For some, it will be tears of joy. Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of webmasters have performed meticulous link audits after being impacted by Penguin. Specifically, they have gone to great lengths to remove or disavow EVERY link that could be interpreted by Google as being part of a link scheme. The payback for those who have worked so hard at coming into compliance, up to this point, has been nil. The reason is that Penguin is an algorithm and not incorporated into the normal and ongoing search engine refreshes. According to Google’s John Mueller, Penguin requires a "complete rerun" of the algorithm.
Presumably, once that rerun occurs, those websites that have sanitized their backlink profile AND replaced their spam links with real links will be rewarded with a lift in SERPs.
For others, it will be tears of despair. Years of hard work in building a Web-based business will be nullified, instantly. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people will lose their jobs. Companies and individuals will go bankrupt. I clearly remember sitting in the audience at SES in San Francisco in 2012, when Matt Cutts dropped this little bombshell: "You don’t want the next Penguin update, the engineers have been working hard. [...] The updates are going to be jarring and jolting for a while."
On August 16, 2012, Matt Cutts expanded on that statement in a comment left under a blog post written by Barry Schwartz:
"…expect that the next few Penguin updates will take longer, incorporate additional signals, and as a result will have more noticeable impact. It's not the case that people should just expect data refreshes for Penguin..."
Based on that comment, no one should be shocked that 10 months have passed since the last Penguin run. Nor should they be surprised when they see no lift after a link cleanup. I would also caution you to be prepared for the next run to be jarring and jolting, as well. Additional signals will have been added to the algorithm over a period of nearly a year and "spammy" links that may have passed under the radar last round, (i.e.: paid and other spammy links) could potentially trip a filter, aka Penguin 3.0.
The White Elephant in the Room
Because the Penguin algorithm has been so "successful" in driving websites with a spammy backlink profile out of the SERPs, there has been a lot of chatter and speculation surrounding negative SEO. The pinnacle of the negative SEO movement, to date, is the widely reported "extortion email" being circulated – a form of SEO blackmail. No one really knows just how big a problem negative SEO has become.
Google’s official position on negative SEO is that "Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. If you're concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question. Google aggregates and organizes information published on the web; we don't control the content of these pages." Not too comforting a statement, is it?
Steps to Protect Your Website or Recover From Penguin
The first step is to determine whether or not your website has been affected by Penguin. The place to start is by using a Penguin Penalty Checker Tool, which compares your web traffic to the Penguin rollout dates. If a traffic drop syncs up with a rollout, you MAY be impacted by Penguin, but a full site audit should be performed in order to be absolutely certain.
If your site has been hit by Penguin, NOW is the time to perform a link audit to be sure that EVERY backlink in your profile conforms to Google Webmaster Guidelines. Failure to do so will prevent you from escaping Penguin’s grip. Worse yet, you may need to wait another 10+ months before another Penguin Run for the next chance to recover. There has been some speculation that Penguin will not run before Matt Cutts returns from hiatus. Don’t believe it – it is unlikely there is any connection between the two events.
If your site has NOT been hit by Penguin, you are still not in the clear. If you have any (Paid, EMAT, or otherwise Spammy) links in your profile that keep you up at night, now is the time to purge them. If you have done any automated link-building or hired cheap, offshore link-building services, your site is at risk. Even if you have been a White Hat Girl Scout, you still aren’t safe, thanks to the potential for negative SEO. In the current environment, non-penalized sites must perform a pre-emptive/pro-active link audit to be safe. Failure to do so could make you the next webmaster waiting for nearly a year for an opportunity to emerge from Penguin.
Once you have sanitized your backlink profile, it is time to permanently end the bad practices that may worked well in the past, but represent risk, today. Instead, focus on post-penalty marketing activities that conform to Webmaster Guidelines.
Just because you are under penalty, doesn’t mean that you have to wait for a Penguin rerun to get organic traffic. In addition to replacing the bad links with good ones, you should spend time and resources on generating traffic that does not require Google organic search.
The key takeaway from this post is that EVERYONE needs to check their link profile regularly to ensure that it’s clean. If it isn’t clean, NOW is the time to do something about it and disavow spammy links BEFORE the next Penguin run. If you think that’s a hassle, try surviving without any Google Organic traffic for nearly a year.