Penguin recovery is possible, but cleaning up links is NOT enough.

It has now been over six weeks since Penguin 2.0 was released and I have yet to see any credible cases of recovery.  Recently, in a Webmaster Central Hangout, John Mueller gave some vital information when it comes to recovering a site that was affected by the Penguin algorithm.  We know that the Penguin algorithm is primarily about the quality of your backlinks.  Most SEOs postulated that removing or disavowing spammy links should make a huge difference in a Penguin hit site’s rankings.  However, many people did this and I have not seen anyone proclaiming recovery once Penguin updated on May 22, 2013.

Here is a Webmaster Central Hangout where John Mueller gives more information on this.  Start watching at 28:33.

The question asked was whether or not it truly is possible to recover from Penguin.  Here is a transcript of John’s answer:

If your website was ranking badly because of those problematic links, then, by cleaning those up that’s definitely something that our algorithms will take into account, and that’s definitely something that the Penguin algorithm as we re-run it and reprocess the new data will automatically take into account.  It’s not that being affected by some algorithm is a one way street and you can never get out again.  If we find that things are cleaned up then those algorithms will take that into account and bubble that back up in the rankings as well.  It’s definitely something that, if cleaned up properly, things can work really well again.

One thing to keep in mind, specifically with regards to link issues, is that, if your website was ranking well because of those problematic links in the past, then by removing those problematic links, essentially, the basis for your site’s ranking will be different afterwards.  It’s never going to be the case that by cleaning up all the issues around your website, your website will automatically, on its own jump back up in rankings again.  Essentially, if those links are gone and we can’t use them positively for your website anymore, then that’s something that the ranking algorithms might have to compensate for again.  Just removing the problematic links won’t automatically result in your website jumping back up again to where it was, maybe artificially, because of those problematic links.

So, if you’re cleaning things up for your website, I’d definitely recommend cleaning up the problems but I’d also work on making sure that you’re actually providing a lot of high quality, unique content on your website as well that users will want to recommend on their own.  That’s essentially something that has to go hand in hand.  It’s not that you can just clean up the problems and things will jump back up.  You really have to work on making sure that your website is the absolute best that it can be.

Related: Penguin “recovery” stories.

TL;DR: You CAN recover from Penguin.  To do so, you need to clean up your backlink profile AND also be able to attract links naturally which is no easy task.  

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  1. With regards to attracting natural links, do you think its based on your niche I.E your competitor get 2 or 3 natural links per month, so Google wants to see this pattern in your link profile, or do you think its a % mark, ie. your website has 5000 spam links and 200 good, will Google want to see this figure even out to the average for your niche?

    • Hi Karl. This is just my theory…I don’t have any proof. But, I think it could be about a percentage and I don’t think it has anything to do with your niche. I think if Google perceives a certain percentage of your links to be unnatural then they start to distrust all of your links, even your natural ones.

      In the past though whenever people talked about percentages in the backlink profile then they would say, “OK, let’s just make links that use the url instead of a keyword as anchor.” But I think Google is smarter than that. A link from a spammy directory is likely going to be considered unnatural no matter what the anchor is.

      • Interesting, I to think that a spam link regardless of anchor text will hurt your backlink profile, most S.E.O company’s state build more domain or noise links to even out your profile, I think this is just as bad as getting anchor text links. Seeing that there is no cases of recovery Google must have the bar quite high for natural links verses unnatural. Thanks for the great work in helping us all understand penguin and look forward to a day we can get clear guidance on how to recover.

      • Point to be noted marie ..

  2. You do need to be careful with comments coming from John Mueller and other Google Reps as they also need to toe the corporate line and keep privileged information just that.
    Thus if you happen to reword a identical question and sneak it in later in the hangout – you be surprised to get a very different answer.
    The question at 53 minutes about “how long to recover from PENGUIN” is the mind blowing answer. According to JohnMu you can recover is a couple of weeks BUT he also claims that the algorithm needs to re-RUN. That makes absolutely no sense since we have never ever seen a re-RUN occur in 2 weeks how can that part of the statement be true with the other?
    Ask a different question about the same thing but asked differently and you will always get a different answer.

    • Hi fathom. I’m not convinced that John is saying something totally different at the 53 min mark. The way I interpreted what he was saying was that when Penguin re-ran, many sites that had done the work necessary to clean up would not see an instant recovery but instead, it would take 2-3 weeks or more for that recovery to start to happen.

      My theory is that when a site is affected by Penguin it’s like the algorithm says, “We don’t trust most links to this site”. Then, when they rerun Penguin and the algo sees that there are no longer unnatural links there then the algorithm can start to trust links fully again and pass the full PageRank. Now that the remaining links are being fully trusted, the next time they are crawled, they start to pass full PageRank again. This is why it would take a few weeks (after a re-run) to start seeing recovery.

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