Penguin 4.0 Recovery Case Studies

I’m excited to present these case studies showing what appears to be Penguin recoveries for several sites. Penguin 4.0 officially launched on September 23, 2016 (although we don’t know if Google actually put the wheels in motion a few days prior.) When Penguin first launched there didn’t seem to be much change and I didn’t hear anyone shouting that they had recovered from Penguin.

Related: Penguin 4.0 FAQ’s. Here is everything we know about Penguin so far. 

 

Over the next few days, I looked at a large number of sites for which I felt that they were under Penguin suppression. Instead of just looking at traffic patterns for these sites, I took a good look at a number of keywords to see where they were ranking. For each site I chose a few keywords that were important to that site. I used data from Semrush.com to determine what their rankings were for these keywords in August of 2016 (i.e. Prior to Penguin launching) and then I personally gathered ranking data each day. The data was gathered by using a browser in which I had never clicked on a result. I did the searches in the country for which they did business. In other words, if a site did business in the US I searched on Google.com. If they did business in the UK I searched on google.co.uk. I did not click on any results. I was not signed in to Google.

The following are some encouraging results. I will update this likely in a few days to show if there have been further improvements or whether the sites decline again.

Example #1: eCommerce store

Hit by Penguin: Severely in April of 2012.

Why? Low quality self made links in directories and with article syndication.

What was done to attempt recovery? The site owner had done some disavow work. I was hired several months ago to do further disavow work. (Note: At this point I’m not sure whether the disavow work we did actually caused these ranking improvements or whether the fact that Google is removing Penguin suppressions is what is happening here. I have some more case studies in process to help determine this but won’t have results for some time yet.)

Did the site get new links while suppressed? This site has many natural mentions. They get mentioned regularly in forums and people do quote their articles. 

The following charts show keyword rankings.

Keyword #1

This is a commercial keyword for which the site ranked at position 51 prior to the launch of Penguin. They are currently at #22. That won’t make a big difference in traffic or sales, but hopefully we will continue to see improvement.

Penguin recovery 1

 

Keyword #2

This was a keyword for which the site had been ranking at #5. Some might say that this keyword could not have been suppressed by Penguin. However, Penguin suppressions can be strong or mild. They have managed to climb up to #2. Let’s hope this sticks.

Penguin recovery 2

 

Keyword #3

This one is really exciting. This keyword had been used in anchor text in many of the unnatural links. It has made an improvement from #95 to the bottom of page 1 at #10. Wow.

 

Penguin recovery 3

 

Keyword #4

This is another competitive commercial keyword. They have jumped from #31 to #7 so far.

 

Penguin recovery 4

 

Example #2: Nationally recognized brand

Hit by Penguin: Severely in May of 2013.

Why? Large number of keyword anchored paid links.

What was done to attempt recovery? We did a thorough link audit and disavow. No link removal was attempted.

Did the site get new links while suppressed? This is a product that gets mentioned regularly and linked to naturally. The site has also created some great resources that they promote which results in natural links as well.

 

Keyword #1

This site was so suppressed site wide that it was only able to rank #4 for its brand name prior to Penguin 4.0 launching. The top slots were occupied by Amazon and some well known retailers. They are now once again ranking at #1.

 

Penguin recovery brand name

 

Keyword #2

This is a commercial keyword with a lot of competition. The have improved from #36 to #8 so far.

Penguin recovery

 

Keyword #3

This is an exciting one. It is again a competitive commercial keyword. They really do deserve to rank well for this keyword but had previously been suppressed at #11. They are now at #1.

Penguin recovery

Keyword #4

This keyword is an informational keyword. The site has some excellent resources on this subject. It was, however, a keyword which had been used as anchor text for unnatural links. They had been suppressed at #70 and today I see them at #1. Wow. It will be interesting to see if this sticks.

 

Penguin recovery

 

Example #3: Small business

Hit by Penguin: Severely in May of 2013.

Why? Large number of keyword anchored low quality directory and article links.

What was done to attempt recovery? We did a thorough link audit and disavow. No link removal was attempted.

Did the site get new links while suppressed? Over the last few months I have been working with this site to help them improve their site as it had many quality issues and to coach them on what to do to gain new links. They have gained some links although there is still a lot more work to be done.

 

Keyword #1

This is a commercial keyword with a lot of competition locally. They really should be ranking well for this keyword as they are recognized as a leader in this area. I believe this ranking will improve more. So far they have improved from #11 to #7.

Penguin improvement

 

Keyword #2

This is their main keyword. They were severely suppressed for this keyword at #45 as of August. Previously it had been even lower than that. I have been continually telling the site owner that we can’t expect to see improvements on this keyword until Penguin finally reruns. Now that it has rerun, so far we are up to #14. I’m hoping that will improve even more. But if it does not, our continued link acquisition efforts should be able to make a difference now.

 

Penguin improvement

 

Keyword #3

This is another very important keyword for this business. They have improved from #23 to #8.

 

Penguin improvement

Example #4: Small Business

Hit by Penguin: This site had a manual action several years ago and has not been able to see improvements in keyword rankings. They are in a moderately competitive niche, but really should be able to easily rank on the first page. I have felt that they have been suppressed by Penguin and have been advising that they should see changes once Penguin hits. These examples aren’t as dramatic as some of the others, but I do believe that they are seeing a Penguin suppression lift.

Why? Large number of keyword anchored links in low quality directories and articles.

What was done to attempt recovery? We did a thorough link audit and disavow. Many links were removed in order to recover from the manual unnatural links action. Continual monitoring of backlinks was done along with regular disavows.

Did the site get new links while suppressed? I consulted with this site to help them learn how to get links from journalistic mentions and other sources. They have gotten several new links but none have moved the needle until now.

Keyword #1

This is one of their main keywords. We have been stuck on Page 2 forever but really this site should be ranked on Page 1. They have managed to go from #16 to #7 so far.

Penguin improvement

Keyword #2

This is a keyword that brings some business although it’s not their main keyword. It improved from #17 to #4 but is now at #6.

 

Penguin improvement

 

Keyword #3

This is another very important keyword that drives clients to this business. It has improved from #11 to #6 so far.

Penguin recovery

 

Example #5: Large B2B Company

Hit by Penguin: This site was suppressed by a manual action for unnatural links several years ago. While they have made some improvements since then, I have always felt that they were still somewhat suppressed and have told them that they likely would see some improvement when Penguin finally updated.

Why? Large number of keyword anchored paid links as well as directory submissions.

What was done to attempt recovery? We did a thorough link audit and disavow. Many links were removed. Ongoing link audit and disavow work was done.

Did the site get new links while suppressed? This site has been working with a good SEO company and has managed to gain a good number of new links and also to continually improve their on-site quality. 

Keyword #1

This is an extremely competitive keyword. They have moved from #6 to #1!

Penguin recovery

 

Keyword #2

Another very competitive keyword has moved from #6 to #2:

Penguin recovery

 

Example #6: eCommerce Store

Hit by Penguin: Severely in April of 2012. Saw some recovery with the Penguin refresh in October of 2014 but we have felt it was still somewhat suppressed.

Why? Directory and article unnatural links.

What was done to attempt recovery? Much link removal and disavow work was done.

Did the site get new links while suppressed? I worked with this business to help them take advantage of press mentions and gain more. They have obtained a large number of really good links.

Keyword #1

This is a product for which they were ranking at #5. They are now #2. This could be normal fluctuation and not Penguin. However, they have a number of products for which they are seeing a similar pattern.

Penguin recovery

 

Keyword #2

This is one of their main commercial keywords. They have improved from #7 to #1!

Penguin recovery

Example #7

This is perhaps the most interesting example. This was a site for which I had not been tracking keyword rankings. However, I noticed the following on their analytics. This is Google organic traffic:

Huge Penguin 4.0 recovery

This site was hit severely with Penguin in October of 2014. On September 24, 2016, one day after the launch of Penguin 4.0 they saw a massive increase in traffic.

I did a traffic drop assessment for this site last year and concluded that they had been victims of negative SEO. I don’t say that often. the site had many ultra spammy unnatural links. They had not built any of these links themselves. I felt that this was one of the few sites that had been unfairly hit by Penguin and I advised that they bring their case to John Mueller of Google.

Although I haven’t been tracking these keywords, Semrush is showing a significant improvement for most of their keywords. The number in brackets represents their rankings last month, while the blue number is this month.

Keyword improvement

I’ll be watching this case with great interest as it is the only case I have seen where there has been a dramatic improvement that coincides with Penguin 4.0.

Sites that did NOT recover

There are still a number of sites that I monitor for which I had expected to see improvement and I have not yet seen anything significant. A couple of these saw a slight uptick today (October 1), so I will continue to monitor them. If you have been expecting improvement and have not seen it yet there are a few possibilities as to why:

  1. It’s possible that you were not actually suppressed by Penguin. You could be suppressed by Panda or one of Google’s Quality Algorithms. Or, it’s possible that your site was only ranking previously on the power of links that were unnatural and actually doesn’t deserve to rank higher.
  2. It’s possible that you have been overly aggressive in your disavow. If you have disavowed a lot of good links, then you could be hurting yourself. When we have more data, I’ll be making a decision soon on whether or not we should be reviewing our disavow files and removing potentially good links from them.
  3. It may be that you still need to wait. Google has said that Penguin 4.0 has several components to it. You may still see improvement yet. Be sure that you are monitoring keyword rankings and not traffic as a jump from page 6 to #6 may not result in a big change in traffic.
  4. You may need to disavow more. From what Google is saying, it sounds like Penguin is simply devaluing links and as such, I think that this possibility of needing to disavow more is unlikely. But, if you have a lot of unnatural links and you have not disavowed them, Google keeps on telling us that there are other algorithms that use links. It may be that unnatural links are still holding you down.

My advice at this point if you have not seen any recovery is to still wait.

Expectations

This is the first time ever that I have been really excited about how Penguin is running. I am seeing improvements in many sites that should improve. Also, I’ve yet to hear cases of sites that have been unfairly hit. In fact, however, I haven’t heard many stories of sites being hit. I am suspicious that possibly Google has not run the part of the algorithm yet that devalues unnatural links. It’s possible that they have simply run the part that allows sites that have been suppressed to get out from under that demotion. Time will tell.

I am really hoping that I see further improvements. I’m also hoping that I hear more cases of recovery from the public. If you have seen Penguin recovery or improvement I’d love for you to comment below.

 

 

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Marie Haynes is the founder of HIS Web Marketing, formerly at www.HISWebMarketing.com. In 2015, she rebranded the company to Marie Haynes Consulting Inc.
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