Recovering from Penguin 2.0 – A Walk Thru

Presented by Mike Huber, Vice President of Client Services

Many websites have been hit by the Penguin 2.0 update.  As many webmasters are trying to recover their rankings and traffic, they’re wondering what to do. The first step is not to panic. You can recover and there are documented steps to take that can get you back on track.  We’ve helped many clients recover from this update and will walk you through what to look for and what to do.

The Walk Thru — How to tell if your site has been affected by Penguin

Have you received the Webmaster Tools Unnatural Links email or have you noticed drops in your traffic and rankings? If so, you may have been hit by the update.  The way to confirm this is through an analysis of your traffic.

  • Correlate traffic  drops with  Google updates


Backlink assessment – Understanding your Link Profile

Sites that have been hit by Penguin have a number of things in common.  They have over-optimized anchor text, links from bad neighborhoods, links from sites that have no relevance to theirs, comment span and a number of other things.  Before you can start pruning links and/or filing a reconsideration request, you must understand your link portfolio.

  • Anchor Text Distribution
  • Link Quality
  • Link Pruning and The Google Disavow Tool
  • Filing a reconsideration request



There are a number of free and paid tools you can use to facilitate this process.  In the walk thru, you’ll see what tools we use and you’ll see some of the excel spreadsheet macros we’ve developed to make this a faster process.

  • Free and paid tools to use
  • Spreadsheet macros to help save time

So join us for the next webinar and learn about the tools we use, the steps we take and the impact it can have on bouncing back.  This is a detailed walk through with examples and screenshots.

8 Steps to Win at Search, Social, and Content Marketing

Slides & Recording

Questions and Answers from Webinar

Q: Exactly what is a “site-wide” link?

Site-wide links are links that are on multiple pages of the site linking to you.  Many WordPress blogs have ‘blogrolls’ that have links that are on every page of their website.  These used to be great links because you got link juice from every single page, now they show up as manipulated links in most cases.  There are some legitimate, non-advertising reasons you would have a site-wide link.

A strategy that was used in the past was to create a free website template with an embedded link in the footer that webmasters could use for free on the condition that they left the link in.  Now this strategy has come back to haunt the creator of the template as they had no control over who used it and what content was on the site.

Q: Where do you get backlink lists from?

The best place to get backlinks is from posting GREAT content on your site.  This kind of content attracts links naturally.  Where many webmasters get into trouble is by buying links or in some way manipulating links to their site.  Another great way to get links is to guest blog post on other sites in your industry.  Just make sure it’s quality content.

Q: What if you have hundreds of thousands of links? How do you visually inspect each site? Is there a way to narrow this down?

We do have clients with that many links and it can seem daunting.  The reality is that once a profile has been completed, we find many of the links are from site-wide placements.  For example, you may have 1,000 links just from one site.  You do need to go through each site for a complete analysis.  As I mentioned in the webinar, sometimes it takes a few hours and sometimes a few weeks to go through the entire process.

Q: Ratio of anchor text … please define further, with an example.

The ratio is based on your total number of backlinks and the ratio of that total to specific phrases.  Fo example, you might want to rank for ‘blue widgets’ and  this specific phrase represents 60% of all the links in your portfolio.  In this case, the ratio is way too high.  This is a post that speaks to ratios and the strategy behind the mix.

Q: What are we looking for when we inspect sites?

You are looking for anything that is spammy or would be considered negative.  Ask yourself, do I really want a link from this site pointing to me?  From the webinar, here are the things we look for:

  • Site-wide links and blog roll links
  • Obvious Paid links
  • Text ad links
  • Sites not indexed in Google
  • Low quality sites
  • Sites that look like link building sites
  • Generic directory links
  • Forum comments
  • Bio links
  • Links on non-relevant sites
  • Links on sites with Viagra, Pay Day, Casino content
  • Over optimized anchor text

Q: Is there a way to determine what backlinks there are when your site is a secure https website?

Yes, it is possible with a number of the tools I mentioned in the webinar.

Q: Hi, I have a question – I run an affiliate program and affiliates have thousands of links to my site. For example, one affiliate has over 6,000 links pointing to my site… Is it bad and what do I do about it?

There are many affiliate programs out there.  Those links used to be awesome links.  Now you really want to diffuse them.  If you’re getting traffic from those affiliates, ask them to add a ‘nofollow’ tag to their links.  In many cases the links they’ve created on their sites are pulled from a database and it should be very easy for them to add the parameter.

If they cannot add the ‘nofollow’, include the link in your disavow submission and also include it in your reconsideration request.  In the documentation on your reconsideration request you might want to mention the webmaster reports they don’t have the resources to change the tag if it’s someone that you feel is not able to do it because of that reason.

Q: Brand name + money keywords? Or just remove money keywords totally?

We would do a competitive analysis first to determine your money term ratio against your competition and determine if you are high or low.  As I mentioned in the webinar, often times you can diffuse the exact match ratios significantly by removing site-wide links.  It is okay to have exact match or money keywords but make sure they reside in great content from solid websites and also make sure the link is not there just for passing link juice.

Q: Wouldn’t you worry that having anchor text on a link changed would send a signal to Google that you control the link?

We change/update and repurpose content all the time.  Many webmaster do as well. If ‘only’ the link changes, that might look suspicious.  As the webmaster hosing you link to update the content.  Send new photos and an updated piece of content as a way to quickly reclaim that link.

Q: What should we do with run  of site links from a recognizable brand , say IBM?

Look at the actual URL of the link and don’t rely on just a well-branded root domain. Some blogs on very high authority domains aren’t quality and these should be treated individually if added to Google’s Disavow Links tool (use http:// instead of domain: ). Check to see also if the links are ‘nofollow’ and if they are these usually won’t be a problem.

Typically a site-wide link has the same anchor text and can be viewed as a google bomb. This means high amounts of the same anchor text is being used to accomplish a ranking for a keyword. This strategy is highly scrutinized by Google regardless of the domain it is found on.

Q: I have 25,000 links… how do I prioritize? What do I drop from my radar?

Start with site-wide links and low quality or spammy sites.  If the site has no Page Rank or if it looks like a link building network, remove those first.  Also look at general directly links with the same low metrics.  As you do visual inspections of the low quality sites, you’ll quickly discover that many of them have already been taken down.

Q: Does google looks for ad sites with google ads in the top fold?

Google’s January 2012 and October 2012 updates affected page layout with regard to too many ads above the fold. Sites that didn’t correct for this update have already been devalued and can show up as a ‘bad link’ in a current backlink analysis.

Q: Will you discuss on-site factors? Or only links?

On site factors is in another webinar.  This one just focuses on links and Penguin.

Q: How long should one expect between a reconsideration request and a response from Google?

In most cases a reconsideration request for a manual penalty should take about 2 weeks for a response.  We’ve waited as long as 4 weeks.

Q: If link not appear on my webmaster account is it still give me bad effect?

We use multiple sources for finding backlinks so you can get as complete a list as possible.  WMT may not give you the most complete list of backlinks that are pointing to your site.  So, you could still have problems even if you don’t see the link in your WMT list.

Q:  I am constantly finding more links I need to disavow, I’ve noticed that the files overwrite, not add.  Is there any issue with just adding to my file and continually reuploading?  (Site in question did get a manual hit)

There is a warning in the reconsideration request video ( that says don’t keep submitting requests. But there are no published specifics that give guidance on how many times a new .txt file can be uploaded in the disavow links tool.

Q: Disavow only the worst or everything that’s not Awesome?

Google recommends using a machete not a scalpel.  If the link is a bad link, remove it.

Q: What about different links (different anchor text) but on the same Class C?

There are good business reasons for companies to have multiple sites on the same IP address.  We have multiple links from other SEO sites that have linked to our posts.  If the links are natural or look natural, there is no reason to not use the same IP address/site.  Different links/pages make it look more natural as well.

Q: If I had manual penalty and removed links and didn’t send reconsideration and start to build good links would I still regain my rankings?

You need to do a reconsideration request when you have a manual penalty.

Q: Could you explain “anchor text” optimization statement?

As I mentioned in the webinar, the tactics we used in the past are no longer valid.  One of the older techniques was to use ‘exact’ match anchor text.  If you did this in the past and have exact match anchor text as a significant part of your link portfolio, you need to either remove the link or reclaim the link.  Exact match anchor text doesn’t occur much naturally and your portfolio should reflect that.

What do the natural links to your site look like?  Find these and if you’re link building emulate the ones that come to you naturally.

Q: If I have 1,000’s of links coming from .wordpress or .blogspot. Should I disavow the whole domain? Or, go through each URL to differentiate the bad from the good links?

You may not need to disavow the whole domain.  Are the subdomains from wordpress or blogspot strong and do they look like legitimate sites or do they look like link building site?  If they are solid, good quality sites, then your links should be good.  If they are spammy, then ask to have the link removed.  You only need to remove those bad links and not the whole domain.

Q: Let’s assume that almost all of the bad links to one of our sites are pointing to only 2 pages.  Can we simply change the URLs of those 2 pages so that the links are pointing to 404 pages?

Yes, this would be a viable strategy, assuming an unlikely scenario where these links aren’t directed at your home page or any important category pages. Any and all, URL changes on important pages should be handled with 301-redirects to equivalent pages.

All links pointing to a root domain can still have negative (or positive) value even if that’s a dead link (returns a 404-page). Best recommended course of action is to disavow it through the disavow links tool.

I would also add a robots no index no follow to that “deleted page” and double check no 301 or 302 redirect is pushing that url back to home page or another page on your site.

Q: What do you consider to be the correct ratio?

The ratio will vary by site so there really is no ‘standard’ ratio.  There have been many posts recently based on coming up with the right ratio.  If you do the research and read a lot of these posts, there are really no good answers and there are a lot of contradictory answers.

Links to your home page help build the domain authority and thus build authority for directory and category pages.  There are good reasons to link to internal pages but these are more limiting as the category pages are specifically focused on a content topic.  So, there wouldn’t naturally be as many links there.

Q: Hello, our site (big portal of gambling portal) has been penalized in past, after a very big effort and clean our link profile, our reconsideration has been accepted and penalty removed but after months, despite writing great content, we can’t rank like before, instead we still feel penalized ..maybe by the algorithm we still use the disavow tool and we still have a  decently strong link profile but we don’t rank.

It sounds like the previous manual penalty was removed. However, there could still be algorithmic updates (not manual) that are still affecting site performance. Check the site thoroughly for other problems such as duplicate content due to excessive CGI/URL parameters or tag pages (from a blog) that may be hurting the site from Panda-specific updates.

Q: With P2, our page ranking for keywords slipped from Page 1 to Page 4.

Without getting involved in great expenditures and diminishing returns in terms of ROI, what are some traditional methods to retrieve some of our lost gains?

  • We do news releases periodically
  • We have fair number of inbound/outbound links
  • Our content is fairly fixed.
  • We don’t have blogs nor social media exposure
  • Our website budget is somewhat restrictive

Q: Did I inadvertently list reasons for our decline in page ranking?

The items you mention are all legitimate.  It’s hard with the limited information you provided to determine what the problem might be.  If you built the links yourself, that could be the issue but without looking at them specifically, it would be impossible to tell.  Did you use the or the Panguin tool?  These tools might help you isolate a particular update that hit your traffic and rankings.  By focusing in on the actual cause, you can determine the course of action and use your limited to its best impact.

About the Presenter

Mike comes to Vertical Measures with over 20 years experience in marketing and advertising.  Starting out in newspaper advertising, Mike has seen the transformation of print to digital.  For the past 15 years, Mike has been involved in online marketing, developing extensive PPC programs and organic SEO tactics, resulting in a significant growth, traffic, and revenue for his clients.

Mike served as the Sales Manager for when it was in start-up mode and developed sales plans, sponsorship opportunities and innovative marketing plans that doubled revenues. He is also the founder of Arizona Tourism and Group Travel Pros, both companies developed to increase travel to Arizona. He has served in senior management positions at a number of newspapers developing creative and effective advertising campaigns, training programs and leadership development programs.

Follow Mike on Twitter or Google+.

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