Have you experienced your Google Recovery yet?

by Mar 16, 2017Search Engine Optimization

When Google first rolled out the Penguin algorithm years ago, website owners frantically attempted to remove or disavow spam links so they wouldn’t get penalized by Google. Companies everywhere were seeing the negative impacts that the algorithm had on their rankings if they were found noncompliant with their backlink profile. They had either worked with previous agencies who had built risky links for them, or had spam links pointing to their website without them knowing. Many that have made efforts to rectify their backlink profile are now only beginning to see recoveries from those penalties.

What is the Penguin algorithm?

Google Penguin, also known as the a�?Webspam Update,a�? launched in April of 2012 and targeted websites with pages that were spamming search results with paid links, link exchanges, keyword stuffing, or cloaking. Websites penalized by Penguin were experiencing specific keywords or entire website drop in rankings, messages about unnatural linking inside Search Console, and different pages ranking for main keywords.

Websites could recover from Penguin by:

  • Removing bad links and spam through the Google disavow links tool
  • Downloading the incoming link report in Webmaster Tools to identify which links are natural and which are spam
  • Removing and disavowing links
  • Requesting to remove bad links
  • Submitting a request to Google to re-evaluate a manual action

Because they had to wait until Google recrawled the website updates, website owners still struggled to recover from Penguin despite using all of these clean-up methods. How long they had to wait depended on Google’s crawl frequency and the Penguin refresh, and how many links they had to remove or disavow.

Throughout the rest of 2012, Google pushed out 3 minor updates to Penguin. Although these updates were minor, they confirmed that Penguin was not a part of the core algorithm (similar to Panda). Penguin 2.0 was released in May of 2013 and updated from delivering sitewide penalties to delivering page specific penalties.

Recovery Process

In September and October of 2016, major updates to Penguin came rolling out. Penguin became baked into Google’s core algorithm and reversed previous Penguin demotions, devaluing links and pages instead of demoting them. The update was released in a multi-phase format that spanned over several weeks. Although initially the impacts seemed minor, by the end of the update it was clear that if website owners took the necessary steps to clean up their links, they would now see some sort of recovery.

Because the updates are now in real time, agencies must also work in real-time to continually keep a close pulse on the backlink profiles of any company. It’s a continuous process, as opposed to a once-and-done task, and one that we still utilize today to currently help all of our clients.

We worked with incoming clients on cleaning up their websites in 2014-2015, but only began to see our hard work really pay off when the recovery released in September. The following examples, pulled from SEMrush and Universal Analytics, display how organic search rankings and organic search results have improved since the recovery in late September early October.

Example 1: Container Handling Company


Organic search rankings, from SEMrush


Organic search traffic, from Google Analytics


We removed and disavowed hundreds of risky links for this container handling company. Although the website was redesigned in May of 2016, the recovery has only just begun to show since the update has rolled out in September. Organic search sessions improved by 22% during the recovery, compared to the prior period, and keyword rankings are still continuing to improve.

Example 2: Display System Company


Organic search rankings, from SEMrush


Organic search traffic, from Google Analytics


This display system company had a robust product line, with mostly long-form pages. No large scale changes took place outside of monthly maintenance, but content benefits were hindered by spammy links that were placed through link farms prior to Penguin. Throughout 2014 and 2015, we removed and disavowed hundreds of risky links, resulting in the very obvious jump in keyword rankings after the recovery in September. Organic search sessions improved by 22% during the recovery this past fall, compared to the prior period.

Example 3: Spiral Conveyor Company

This spiral conveyor company has a small website with less than 40 pages. We made occasional content updates with regular maintenance and backlink audits, and removed and disavowed hundreds of risky links throughout 2014 and 2015. As shown above, the recovery in September resulted in a dramatic increase in keyword rankings.

What happens if you didn’t recover?

Although the task of removing and disavowing links seems like an easy one, it can be tedious. Removing links takes time, patience, and research into finding the correct contacts of who put the risky links up, or who the relevant webmasters are in each unique situation. That can be a time-consuming task for a handful of links, let alone the hundreds of links we ended up removing for our clients. In several cases, we even encountered people who tried to scam us by charging money in order to take down the link. In that case, our only option was to disavow the link.

The impact of the recovery will be happening continuously, and the impact will take some more time for deeper links. You’ll see in the examples above that although the recovery rolled out in late September/early October, keyword rankings are still continuously improving. However, if you didn’t see any recovery happen yet, double check that it’s not due to one of these reasons:

  • You didn’t clean up enough. If you disavowed some bad links, or tried to clean up your site, sometimes those are just a small percentage of the problem.
  • You took away your bad links, but now you don’t have any links. You need to earn high-quality links to mark your site as an authoritative site, but this will take a while for Google to recognize.
  • You might have other SEO issues that didn’t involve Penguin.

In addition to exhausting those options, we’ve gathered this list of useful tools you can use. Together, they can provide a useful backlink grader for your website:

  • LinkResearchTools.com – This website offers a comprehensive backlink profile by utilizing link data from 24 different sources.
  • SEMrush.com – This tool lets you perform link audits with a backlink checker that displays a portion of the links pointing to your website.
  • Search Console – Google offers this free service to help you monitor spam links. Combine this with data from Analytics to help you optimize your rankings.
  • Open Site Explorer – Moz helps you find both potentially risky links and opportunities for healthy links.

Google’s main purpose is to ensure that their users are getting the best experience possible. By updating your website to provide quality content, you’ll be able to uphold Google’s quality standard in addition to creating a trustworthy site for your users and others to link to.

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