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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  • Dawn

    Marketers go where the users are, not the other way round.

    Google will only lose their users if something considerably better comes along.  Ultimately, that is how they gained their users in the first place.

    If you want to protest against penguin, then the best thing you can do is educate non-SEO people on how easy it has made negative SEO.

    Google aren’t going to listen to SEOs – they would rather it didn’t exist. They might, however, listen to the concerns of ordinary webmasters.

  • Kenneth von Rauch

    Thanks for the great post, I sure agree that mostly the people that should be penalized actually got penalized or lost their keyword rankings, to be more specific. I am really sure that Google did a fair thing with that update. So, SEOs should just take care of their weak and thin content and stop those spamming techniques (keyword stuffing and cloaking) and they’ll regain their rankings for sure. Well, that’s just my opinion. :)

  • MyFatPenguin

    In our society Google has effectively become a monopoly and monopolies in society are not free to run their businesses as they wish and do what they like. For the good of society we regulate them and that is exactly what is going to happen. I hear the Information commissioner in the EU has stacks of complaints. I am fairly confident they will act soon to curtail Google in many areas and not just the debacle of privacy and street views. Ad words has become a disease given the amount of internet real-estate they are covering. The surface area of adwords on the internet is probably greater than the surface area provided by the top 1 or even 10 million web sites. I am very much in favour of creating a playing field which makes other companies think it is worth investing in a truly competitive search engine. At present, it would even be difficult for Facebook to do that. Bing as well is totally under invested in terms of being promoted via all mainstream media.

  • MyFatPenguin

    Why do you not want real choice? You got Google shares or something? It is unhealthy for society and any major market to not have competition. History shows us that corporations always abuse a monopoly or near monopoly position.

    I offer my question again: Has CTR gone up on Adwords for them – YES or NO. 

    There is no problem in Google doing this openly but not if it is part of a “bait” and “switch” strategy. That means you can’t use a monopoly position to bait people with messages of hope, free, opportunity, unbiased, etc when the intention is otherwise. It is called misrepresentation. 

  • MyFatPenguin

    It depends on how you do it. If you do it openly and transparently yes. There is nothing wrong in that but if you are marketing a different message then NO you can’t. When you have entrenched a massive dependence upon your service at the level of society and then effectively create a switch, it is suspect that the change was not premeditated. T.V stations are regulated for exactly this reason. 

  • MyFatPenguin

    If the general public perceive Google as greedy (like loathsome banks) or engaged in overly promoting vested interests like adwords at the expense of small businesses or just producing rubbish under paid listing then things will change rapidly. 

    I have not heard any SEO professional have one good word to say. If that message goes main stream there will be trouble for Google. The thing to watch is their stock. If markets perceive they are losing public confidence then it is good night Mr Chips. 

  • MyFatPenguin

    Has the President of Ebay been on the phone yet? Seems like someone has got 5 stars offering the real thing. Unbelievable results. This still had not gone when I looked this morning.

  • MyFatPenguin

    The problem is that ebay may not be happy at being posted in a public space alongside those other brands which clearly have a negative connotation. If I started putting posters with the word Google on it and an arse below it, then I posted your name too alongside and pinning them up all over the city would that be o.k with you and Google? How long before I got a call from their lawyers or yours to take them down. 

    Spoke with someone this morning that had a well known site selling children’s clothes. Apparently the 1st page has porn alongside their listing. I can’t verify it but will try to get the search results page. 

  • Danny Sullivan

    Yes, Google has said on many occasions that their results aren’t perfect. They’ve asked for feedback on improving them. In fact, there’s a link for this at the bottom of each search results page.

    As for being flagged with spam, Google does send warnings out to some site owners about this. Those are the warnings with details I’m talking about.

  • singlesonlinedatingsites

    I have to say, a portion of your article seems to directly conflict with my information. My site was a victim of Penguin, shortly after it rolled out. Google Quality Search Team emailed me directly to my website email address and even addressed me by name!

    They told me what the problem was and what I needed to do to fix the problem, so I can’t see how this applies to everyone “Google has no plans to make manual exceptions. Webmasters cannot ask for reconsideration of their site”

    They told me to fix the site problems outlined by them before they would reconsider the site.    


  • Dawn

    What were you told the problem was?  Was it off-site or on-site changes you need to make.  If it was the former, did they explain how it would be possible?

  • Penna Benefits Drawbacks

    Does Email Spamming also comes under the purview of Penguin Update?

  • singlesonlinedatingsites

    Disqus generic email templateThe problem was “inorganic links” They also quoted several urls linking to me as an example. So I’m now convinced Google does do manual interventions.

  • Maxzee

    Hi Dan,

    Just want to know if directory submissions/links from directories are still a safe bet to build links? What other NATURAL link building methods you feel are important after this Penguin update?

  • Damac Property

    Google is running a monopoly and is not accountable for any of its actions, if it was any other business it would be help responsible as it impacts so many millions of people. Google is allowed to discriminate who it likes!

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  • Dawn

    No, directories seem to have been hit hard. I’m pretty sure that’s what killed a site of mine, since the on-site was all fine and the only other backlinks had nothing to do with me.

    The message from Google seems to be “no link building at all” – as I’m seeing sites with only 5 or 6 small links rank for competitive terms.

  • Belut

    my blog has been live for 2 weeks now, and its not get indexed by google till now. did panda/penguin hit my blog too?

  • chrisv101

    Why would I want to do that? Penguin is the best thing that happened to my websites since more than a year. A drastic increase in traffic and income.

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  • kylewinther

  • kylewinther

    I think the Penguin update is to push down all the small websites, and force them to do PPC so that Google can make more money. They only want the reputable high PR sites with authority. For everyone else, Pay Per Click, and Google makes money. 

  • kylewinther

    I think Google is trying to push down all the small businesses who make a living of ecommerce sites and drive up the large well known authority sites. They want to force the smaller websites to do PPC so that Google makes more money…

  • kylewinther

    I think Google is trying to push down all the small businesses who make a living of ecommerce sites and drive up the large well known authority sites. They want to force the smaller websites to do PPC so that Google makes more money…

  • kylewinther

    I think Google is trying to push down all the small businesses who make a living of ecommerce sites and drive up the large well known authority sites. They want to force the smaller websites to do PPC so that Google makes more money…

  • kylewinther

    I think Google is trying to push down all the small businesses who make a living of ecommerce sites and drive up the large well known authority sites. They want to force the smaller websites to do PPC so that Google makes more money…

  • Kyle Winther

    How are the planning on reducing the negative spam attack on other websites?

  • Kyle Winther

    Google will never have customer service. That is why there is no number to call….besides adwords.They do not want to deal with all the negative aspects, just people willing to spend money with Google…

  • Hual_Arc

    Right, and no matter what you say, to Gary, he seems to have all the answers, but forgot that Google just created a whole new industry for the black hat SEO guys. Hire us, and we will destroy your competition for you, while you Mr. businessman work with the white hat guys to keep improving your rankings. Thanks google. “For every solution, there is a new problem created,” 
    Albert Einstein

  • Abhishek

    I already added lots of links in my blog for getting back links to my blog for higher page rank but on 24th April i found my visitors suddenly stopped coming on my blog and, i find out the reason is Google penguin update thanks for your lots of great info now i am following all your tips and Hope my blog will be recover easily..


  • FreshFireOne

    OMG!!! These days SEO is all about marketing! Embrace Marketing or get out the way!

  • Dawn

    SEO is about optimising a site for search engines (the clue is in the name).  I’d personally argue that link building has nothing to do with SEO, either, and that SEO should just be the on-site making everything readable by search engines and marked up properly. Correcting any mistakes and thus optimising its chances in the results.  However, that has not been the case for a long time, hence monthly fees, and hence people copying what their competitors are doing.

    People see SEO as “get me higher in the rankings”

    Marketing is marketing – which is aiming at people, not search engines.  If your marketing is thinking “this will get links for the search engines”, then it is not very good marketing.  Yes, good marketing may improve ranking, but that should be a side effect. The aim of marketing is to get real people interested in your product.

    You measure marketing by sales, not by position in Google.

    Perhaps you’d like to give an example of your “all about marketing SEO” so we can check the backlinks and see how well it has done?

    Your own backlinks are 2 directories and a blog comment.

    Lots of comments about link building, and you even favourited a video about blog commenting on your twitter feed, but none about proper marketing.

  • Geb Development

    Probably Google has taken a bold step but i guess that was much needed step. A genuine participation may be observed in the future rather than spam in the future. that is the only intention of google. Google has some guidelines which should be crossed ever.

  • Armarios empotrados

    Los cambios son rotundos, y es lógico que nos parezca raro, por que todo lo nuevo es raro, creo que todos hemos sufrido penalizaciones en nuestras webs, por que son muchísimas las practicas que se usan para posicionar mejor y de esto google se a dado cuenta y hay que erradicarlo, da igual que seas dueño de tu propia web, lo que estamos intentando es una navegación segura y que si buscas por ejemplo zapatos te aparezcan webs de zapatos, no webs de afiliados o webs de anuncios donde se ha trabajado mucho el seo para esa palabra clave.
    Habrá que acostumbrarse a los nuevos métodos, y aprender las nuevas tácticas que nos ofrecen, lo importante es aprender y dar a los usuarios una navegación clara de lo que busque.
    No es que este completamente de acuerdo con estos cambios ya que he perdido un posicionamiento importantísimo para mi web, pero me pase poniendo anuncios y es lógico que me penalicen ya que nosotros vendemos cosas de carpintería madera, y tenia anuncios de redes, de camisetas, bueno de varias cosas que no tenían la temática de mi web.
    Esta claro que la lucha por el posicionamiento es un trabajo muy duro, y al ser penalizado es un trabajo tirado a la basura, me a costado 2 años conseguir principales posiciones que ahora por mis errores, las he perdido, pero de esto no tiene la culpa google, ni el pingüino, ni el panda, son errores ocasionados por nosotros que lógicamente no volverán a ocurrir.  

  • Stephen Foreman

    Dawn, I hear exactly what you are saying and I don’t disagree – but the only way sites and business’s are going to survive wave after wave of these updates is by creating lots of unique and informative content.

    Google isn’t going to back down, things aren’t going to change so either everyone starts using Bing to boycott Google or you have to adapt.

    Had a good conversation with someone else who emailed me here: where I was saying what we need as WebMasters is an advanced warning from Google that they may penalize us for certain things if we keep doing them, not just an instant de-rank.

  • MyFatPenguin

    They better not be found guilty of that if the FCC and European Commissioner for Competition get hold of them. I am aware that complaints have been made because many think it is looking like a ‘bait’ and ‘switch’ scheme. really do not understand why a web site owner cannot post a sitemap type file to tell Google they do not accept links from certain domains or tick them off in webmaster tools.Negative SEO which is rife in profitable markets would be dead in the water. There would be no pint in even doing it. If you have a business and each day somebody throws paint over your front door it is a criminal offence. It seems Google are washing their hands of that simple idea that there are people out there doing link spamming big time for payment.Something has to be done about it. 

  • MyFatPenguin

    I come to the conclusion that this update is not about catching people spamming links at other people’s sites. It is not even about making better search results and clearing out rubbish – clearly they are considerably worse .  What an all time classic this one is – still no news from ebay. Guess they have been bought off.…You see even if only 3% of searches are effected and you get just 0.01% of those affected using adwords, you end up with a massive profit to report and upstage the Facebook IPO. Auctions need competition and there is no better way to achieve that than having people take risks and force the bigger players to pay more to out bid you. 

    You all think Google is a search engine – NO – IT IS ACTUALLY AN AUCTION HOUSE. 

    The silence is deafening from Google on what they have done. The fact is that those aversely affected have have been ignored. No real public statements, no remarks that we are going to resolve this properly, 0 comment really. It is the most arrogant stance that a corporation can take. It shows their contempt and arrogance – I think they are fast approaching their nemesis as people will realize they are little different to the greedy banks. 

  • Dawn

    I’m hoping it is just a warning from Google that link building will no longer work, and that it is just sandboxing rather than permanent penalties that we are seeing.

    Certainly, it has put me off directories/blogs/articles – so if that was their aim, it has worked!

    Does anyone know if sites which have not had any link building done on them in the last year or so (but have before then) have been penalised?  To me, if they have remained static, then that would suggest that there is a time-related aspect… they are going after people who have been recently link building.

    I agree the silence is annoying and unhelpful.  If they directly said why we have been penalised then we could at least try and do something about it.

  • Boasting BiZ

    What a great post!  I love the fact that you listed dates for clarification between the two updates. I just hope this update will help clean the web, and not pollute it more. IMO it can go either way.  

  • futurepocket

    The weirdest thing happened to my website… April 24-26 my traffic soared and then on April 27th it went completely down. I’m confused, is this because of the penguin update? I have not done ANY link building to the site just written good content so wondering what really happened.

  • futurepocket

    Google really messed up with the penguin update and I’ve never had issues with the Panda updates in the past because I don’t really take part in link building what so ever. I’m finding that since the penguin update, large corporations with a single articles based on a keyword are ranking much higher then entire websites dedicated to that keyword. Guess Google must have some seriously strict qualifiers for “spam” which is weird because there is no Google bot is smart enough to make such a differentiation.

  • Dawn

    The problem with most informative content is that it ends up getting written by the SEO, rather than the person who runs the company, so it looks informative but actually isn’t. I agree that it seems the way to go, but content for the sake of content still isn’t brilliant.
    I agree we need a warning, but we also need to be told what to do about it. Their vague warnings have been nonsense, as is the idea that people can remove bad links.
    However, the biggest problem I can see is that no company who have stock control can possibly prepare themselves for a fall that size.
    People are going to get stock in based on the previous month’s sales. If google slowly reduces their position, then they can prepare (even if a drop of, say 2 to 5 would be quite drastic). However, an overnight drop can kill a business and is impossible to prepare for.

  • Boutros AbiChedid

    Excellent article. I did not know that Google has new updates (Penguin + Panda). I noticed that my daily visitors dropped around the 4th week of April. But I wasn’t sure why. I’d rather check the Webmasters central.
    Interesting that My blog got hit, even though I spend countless hours writing all my tutorials, I have no ads on my blog, and I manually filter out comment spam.
    Thanks for this post.

  • Dawn

    Have you done any off-site work – put the site in directories etc? It seems to have gone for that.

    I also have a theory that it may have also hit certain SEO terms, as weirdly I have one site which is fine except for an inner page about SEO which has tanked.

  • Keith Mander

    Can anyone figure out how has been hit?

  • Bigfoot Steve

     Having no seo at all means the site was most likely never ranking in the first place, so there was nothing to penalize, lol.

  • Yahoo Anwers Service

    I own almost 75 websites including some big websites, niche blogs and micro niche blogs, i spent almost 3 days to collect data of my blogs did comparison and anaysis and found and noticed from recent google penguin update that google is penalizing those who have mass backlinks (more than 200) with domain’s age less than 1 year, one the other hand google is ranking micro niche websites with long tail keywords very fast with quality contents even without having a single backlink.

    I was surprised when i checked one of my newly developed micro niche blog having domain age only 41 days without any backlink, but i wrote unique contents and submit it to google and today i saw it is ranking on first page of google after competing almost 7900 allintitle pages. (Great Google)

    But i have been penalized for couple of my blogs because of having mass backlinks and i came to know that i use Senuke x, LinkWheels, bulk article submissions and profile backlinks previous months on these blogs , so google penalized me for these and unlink all the backlinks from my google webmaster tools account for these two blogs and i am nowhere on google for these blogs and their keywords. (Bad me not Google, because i did in wrong way)

    Conclusion: Do not focus on link building but focus on quality of contents and create micro niche websites to be focus on the topic and link all your inner pages and articles to your home page with( Your all inner pages should point to your home page with your focus main theme keyword just do it and you will see the progress, i did same in last month and i achieved great reults even with penguin update.

  • Starlim India

    Most people probably noticed no change at all – Perhaps this is not true. Overall, great post.

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