The Penguin 2.1 Punch

Written by Brick Marketing

We started working with a new client back in May/June 2013, right after Penguin 2.0 was pushed live. This client came to us knowing their website has been negatively affected by Penguin 2.0. A little digging through their link portfolio and we found that an easy 75+% of their inbound links were from directories (some paid, some free, none very good) and a good chunk of the remaining links were from article spinning sites or blog networks. They had a small handful of quality, trusted, and valuable links but of the 1,500 or so links we manually reviewed most of them were junk. It’s no wonder their site was flagged by Penguin 2.0, and it turned out their previous SEO partner was the one who had done all the dirty work and landed their website in hot water. The penalty wasn’t as bad as I’d seen on some sites, but it definitely amounted to at least a 30-40% loss in organic traffic.

Over the next few months we worked to remove as many of those directory links as we could, but had little success. If you’ve ever tried to get a hold of a human being at a free directory site you can understand the process and the inevitable frustration. Emails (provided you can find registration information) bounce back, contact forms are never replied to, and very little progress is made when it comes to actually removing those links. Some sites had a banner upfront that said site owners would have to pay to get their websites removed from that directory which I equate to nothing less than fraud. We also submitted some of the worst offenders that we just had no luck with to the Google Disavow Tool. As Google says, “The primary purpose of this tool is to help clean up if you’ve hired a bad SEO or made mistakes in your own link-building” but “this is a strong suggestion rather than a directive” so we don’t know for sure if/when Google took that file into account.

At the same time that we were working to remove those bad links we focused on creating new, quality inbound links in an attempt to level the playing field and outweigh any negative value their existing link profile might hold over the website. We also started contributing more content their blog and getting a little more aggressive in social, hoping to earn natural links and social shares that way which would also help balance out their link profile. We tried to be as natural as possible during those few months because the last thing we wanted was to have a manual action penalty thrown on top of Penguin because we did things too quickly.

Then came Penguin 2.1, which was released the first week in October 2013 and we saw that our efforts to clean up their link profile and add more quality links had not been enough to tip the scales in their favor. It became clear from their Webmaster Tools account that impressions and clicks had suffered after October 4th, and their rankings for various keywords (which we tracked in Moz to keep an eye on just this sort of thing) fell across the board. The site had been hit by Penguin 2.1.

The Penguin 2.1 Punch

I’m sure many other sites owners are struggling with a similar situation. They were hit by Penguin 2.0 (or even 1.0) and worked to clean up their link profile as best as they could but were stonewalled by the sites they needed to contact the most. But when Penguin 2.1 came around their link profile still wasn’t clean enough (and unfortunately we can’t say how much is enough) to benefit from Penguin 2.1 and were actually hit a second time. Back in September Barry Schwartz at SEORoundTable reported that only 7% of sites had fully recovered from Penguin 2.0 by then. And according to a recent poll on the same site, the majority of responders were hit hard by Penguin 2.1.

Dealing with an algorithmic penalty is never a fun experience. It could take months to fully recover and even then you might not be back where you started. Depending on how easy or hard it is to remove links sites, like our client, might be stuck in no-man’s land for quite a time. Unlike a manual penalty, you can’t push your recovery with a reconsideration request. You have to wait for Google to recrawl and re-evaluate your website.

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