A Theory On Penguin and Manual Action Penalties

Written by Nick Stamoulis

In August Google announced they would be notifying websites affected by manual Webspam actions in their Webmaster Tools account. Sites could be flagged for a number of reasons, including unnatural links, which could be mistaken for a Penguin penalty if site owners didn’t double check. Penguin is an algorithm update that automatically penalizes websites found guilty of various Webspam tactics, while a manual penalty is issued by an actual human being at Google. A site could easily escape Penguin detection only to be hit with a manual action. But why, exactly, does the algorithm catch some sites while others only suffer a manual (or partial manual) penalty? What makes those two link profiles so different? I have a few ideas…For the record, this is just a theory I have regarding on how the Google Penguin update works based on what I have seen and conversations I have had with site owners who were hit hard by Penguin, Penguin 2.0, Penguin 2.1 and so forth, and how those sites differ from sites that were hit with a manual action penalty for unnatural link building.

Too much anchor text AND bad links = Penguin Penalty

Ok, you got caught with some seriously shady links in your profile. Lots of keywords as anchor text (probably a very short list of keywords used over and over) and links from any site you or your old SEO partner could get their hands on. If your link profile was based on article spinning, directory links, blog networks, link exchanges, and other link schemes Penguin 1.0 probably caught you last year. Hopefully you’ve cleaned up your link profile enough by now to recover some of that lost traffic. When you’re hit with an algorithm update penalty the only way to truly recover is to get your website is a good place by the time the next refresh comes down the pipeline and be on the right side of Google’s line in the sand.

Some keyword rich anchor text AND bad links = Penguin Penalty

Ok, so maybe you did a better job of varying up your anchor text and included more branded anchor text to keep your link building looking more natural, but those low-quality links are still a danger to your SEO health. While amassing as many links as you possibly could have artificially inflated your position in the SERPs for a time Google has caught up with how the spammers took advantage of loopholes in the algorithm. More links is not better than good links! Depending how just how bad your link profile was (maybe you were looking at half decent and half junk) you might have skated by on Penguin 1.0 but were probably whacked with Penguin 2.0 or 2.1, which was even more sophisticated and targeted a broader swatch of Webspam, some of which may have seemed perfectly harmless or even beneficial!

Some keyword rich anchor text AND good links = Manual Action

But what if you had a really strong link profile? You stayed clear of the low-quality sites, the link directories, the content farms, and such? Chances are you survived Penguin in all its forms so why did you wake up one morning to a manual action? My theory is that you might still have a little too much keyword rich anchor text working against you, even if it is as varied as possible. You might also be in violation of the updated Webmaster Guidelines which state links in press releases need to be nofollow, low-quality bookmarking sites are unnatural links, forum comments with optimized signatures are spammy, and more. It’s also possible that the Dofollow links in your guest posts could be working against you, as those are not “natural” links since you wrote the post and included the links.

The silver lining to manual action penalties is that you can submit reconsideration requests to try to recoup any lost traffic or rankings. Just be certain you document EVERYTHING you do to prove your case to Google that you are indeed committed to cleaning up your link profile.

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