted in a Google Hangout that Google’s Penguin algorithm looks at links at an "aggregated level across everything that we have from your website” and thus, if the algorithm tips in the favour of good links, penalised sites can experience a Penguin recovery. You can see the original video below and a transcript of the video is available at the bottom of this blog post:

Although we have always known that the Penguin algorithm dealt with the ratio of low quality backlinks and anchor text contained within a site’s backlink profile in relation to the number of high quality backlinks, this is the first time that Google has acknowledged that sites can recover through a campaign of acquiring new high quality links and diminishing the quantity of low quality links.

Is This Approach Recommended?

Although John Mueller acknowledges that theoretically, webmasters who adopt this tactic may recover their site from a Penguin penalty, he still recommends removing bad links through a link removal campaign or through Google’s disavow tool.

Previously, John Mueller has likened a Penguin Penalty to an anchor that is dragging a site down or like driving with the handbrake on. In these theoretical situations, if enough good links were gained to diminish the quantity of bad backlinks then sites will see gains in their search visibility and rankings. However, any consultant that recommends focussing purely on acquiring new links to successfully remove a Penguin penalty is creating a false economy.

Suppressed sites will see better gains if links in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines are removed, links unsuccessfully removed are disavowed and new high quality links are naturally acquired to help swing the backlink ratio in favour of their high quality links. Only through this tried and tested, integrated approach can webmasters ensure that their site’s Penguin penalty is truly removed and their backlink profile’s integrity protected.

If you have any concerns about your backlink profile or want to talk to an expert about Google Algorithms, then Only Digital can help. Contact us today on 0800 612 9890. 


Here is the transcript from the YouTube video:

Question: “Let's take a hypothetical situation where a webmaster doesn't know about the Webmaster Tools disavow tool, and the majority of his links are directories or websites selling links, and is obviously affected by the Penguin penalty.

Meanwhile, he goes ahead and gets some good-quality links, and the percentage of low-quality links changes-- gets smaller. But again, he doesn't use a disavow file or anything else.

Would this help him-- so if the majority of the links become the quality links, would this help him remove or would Google robot remove the Penguin penalty?”

JOHN MUELLER: “That would definitely help. Yeah.

So, I mean, we look at it on an aggregated level across everything that we have from your website. And if we see that things are picking up and things are going in the right direction, then that's something our algorithms will be able to take into account. So in the hypothetical situation of someone who doesn't know about any of this and they realised they did something wrong in the past and they're working to improve that in the future, then that's something that our algorithms will pick up on and will be able to use as well.

Still, if you're in that situation, it wouldn't be that I'd say you should ignore the disavow tool and just focus on moving forward in a good way, but instead really trying to clean up those old issues as well. And it's not something where we'd say that using the disavow tool is a sign that you're a knowledgeable SEO and that you should know better about these links. It's essentially a technical thing on our side, where we don't take those links into account anymore. It doesn't count negatively for your website if you use a disavow tool. It's not something you should be ashamed of using. If you know about this tool, if you know about problematic links to your site, then I just recommend cleaning that up.”

Question: “OK. I'm not really in that situation. Again, it was just a hypothetical. I was mainly curious from a technical point of view. I mean, would the penalty actually get removed if the majority of the percentage of low-quality links diminishes? The actual Penguin penalty-- would it be removed?”

JOHN MUELLER: “Yeah. That's something that our algorithms would take into account-- where if they look at the site overall and they see that this is essentially improving, if it looks like things are headed in the right way and the important links are really good links that are recommendations by other people, then they'll be able to take that into account and modify whatever adjustment there was made with that change there on that website.

So they would take that into account. I wouldn't say that you have to have more than 50% and then the algorithm will disappear for your website. Let's say there are lots of shades of grey involved there, where the algorithm could say, well, this is looked really bad in the beginning. They worked a lot to kind of improve things overall. Things were improving significantly across the web with lots of good recommendations for this site. So it's kind of headed in the right direction. So it wouldn't be that it disappears completely, but maybe it'll kind of step-by-step improve.”