Google Penguin Update Recovery Tips & Advice

Struggling to know what to do in the wake of Google’s Penguin Update? Judging from all the comments and forum discussions we’ve seen, plenty are. We’ve got a little initial advice from Google on the topic, mixed with our own.

What Was Penguin?

The Penguin Update launched on April 24. It was a change to Google’s search results that was designed to punish pages that have been spamming Google. If you’re not familiar with spam, it’s when people do things like “keyword stuffing” or “cloaking” that violate Google’s guidelines. To learn more, see these pages:

Is Penguin Fully Live?

Sometimes it can take a few days for an update to fully rollout across all Google’s various data centers, which in turn means impacting all its search results. In this case, the rollout is complete. Google confirms that Penguin is fully live.

Was I Hit?

It’s easy to run some search, see that your site has gone and assume the worst. While Google does report some spamming offenses through Google Webmaster Central, it tells me there’s no way currently to log-in and know if the Penguin Update hit you.

My advice to people worried has been this. The update launched on April 24. Look at your search-related traffic from Google immediately after that date. Do you see a major drop compared with a day or two before? If so, you were probably hit by Penguin. See a rise in traffic? You probably benefited from Penguin. See no change? Then it really had no impact on you.

I ran this advice past Google; I was told it was good advice. It’s also exactly the same advice we and others have given people trying to understand if they were hit by the various Panda Updates over time.

How Do I Recover?

Since this was targeting spam, you need to remove any spam you might have. In some cases, Google may have sent messages to you about spam activity in the past. Messages may even be waiting for you in Google Webmaster Central, if you’ve never verified your account.

Obviously, correct anything that Google has flagged as spam with your site. If nothing’s been flagged — and you’re sure it was Penguin that hit you — then correct whatever you can think of that might be spam-like.

Within Google Webmaster Central, there’s the ability to file a reconsideration request. However, Google says this is an algorithmic change — IE, it’s a penalty that’s applied automatically, rather than a human at Google spotting some spam and applying what’s called a manual penality.

Because of that, Google said that reconsideration requests won’t help with Penguin. I was told:

Because this is an algorithmic change, Google has no plans to make manual exceptions. Webmasters cannot ask for reconsideration of their site, but we’re happy to hear feedback about the change on our webmaster forum.

There is, however, a new form that you can use to report errors, if you think you were caught by mistake. See our separate story, Penguin Update Peck Your Site By Mistake? Google’s Got A Form For That, for more details about using this.

What If Google’s Wrong!

Feel like Penguin has nabbed you for spamming incorrectly? As explained above, you can use the new Penguin Feedback form. As Google’s statement above also explains, you can post feedback through Google’s webmaster forum.

If you do this, my advice is not to go in with the attitude that Google has wronged your site. Maybe it did, but Google’s more interested in whether its search results that are doing wrong by searchers.

Give an example of a search where maybe you were previously listed. Explain the quality of your site. Explain what remains, especially if what remains seems to be benefiting from spam or is of low quality.

Of course, giving examples like this is also seen by some as “outing,” and there’s a belief among some SEOs that it should never be done. Others disagree. If this bothers you, then at least explain the quality behind your site and what’s being missed by searchers, not an emphasis on things like how much traffic or business you’re losing.

What About The Over-Optimization Penalty?

Google had initially warned that an “over-optimization” penalty was coming. This is the penalty it was talking about, but it has clarified that it’s not meant to target some hard-to-pin down “over-optimization” but rather outright spam.

What About Panda 3.5?

Yesterday, Google confirmed that it also released an update to its Panda algorithm, Panda 3.5, on April 19. Unlike Penguin, which is meant to target spam, Panda is designed to target pages that aren’t spam but aren’t great quality.

The date is important. If your traffic dropped on April 19 and never recovered, then you were probably hit by Panda rather than Penguin, and you need to follow advice for recovering from Panda, such as these:

What About That Parked Domains Mistake?

Around April 17, a number of sites reported lost traffic. That turned out to be a problem with how Google was incorrectly classifying them as being parked domains.

If your traffic dropped around April 17, it’s probably related to that, especially if you recovered by April 18. It shouldn’t be responsible for any drop you might see after April 18. Rather, Panda and Penguin are more likely culprits.

What About All Those Link Warnings?

Around mid-March, Google began taking action against some blog networks that seemed chiefly designed just to generate links to those participating, in hopes of boosting rankings. Then around the end of March, Google also sent warnings about “artificial or unnatural links” to a variety of sites. The stories below explain more:

If you saw your traffic drop in mid-March, it could be for one of two reasons. First, Google might no longer be letting the traffic from the link networks you were in carry weight. You’re not penalized. You’re just not benefiting any longer. Second, Google might have actively attached a penalty to your site.

It’s really not clear which has happened to people. Getting a warning doesn’t necessarily mean you got a penalty, it seems. But we’ll try to confirm this more from Google in the coming days.

What About Negative SEO?

Especially in the past week, there’s been a huge rise in forum discussions that “negative SEO” is now a serious problem. The idea is that if being in a blog network or having paid links could hurt you, then anyone could point bad links to harm another site.

This fear has existed for years. It’s not new. It’s even something Google acknowledges can happen in some limited cases. The fact that we’ve not had many sites over the years complaining that negative SEO has hit them should be reassuring.

For most sites, it’s not a problem because good sites have enough good signals in their favor that bad ones stand out as an oddity. It’s more a liability for smaller sites that haven’t built my authority, in my view.

I’ll be following up in more depth on the current round of worries, and I’ll try to get Google to weigh in more on the fresh concerns.

Is Penguin Bad For Searchers, Small Businesses….

If you read forum discussions, the Penguin Update has ruined Google’s search results. The reality is difficult to tell.

Make no mistake, it’s easy to find plenty of weirdness in Google’s results, as I covered in yesterday’s post, Did Penguin Make Google’s Search Results Better Or Worse?

However, these still remain anecdotal reports. It’s always been possible to find oddities like this.

There’s been no mass outcry from ordinary Google searchers that it’s suddenly gotten worse. There’s also typically outcry mostly from publishers who have been harmed by updates and not from publishers who have gained. Those who’ve gained have no reason to speak up.

As a result, after any update, it’s always possible to come away with a skewed view that the sky is falling in terms of relevancy. The reactions I’ve seen to the Penguin Update? They could have all been drawn directly out of reactions from the Florida Update of 2003. This presentation I did for concerned publishers at the time are equally applicable today.

After that update, Google was accused of trying to do everything from put small businesses out-of-business to trying to get more AdWords cash out of big brands. And SEO was dead yet again.

If SEO is dead, it sure has been taking its time dying, as I’ve written in the past. If Google really does have a grand master plan to wipe out small businesses, then it’s going on 10 years now that it hasn’t managed to do it.

The reality is that I’d say the vast majority of small businesses are getting plenty of traffic from Google, real small businesses that make real things or provide real services.

Of course, if the definition of small business is someone who writes hundreds of articles for a blog, to carry Google’s or someone else’s ads alongside, then “spins” those articles using software into slightly different versions for three other blogs to carry more ads, then yes, those types of businesses are in danger. They were from the beginning, actually, and it’s surprising they’ve lasted so long.

None of that is meant to take away from anyone with a quality site who has been harmed by latest update. If Google’s screwing up on listing relevant sites, we want to know, and we sure want that corrected. But as someone who has witnessed Google updates for as far back as we’ve had Google — who can remember panic over updates with Excite that existed before Google — this seems fairly normal.

Search didn’t suddenly stop sending everyone traffic. Google didn’t just stop sending sites tons of traffic. A bunch of people were definitely hit, some of whom probably should have been hit. A bunch of people were rewarded, some of whom should have been rewarded. Most people probably noticed no change at all. Here’s hoping the people who were hit mistakenly, or who weren’t rewarded as they should have been, get corrected in future updates.

Postscript: See our follow-up post, Two Weeks In, Google Talks Penguin Update, Ways To Recover & Negative SEO.

Related Articles

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: Analysis | Google: Penguin Update | Google: SEO | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Danny Sullivan

    I’ll try to get more information on this. In the past, Google has advised people with bad backlinks and a penalty to do a reinclusion request and provide as much information as they can. With this update, they said don’t bother with reinclusion requests, which is pretty confusing. 

  • Chris

    The truth is this. These Google updates replace sites that rank with spam tactic A with sites that rank with spam tactic B. For instance in a SERP I monitor “bail bonds” a site called (a well designed site with good content IMO) used to rank on the top page. There are some things that this site did poorly, but all in all I had no problem with it outranking a client site I worked on. I think got slapped when the blog networks went down. 

    Now a site that used to rank on page 4 is in the 3 spot: If you look at some of this sites backlinks they are all from sites that look exactly the same with domains like citybailbonds (, etc). Most of these sites are on the same IP, same layout, same content etc…

    Google is penalizing one type of spam and rewarding another. Its insanity.

  • Danny Sullivan

    So are you no longer going to use Google now?

  • Jesse Skeens

    Thanks that would be great.  Yes I agree that’s what my concern is.

  • Danny Sullivan

    Google’s being reviewed to see if it is abusing its self-admitted monopoly power in search right now. If this is proven, all that’s going to result is perhaps it will have to ensure competing search engines are visible. It has no obligation to list any particular web sites.

  • Jeff Rauth

    I was hammered by this change.  I honestly do not beleive that I have done anything wrong/spammy and have been slowly growing my site for 5 years.  I was in the number 1 spot on major keywords in my business like commercial mortgage refinance, commercial real estate loans, commercial mortgage rates, etc. Now Im gone.  Shocked and angry. Heres my site 

  • donthe

    Dear Google, please kill your penguin update! Sign the petition here:

  • donthe

    Dear Google, please kill your penguin update! Sign the petition here:

  • donthe

    Recall, Panda was Google’s response to Demand Media embaressing them in public. We need to bring publicity to this travesty. Google will only react if we embaress them in public. Sign the petition. It’s a start.

  • Kolači

    we should have documented all cases similar to this and mail it to google…

  • Dawn

    How is it rational for someone’s directory page to keep ranking but the site it links to be kicked out for being in that directory?

    And how is it rational to assume that just being in a directory equals bad content?

    Never spun an article, just a few directories one week about 8 months ago.

    I’m happy to lose the value of those links, and I’m happy for the site to get a slap for trying to game the system (but, again, I would ask what SEO work is not trying to gain the system?)

    However, I’d at least expect it to appear at the bottom of relevent links, rather than below a lot of irrelevent crap.

  • Dawn

    As much as I’m against it, I don’t think they should kill it, they should just either 1) reward non spammy sites rather than punish spammy ones or 2) use it to ignore spammy links so such tricks have no effect.

    It’s the negative SEO aspect which is the problem with the whole thing.

    It obviously works to catch crap links, which means it works.  The problem is what it does when it finds them.

    Ultimately, it is currently punishing many people who have just hired an SEO who does standard things like directory entry.  I mean, if I now do a local search for SEO, it gives 1) Absolute match domains and 2) Inner pages of sites (losing your homepage seems the main symptom), which suggests that most SEO companies have been using these techniques. Why should their clients suffer?

  • Sammy JayJay

    I don’t see how deleting the spammy pages out there that have links to our real sites will make any difference as those pages no longer have any juice anyway? Our sites weren’t penalized they just dropped in serps due to the bot.. so we just need to build them back up again but using links that will be counted… isn’t that the case, or have I missed something here?

  • Dawn

    Well, many sites that have been penalised have been completely thrown out of the listings.  The sites doing well have next to no links pointing at them.

    Deleting the spammy links would presumably stop this penalty.  It’s not a link juice thing, it’s penalising bad links rather than discounting them.

    If I were you, I’d be very cautious about any link building at the moment, as you never know what is triggering their nuke.

  • Danny Sullivan

    If you were hit by this, you were tagged as spamming Google — you were definitely penalized. Removing the links might get the penalty lifted. Alternatively, it might be that you’ll be penalized for a set period of time. I’ll try to get some clarity on this.

  • city model

    google always helps us..I LIKE GOOGLE SO MUCH

  • city model

    i LOVE GOOGLE..II like all the features of google
     home office design ideas

  • Don Marks

    I think this is the biggest issue for webmasters, we can handle, adjustments
    to algo changes,,,but widespread penalties are a total different animal
    and google is almost intentionally too vague with referring to their posted guidelines for seo as a means to recover, offering limited support by not being able to go through webmaster tools makes it even worse. It would be nice to see a more defined statement from them on this, appreciate your looking into and sharing.

  • Rifat Rashid Adnan

    If you search a competitive search term “Hotel Management” then google is showing hotelmanagement [dot]org in 5th place. Just visit the site and you will find its all pages are broken. How could google send us in such broken site?

  • AnnMarie Knutson

    Re: there being no way to report pages not updated/pages inaccurately updated by Pengiun, there actually is a way. 

  • Matt McGee

    “Now blogging is a “link network” that gets your tail kicked out of results regardless if the content is 100 unique or spun.”

    If that’s how you’re doing blogging, you’re doing it wrong.

  • MarkMark5

    The irony is this,my post on trafficplanet ( regarding this issue is now #5 position for “repair vision” keyword. The complete irony and epic fail of SERPs. Why would anyone searching for “repair vision” be interested in any of the results?

    Do a search on “repair vision” and judge it for yourself. Google now seems to be ranking sites with zero backlinks based on “relevancy” which is broken!

  • Rifat Rashid Adnan

    While searching “seo training” I don’t find seomoz in top 30. Did anyone notice it?

  • contact

    considerng the crazy results seen right now, I don’t understand how advice can be provided
    it’s time for important sites such as yours to stop considering everything google does is gold and start to push back

    try this:  , search something is first with zero content

    what is advice to all webmasters? start making blank pages so you will be certain to make no SEO mistakes


  • Sammy JayJay

     Thanks that would be very helpful indeed

  • Rifat Rashid Adnan

     In some cases Google is penalizing exact match domain and replace with another EMD which has broken links or no content at all. How funny..

  • Dawn

    How bad do you mean by “very bad” – if you’ve dropped a page or two, that’s probably nothing to worry about, as it is proabably a case of sites linking to you being devalued.
    If you’ve fallen out of the listing then you are being penalised by Pingu, though I can see nothing dodgy in your backlinks.

  • contact

     Google’s new motto: don’t be evil, we do it for you

  • Shiju Radhakrishnan

    Gary Bairéad, what do you think about the following domain: ?
    We suffered a loss of 3 pages drop to third page – from 1st to 3rd. It was slowly getting ranked better from second page to first page in the last 2 years, but suffered a huge loss – apparently with Penguin. Thanks in advance for your feedback!

  • Dawn

    It’s been put in directories, so Google have slapped you for that.  You are lucky to only drop to 3 – many have been kicked out for similar backlinks.

  • e-Optimator

    About 2 weeks.

  • e-Optimator

    Just checked, make that 3 weeks. I’ve filed several reinclusion requests with negative response before Google revoked the (manual) penalty.Try with:1. Study G’s guidelines one more time and update your webpage accordingly.2. Request for reinclusion. Tell what you think caused the penalty and what you’ve done to comply with the guidelines again. Cross fingers.If response is negative and you’re positive that you’ve isolated and corrected all errors, try and ask them why your pages are suffering from penalty. Maybe someone reported you for spam, sketchy ad/link placement, violation of copyrights or something else that would trigger the red lights.If you get an answer, try and correct the issues. Request for inclusion again and explain why they should revoke the penalty. Cross fingers.

  • robthespy

     Why would anyone search for “something” unless they were looking for, or WIki/Dictionary type information?
    Bad example.

  • robthespy

     Look what Google relates to “SEO training”

    seo training certificationsearch engine optimization trainingbest seo training coursefree seo training
    seo training classesgoogle seo trainingonline seo trainingseo training seminarsSEOMoz is SEO Tools and Software. They offer education, but as far as I know, they do not offer training.I’m obviously no linguist but there is a difference.  ;)

  • robthespy

     Not even seeing that site on the first page (from here at least).

  • MikoCurtis

    Danski ~ Where can I find that article?

  • Danny Sullivan

    We don’t consider everything Google does is gold nor did we report things this way with this update.

    Yes, the something result is crazy. A similar thing happens for python hosting, we we saw the same (and reported already) about it happening with making money online.

  • Danny Sullivan

    Yes, AnnMarie — we say this right in the story with a postscript and have an entire article about it

  • Fionn Downhill

    Andrew something is definitely broken so its not just old content that is ranking for the scrapers its new as well.   Seems like they need to fix this fast.  I have a blog in the treatment industry which has dissapeared and all the scarpers are rankings.  I have now turned off the RSS feed and given the amount of DMCA’s I just had to do wont be turning it back on either.

  • Fionn Downhill

    Or the low quality sites which scraped and stole content with no links and no SEO have been given so much authority now over sites with links that the dial was turned too far.  The scaper sites have been credited with the original content as the original site got kicked out because they did have links. 

  • radarseller

    Yes, you do say things are comments here but in your articles you are very soft on google, mostly get the impression that unhappy webmasters exagerate the impact etc:
     People tend to scream after any update that things have gotten worse because they’ve lost rankings. Few scream about how things have improved, much less provide examples. In short, relying just on forums can give you a skewed view. 

    Now, I don’t want to come hard on you but you also depend on google, you can’t jeopardize your relation with them because you could suddenly be dropped or disapear from google news or simply no longer have access to anyone at google
    I don’t even really blame you but at some point when a friend like google messes up so badly, it’s best to actually voice your concern in clear terms, you have more impact than the 650 people that posted on the google blog (which by the way so far have not received a single answer)
    so google guidelines apply to everyone but them? (engage with your users etc)

    I count on you Danny and many other people do!

  • radarseller

    Mat, stop hiding behind a fake identity, we know it’s you lol

  • radarseller

    how many more exemple like make money online, something, new shoes will we need to provide to have some reaction from journalist and hopefully google?
    How many more comments in google forum to have any sort of answer from google?

    will we have to list all the problems one by one to get them fixed?
    the innocent form and the guilty form are a proof of google complete loss on this

    I will give one more then really fun
    seach for : Paypal France in
    bottom half only has results about Viagra……
    seriously google?

  • robthespy

    Dear Google: Crappy Results Like This Don’t Give The Impression You Care About Search

    Jan 26, 2012 at 8:03pm ET by Danny Sullivan

  • radarseller

    So, if i understand correctly, the update is about avoiding keyword stuffing right?
    check here on (make sure it’s set to french)

    search: espionner iphone (means spy iphone)
    first result: a crappy article wich is actually an add for another site

    2nd result, check on the right side “Articles” long list of keyword but not only that but the same box with same list of keyword is there THREE times on the page

    3rd result:
    middle of the page, check a very very impressive list of keyword

    would love feedback from experts on this

  • radarseller

    then I can’t wait for the next one , Danny if you were mad in that article , i can’t even imagine what your next article will be since now this type of results has spread to thousands and thousands of search

  • robthespy

    “paypal france” – ha ha ha!

     I bet “paypal democratic republic of the congo” is even worse, duuuuude!

    “Paypal France – Seriously, is that even something Google should give a crap about?  Nobody is searching for that….especially in the USA!  The lady who cuts my dog’s hair gets more searches.

  • radarseller

    what’s your problem exacly? every search i name is searched by no one according to you so everything is fine..come on stop!
    google should care about every search, not just the one people like you would search for

  • John Mc

    Somebody already mentioned “Python Hosting” ??

    On 1st position:

    An empty site with an “OK” as a content, that’s it. So Google, content is the most important thing on this matter? yeah right!! This updates are a complete MESS! Everybody is freaking out. There isn’t a clear direction.

  • jules beck

    Penguin is phantastic. In Germany is the Greek Embassy on Place 10 for ….. guess   ….. right … Viagra

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