SEO Strategy,

Google Penguin Penalty Recovery Guide

Tihomir Ivanov

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Sites that rank on the first page of Google’s Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) get 70 to 90% of the total organic traffic, according to multiple studies. An easy way to keep an eye on the organic click-through rate is Advanced Web Ranking’s free tool Google Organic CTR History.

Clearly, if your business has an online presence, Page 1 is clearly where you want to be. But getting there is hard work. Some businesses even stoop to black-hat SEO practices to boost their rankings more quickly. If you’re guilty of this, it’s time to clean up your act or pay the penalty.

What Is Google Penguin?

Penguin is the code name given by Google to an algorithm update they announced on April 24, 2012. The aim of Google Penguin is to penalize websites that use black-hat SEO tactics, like building unnatural backlinks. These practices are clearly in violation of Google’s guidelines, and are penalized in an effort to improve user experience and deliver only truly valuable content to Google users.

Said simply – if you’re paying for links or link exchange, building links in sites which are not thematically relevant, or building links in low-quality directories, you’re in trouble. For more information, refer to Google’s definition of link schemes.

There have been several versions and updates of Google Penguin:

  • Penguin 1 on April 24, 2012
  • Penguin 2 on May 26, 2012
  • Penguin 3 on October 5, 2012
  • Penguin 4 (AKA Penguin 2.0) on May 22, 2013
  • Penguin 5 (AKA Penguin 2.1) on October 4, 2013
  • Penguin 6 (AKA Penguin 3.0) on October 17, 2014

The fact that Google is updating its Penguin algorithm so rarely creates problems for site owners. Websites hit by the penalty often have to wait until the next update for their recovery, which may mean waiting up to a year. However, Google recently stated that it will shift the Penguin algorithm to continuous live updates. This is confirmed to a certain extent by the recently reported spikes in search results following the latest update, which is unusual.

How Do You Know If You’re Hit?

If you suspect you might have been hit by the latest Penguin update, here’s how to find out:

  • First, check your organic traffic. You can use Google Analytics or Google Webmaster Tools to pull up a graph of your website’s organic traffic. Look for a sudden drop around or after the date of the latest update. If you see a definite decline, then you’ve most likely suffered a penalty.
  • The next step is to go to by using incognito mode for Chrome or private mode for Firefox and search your brand name. If your brand name is a common word, you should just search the URL of your home page. If your business doesn’t appear anywhere in the search results, that’s a sure sign you’ve been hit by the Penguin update.
  • Another way to check is to search some of the keywords which you know you have ranked highly for in the past. You can either try to run them in Google or use Google Webmaster Tools. If your rank for them has dropped suddenly, or if you can’t find your business at all in the first 10 pages, then you should definitely take some Google penalty removal actions.

How to Recover from Google Penguin

Recovering from a Penguin penalty is crucial to regaining your rankings and organic traffic. But, as we mentioned above, you often need to wait for an update of the algorithm to see a full recovery. However, if you follow through the necessary recovery actions, you should see an immediate increase in organic traffic.

Penguin recovery after update
Recovery after a Penguin update

If you want to recover from the Google Penguin algorithm penalty you have to follow these 3 steps:

  1. Run a link audit
  2. Perform link removal
  3. Create and submit a disavow file

1. Run а Link Audit

In order to recover, you have to either remove or disavow all the spammy backlinks that you find. To do this, you first need to collect a list of all the links targeting your site and review them to find the bad ones. You can use Google Webmaster Tools or other link tools, such as Ahrefs, to download a list of all the links targeting your site. Once you have this list, filter out all the quality links, so only the bad ones remain.

But how can you distinguish the bad or spammy links from the good ones? Here are just a few link sources which breed bad links:

  • Sites with low PageRank — Check if the  homepage of the site linking to you has a PageRank of zero or “?”
  • Spam directories  Low-quality directories are those where you submit your link without any editorial review, and which do not provide any valuable information to their visitors
  • Spam comments — Watch out for comments and profile signatures linking back to your site irrelevantly
  • Sites linking to other spam sites — Spam sites often include content related to keywords like “payday loans” or “Viagra”

Bear in mind that this list is very basic and there are many other factors that could define a link as bad.

2. Perform Link Removal

Once you have a list with all the bad links which you need to remove, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. This is not an easy task. You have to contact the owners/webmasters of each domain that is linking to you with a polite request to remove the link. Depending on the number of the bad links you have, this process can take a very long time.

To automate the process, you can use tools such as Rmoov, which will find the email addresses of each domain’s owner/webmaster and contact them repeatedly for you.

3. Create and Submit a Disavow File

The success rate of the link removal process is usually not that high. Almost always, there will be links that you cannot remove manually simply because you don’t get a response from the domain owners/webmasters or they ask for money in exchange.

Fortunately, you can use a disavow file to overcome this problem. To create a disavow file, simply make a text file with all the bad domains still left after link removal. Submit this file to Google Webmaster Tools, and when your site is re-crawled, Google will know to ignore these links. This process may take up to a few weeks or months. Once the disavow starts working you should gradually regain your rankings.


Recovery from Google Penguin is often very hard. You need to follow the right steps in order to clean your link profile. Then you most likely have to wait for an algorithm update. However, if you plan and execute the penalty recovery properly you will likely get your rankings back.

Just follow the steps above and you should be well on your way to recovery. But if it seems too complicated, or you just want some extra help, don’t hesitate to contact us for a free consultation.

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