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Recovering from a Google Penguin Attack

SEO penalty ticket

Note: if you are looking for Google Penguin recovery strategy then please check out this article: Penguin Diagnosis and Recovery Strategy

Last week, Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land got to talk to Matt Cutts (aka Mr. WebSpam) from Google and got some feedback on how the penguin filter works and what you can do to recover should you have taken a battering from this angry bird.

Judgement Day – 24th April

For those not so in the know, if you suddenly saw a marked drop in traffic to your web site on the 24th of April, then, you got hit and must have some questionable SEO either on your site or in your link profile. This could take the form of keyword stuffing, hidden text, dodgy links or just about anything that breaks Google’s quality guidelines so you need to review your site and be honest with yourself and compile a list of potential problems.

Understanding Penalties and Spam Filters

There are four main areas we have to contend with:

  1. Algorithmic (automatic) Penalties
  2. Manual Penalties
  3. Panda: Content Quality Enforcement
  4. Penguin: Web Spam Filter

Algorithmic penalties lead the charge. This is the when the Google ranking algorithm has found something on your site that it finds problematic and has subsequently penalised or demoted your site due to this. This tends to cover the big obvious problems such as content duplicated over several domains, duplicate content, doorway pages and the like.

We also have manual penalties, these tend to cover really malicious examples or instances where search results are being exploited, where say a search for your business name returns a porn site or some such. It is unlikely, unless you are a real scumbag and are fully deserving (in which case I don’t want to help you), that you will pick up a manual penalty.

Then we have the Panda and Penguin filters. These are run periodically on the content of the index and the results are applied to the search results. Whether this is applying a negative trust value or a straight up minus X penalty matters little – what matters is that if Panda picks up dodgy or weak content or Penguin picks up spammy links or content then you are dropping off the edge of the search results earth.

Overall, the algorithm should do a fairly good job of reviewing the quality of links, discounting low quality links and the like but what we now have is some more aggressive measures in the form of Panda and Penguin in identifying and penalising people who consistently break the rules and the algo can’t keep up. I view this as an attempt  to stop those people who are prepared to stuff the pockets of link builders and do anything they can to manipulate the results in their favour – Google is no longer chasing them and trying to discount one bad link only for them to add another two or demote one article only for another five to spring up in it’s place – Sheriff Google is now rounding up the spam ranglers and running them out of town.


Google has stated that recovery, in most cases, is possible. You just need to identify the problems, clean up what you can next time the penguin filter is ran, you should bounce back. This is the same for the panda as it is for a standard algorithmic penalty. Clean up and when either the googlebot, panda or penguin revisits you should see traffic restored.

It’s important to note that if some of your dodgy links or techniques were providing traffic, then you may not get back to quite where you were to begin with but in general recovery is possible and you can build from there.

Which are the bad links or techniques that got you caught?

Ha, well, wouldn’t you like to know. The fact is, you won’t know, and Google is getting ever more skilful with their FUD and scaring webmasters with unnatural link notifications. I’m sorry for all you folks that have spent a load of money on buying links, but your best shot at recovery is to get rid of everything dodgy.

Simply put – if you rely on Google in a big way, you need to get compliant and do it quickly.

Negative SEO

Negative SEO has raised its ugly head again and Google had a little bit of feedback and basically stated that negative SEO is ‘rare and difficult’. I think generally, the likelihood of this working is pretty slim, maybe a little less slim if you are already involved in dodgy SEO but if you are clean as a whistle, you really should not have anything to worry about.

There is an interesting discussion over at, a site that has been hit hard by the Penguin update due to footer links from some WordPress themes they have distributed. It certainly seems these guys are currently penalised as they don’t pop up for some quite specific searches (when a bunch of scrapped content does in their place). This again is not a big deal for most businesses but the website design and CMS theme industries who happily throw a sitewide footer link seem to have been hit hard by Penguin.

People seem to be jumping on cases like WPMU as evidence that negative SEO can work but the reality is much more complex so in brief, move along, nothing to see here.

But, I’m Innocent, Honest Guv!

If you really, truly, honestly, truly, honestly, really are an innocent penguin victim then Google has a form for that here. Be thorough and make sure you are clean as a whistle and that means ensuring no one other than you has done anything historically to cause issues.

Search 2012

Some SEO’s have been focussing on Quality since day 1. Others are happy to work in grey areas a little more when needed. But now, really, quality is the only way to play. Quality content, quality links, user engagement, the full monty!

Weaker SEO strategies and chasing the algorithm has become more complicated than ever and a good deal less rewarding so it’s time to get your act together if you want to do well in search. Start really working to create a better site and some powerful content (or if you can’t do it, get someone who can to do it for you).

Opportunity Knocks

Every time something like this happens, the naysayers come out in their droves, the white hat SEOs go into smug overdrive and in the niche I work with, small to medium sized business often get the shaft and never really get what is going on.

Really though people, this is a huge opportunity, as the penguin filter matures, the playing field will level out. Players who were paying there way to the top will start to suffer, players who are building strong content, will start to benefit and the real race now is to get your head into content marketing mindset and start really playing the game and doing SEO and the whole Internet Marketing thing properly – Content, Blogging, SEO, PPC, Conversion Rate Optimisation, Social – it’s all there and it’s all for the taking.

If you have any questions, drop a comment below or give me a shout on Twitter.


Marcus Miller

I am an SEO Consultant based in Birmingham UK and with clients all over the world. I have been working in and around search for 15 years and currently focus on SEO Consulting, Website Consulting, Local SEO and Technical SEO Audits.

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