The Myth of the Penguin “Penalty”

Penguin is not a Penalty – it’s an algorithm. The distinction between having your website impacted by a manual penalty vs. triggering an algorithm is an important one to understand. I’m constantly amazed by the amount of confusion and misunderstanding that surrounds Penguin. I’m equally surprised at some of the conclusions drawn by people regarding the steps necessary to get on the right side of the algorithm.

In this post, I hope to put to rest some of the most common misconceptions FUD floating around the Web, as it pertains to Penguin.

Myth #1 – You Must Perform a Manual Link Removal

Google’s official position is that you should do everything possible to get links removed BEFORE using the disavow tool. Matt Cutts reinforced this in a November 20, 2013 video:

Here’s the real deal: IF you have control over spammy links pointing to your website, then remove them. Those links that you cannot control should be disavowed. The reason that you don’t need to engage in a manual link removal campaign boils down to the numbers. A “successful” link removal campaign typically results in getting less than 10 percent of the spammy links removed. Often, it’s closer to 5 percent. Since this is an algorithmic penalty, it’s all about the percentage of “bad” links pointing to your site. The amount of effort required to reduce the bad link count by 5 percent is a lousy use of your resources. Better to spend that time building good links in an effort to improve your “Good Link: Bad Link ratio.”

Myth #2 – You Must Perform a Link Audit and Submit a Disavow File

I would argue this is the most efficient way to escape the Penguin algorithm, but it isn’t necessary. Remember – the Penguin algorithm is all about having a certain percentage of high-value links vs. spammy links. This isn’t conjecture – this comes straight from Googler John Mueller, 33 minutes and 52 seconds into this video:

When asked if “The actual Penguin penalty – would it be removed?” without submitting a disavow file, Mueller replied:

“Yeah. that’s something that our algorithms would take into account…I wouldn’t say that you have to have more than 50 percent and then the algorithm will disappear for your website…So it wouldn’t be that it disappears completely, but maybe it’ll kind of step-by-step improve.”

Myth #3 – It Can’t Be Penguin – I Never Got a Penalty Notice

If your site is impacted by the Penguin algorithm, don’t expect to find a notice to that effect in Webmaster tools. That’s reserved for manual penalties. That said, the process for recovering from a manual link penalty is nearly identical to the steps required to get on the right side of the Penguin algorithm. If you aren’t sure if your website has been hit by Penguin, you can always use a Google Penalty Checker tool to find out.

Myth #4 – You Need to Submit a Reconsideration Request ASAP

Not long ago, webmasters were able to submit a reconsideration request at any time for any site. This led to untold numbers of webmasters submitting reconsideration requests at the slightest hint of a downturn in rankings. In an effort to filter out frivolous requests, the reconsideration request option is now only available to those with a manual penalty. It is accessible through webmaster tools.

Myth #5 – It’s Impossible to Recover Once a Site Has Been Penguin Slapped

Having assisted many clients, since Penguin first rolled out, I can say with certainty that recovery is possible. There are, however, a number of factors to keep in mind. First, you need to remember that many of the links that once lifted you to page one in the SERPs no longer have power and can even be toxic. You need to invest time and resources to attract REAL, editorially given links. Next, it is widely believed the “invisible disavow attribute” will only be applied by Google to a link AFTER placed in the disavow file AND crawled again. If true, many spammy links don’t get crawled very often and it could take some time to work through the entire file. Finally, despite some talk about baking Penguin into the regular algorithm, it still appears that it is running periodically as a standalone algorithm. As long as that’s the case, it also takes time to see a Penguin refresh, which typically results is a wave of recoveries.

Takeaway

Penguin recovery is possible, as long as your link profile has a favorable Good Link to Bad Link ratio (There is no magic percentage – it varies). Recovery doesn’t happen overnight; it will take some time and effort. You will not fully regain your lost rankings without replacing disavowed links with good ones.

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