What it takes to recover from a Penguin hit

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  • September 14, 2015
John-James Grice

John-James Grice

Search Strategist

Next month will mark a year to the day when Google started to roll out the last Penguin refresh and, once again, business owners have been kept waiting to see if they have finally escaped the clutches of this unforgiving algorithm.

Many SEOs are hopeful that the algorithm will re-run again before the end of the year, whether that happens to be a full update or simply (or not so simply!) a refresh to the dataset. Marie Haynes recently did a great roundup piece with her thoughts and feelings on the current status of the Penguin algorithm – I’d recommend giving it a read.

The topic of paid links, which has forever been synonymous with Penguin, was also covered in Friday’s This Week In Organic podcast – again, it’s another one that I recommend tuning into every Friday.

This got me thinking about my own opinions when it comes to Penguin, specifically what brands need to be doing in order to see a recovery. So, I thought I’d share some of these with you.

Is a Penguin recovery even possible?

In comparison to Panda recoveries, documented Penguin recoveries have been few and far between. We actually documented a recovery we worked tirelessly on last year during the last refresh, so yes – it’s definitely possible that a Penguin recovery is within reach. The graph below illustrates the visibility uplift at stake off the back of a recovery:



To recover from a manual links penalty, a thorough disavow of the toxic links will usually suffice. However, this is only one part of a full Penguin recovery.

What many people don’t understand is that, unlike a recovery from a manual links penalty, a Penguin recovery will only take place if hard work also goes into rebuilding the link profile with good, natural links.

In my opinion, this is one of the reasons why we don’t really see many big brands fall victim to Penguin – it’s simply because a lot of them tend to get enough natural links which usually outweigh the bad links that they might have historically built in the past. This isn’t to say that the big brands are completely immune to being on the wrong end of the Penguin algorithm, though they are in a far better position than most.

Any brand that isn’t often talked about/linked to online – especially those who have been involved in shady link building tactics in the past – will always be susceptible to a Penguin hit.

The road to recovery

It is well-known that a true Penguin recovery can only take place when a refresh/update has rolled out.

There are a lot of different technicalities worth considering, such as at what point do Google process the disavow files during the refresh and whether it is too late to disavow once the refresh has started, but we’ll save those for another post!

As I have already alluded to, there are really only two aspects of a Penguin recovery – the disavow work and the PR work.

SEOs typically have the disavow work covered but more often than not, they usually become unstuck when it comes to the PR side of things. From my own experience, no matter how well you do each of these individually, a recovery will never be achieved unless you are working on both in tandem with one another.

For this reason, it is absolutely essential that you have access to a PR team that understand how and where your brand can get linked from online. At the end of the day, we are still dealing with links here, so I would be lying if I said it was enough to smash out a great social media campaign, or an equally amazing offline campaign. Sure, if these happen to generate links then that’s great, but it’s pivotal that we try to understand the scope for attracting natural links in the first place.

I can’t stress enough how important the PR work is to a Penguin recovery. It’s vital not to focus your attention too much on the short-term i.e. what can drive links to my site now in order to get me out of this mess? Longevity and brand awareness are just some of the other facets that need to be ingrained into any PR activity you invest your money in.

My point here is this: If shady link building was ever part of your SEO strategy, then it is likely that bad links will always naturally crop up in your link profile. To combat this, yes, you absolutely must keep up to date in disavowing these toxic links, but you also must have a PR strategy in place that will allow you to continually attract a plethora of links coming into your site.

Wrapping it up

It remains to be seen what Google has in store for future Penguin iterations; some people actually believe that it will never re-run again. Personally, I don’t think that this is the case.

Prior to last year’s refresh, at June’s SMX Advanced, Google’s Gary Illyes actually said that Penguin would begin to shift to continuous updates. However, there hasn’t been any further word on that one. Baking it into their core algorithm would absolutely be the best scenario for everyone, but I can only ascertain that Google are some way off that yet.

For now, we’ve got to sit tight and hang on for the next refresh. If you are still suffering from a previous hit, the only way you’re going to see a recovery is by taking the two-pronged approach I’ve outlined in this post. Remember – one without the other is just not going to cut it and I highly doubt you want to potentially wait another year before you get another bite at the cherry.

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