Panda and Penguin have changed a lot since they were first introduced in Feb. 2011 and April 24th 2012. In a post penguin and panda world, bulk updates that can instantly increase or decrease your rankings significantly is now a regular occurrence. Both of these updates are named because they are something new and special from Google. Typically, algorithm updates are real time, with only new adjustments or additions to the algorithm having a real time instant impact on ranks. In the past, adjustments made to the algorithm were very difficult to detect, and with Google reporting as many as 500 changes made yearly, you’re ability to monitor the individual changes is reduced to mere guesswork.

Penguin and Panda are new and unique in that they’re not real time. Google doesn’t place these penalties on your site as soon as it detects them, with new sites getting hit or recovering from these factors every day. Instead, they compile data and refresh the panda and penguin algorithms on semi regular basis about every 4-6 weeks. Most updates are detected by people monitoring the rankings closely and when something unusual happens, they work to get a confirmation of either a Panda or Penguin update from Google.

For those unfortunate enough to have been impacted by a significant and immediate rank change, one of the first feelings you may be having is confusion. You’re immediately trying to figure out, was it Panda or Penguin or was it a recent change made to the site? The problem is that the answer is almost never clear, and if it is, you should be questioning the accuracy of any of your assumptions before you take any corrective actions.


Penguin is all about external links

In case you hadn’t heard, links to your site are the driving engine of your SEO rankings. I’d bet, however, that if you’ve been targeted by a penguin update your’re more than aware of the impact that links can have on your site. After all, being hit by penguin means you, or someone you’ve hired has been building links for your site. In almost all cases, if your rankings have been impacted by a penguin update, you should have also received at least one unnatural link notification in your Google Webmaster Tools. If you haven’t received a notification from Google prior or immediately following your recent rankings dip, you might be barking up the wrong tree. It may be time to go back to the data and see if it was really a penguin update that caused you to loose rankings.

Once you’re certain, it’s penguin and you have unnatural link notifications you can feel much better about your situation because there is plenty you can begin doing immediately to improve your situation.

Getting out of penguin starts with a thorough review of your backlink pool.

Penguin seems to have several hot spots you can use when performing your backlink clean up. Your first goal will be to identify the links that violate any google webmaster guidelines and collect the contact information for those domains.

How do you find these domains?

  1. Login to Google Webmaster Tools
  2. Visit Traffic > Links to your site  – (Notice this is under traffic? A not so subtle hint from Google that your links should bring you traffic, if they don’t the link may be unnatural)
  3. Click ‘More >>’ next to who links the most
  4. Click ‘Download this table’
  5. Click ‘Download more sample links’
  6. Click ‘Download latest links’

Now, you have a solid list of links pointing to your site that should be removed. The most common links you should look for are:

  • Paid links
  • Bad directories, look for obvious signals first such as,
  • Blog comment spam, if you’re name on the comment that links to your domain starts with a keyword or ends with a keyword you should remove it. This remains true even if your domain name is keyword rich. Your comments should say only your name. (Don’t take shortcuts, delete the links don’t try to ‘fix’ them)
  • Article submissions – If you see or any of the 1,000’s of other article directory sites in your profile, you need to login and delete every article from that site and completely remove your account.
  • Giveaway links – I know, you’re thinking we gave something away and it’s natural. It’s not, giveaway links are the same as paid links. Get them out of your backlink profile or stay in your current slump.
  • Links page links – These are the types where there’s 1,000’s of links to everything from lawyers to cat costume sites in some mini directory on some random site. You probably earned the link by exchanging links with a links page of your own (great opportunity for easy targets for requesting link removal). Link exchange schemes are completely unnatural and against Google Webmaster Guidelines. Remove the links from your site and theirs.
  • Sidebar links – It’s highly unlikely that link in some random site’s sidebar, probably also crammed with ads and more links, is natural. If you’re not sure get it out of there.

Now that you’ve reviewed the links and found the contact information for those that you’re targeting for removal, you’re ready to begin contacting the domains. The most important part of contacting these sites is keeping careful record of both the contact attempts and the responses or lack of responses you receive.

A simple email should be all you need, a strait forward request to remove the link with the list of pages where links exist. Once you’ve sent out your first contact attempt to each of the domains you should begin receiving responses confirming the deletion of the links. For those who don’t respond, you should try at least 2 and probably more like 3 or 4 contact attempts over the course of a week or two. The idea being, you want to successfully remove the links from the web on as many of your target sites as humanly possible. Failure to actually achieve a significant number of link removals will result in no recovery and possibly further declines with future updates. Get a high percentage of links removed or stay in your current slump.

Disavow your back links

Ok, the links are gone, or at least most of them are – now what do I do? On October 16th Google launched the tool you’ll need for your next step, the Disavow tool. It can be found here:

Before we continue, you should be really sure links are the problem. Read more about the disavow tool here:

When you fill out the disavow, you should break out your links into sections where you can comment about the links to provide Google with more information regarding your efforts and success in removing links during your backlink clean up.

To do this, create a text document in notepad and format it in the following manner:

# The following domains were contacted 4 times between the dates 10/15 and 11/15 and
# have not responded or removed our link
As you can see, you can block entire domains or just individual pages. Take advantage of this when you have a domain such as where you may have some organic links mixed in with the bad ones on the same domain. Use hash(#) liberally, comment as much as you can to provide clear insight for Google.

To submit a reconsideration request or not, that is the question

There has been a fair amount of confusion from webmasters with the final step. Should I or should I not submit a reconsideration request if I’ve submitted a disavow tool? The answer is simple, if you have received unnatural link notification warnings, submit. If you’ve not been contacted by Google with notification of unnatural links, you should NOT submit a reconsideration request. And remember it may even be a bad idea to be fiddling with the disavow tool if you’ve not received the reconsideration request.

Now, when you’re writing your reconsideration request, it’s important to be forthcoming by providing clear information in your reconsideration request. Include all the details, why were the links there, how did you find them and what process you took to remove as many as you can. Don’t hide anything, you’re about to have an audience with your biggest source for free traffic, if they don’t like what you have to say they don’t have to help fix your site.

Note, however, that there are a variety of situations as to how Google may have penalized the site that will determine the speed and impact of the disavows.

  • Penguin – Occasionally updates monthly, this algorithm may detect the removed links and remove any penalties during it’s next refresh. Penguin is not very good at refreshing consistently, hope for next month but it’s wise to expect to have several more months of penguin drought.
  • Real time algorithm updates – Google will take as much as 2-3 weeks to see that the disavowed and removed links are no longer passing page rank. If the base level algorithm targeted these for penalties you may see slight ranking increases throughout the next 2-3 weeks as the links are rediscovered by the crawlers.
  • Manual review via the reconsideration request – Google’s team will review the reconsideration request as well as the disavow file. You can expect 2-3 weeks on this but it could be sooner. Once a manual review is completed you should receive a response from Google noting the success or failure of your efforts to remove the links.

So, to a certain degree, your next step is to wait. What you should be aware of, however, is that you’ve just taken a chainsaw to your link profile. It’s likely some of the links you’ve removed were passing pagerank that may have been supporting your site. It should not be unexpected to see further ranking decline up to 1-2 months after you’ve completed this clean up. It may also be possible to see slight increases in rankings during this time as the more real time algorithms may see the removal of the links in your profile and treat this positively. Ultimately nothing should be abrupt or relatively significant when compared to your previous rank decline.

Google will also be getting back to you on a reconsideration request if you submitted one. They’re response will be clear, if you’ve cleaned up everything, they’ll tell you. If you haven’t you’ll be notified of that as well.

You’re last piece you’ll likely be waiting for is a penguin update, if one comes around 1-2 weeks after you’ve submitted your disavow tool it’s likely it didn’t yet see all of your changes. If no recovery occurs, you’re going to need to wait for the next data refresh to know for sure if your changes impacted penguin.

After about 2-3 months, you should be where you should be, either out of your link nightmare or still swimming toward the surface. One thing you should expect from the start, however, is that you won’t see a 100% recovery to your previous levels. It’s simple, you’ve removed a lot of links and some of those had been passing pagerank either up to the point where your rankings fell or they were disavowed. The impact those links had on your rankings is gone, either positive or negative, so you’ll need to start thinking about how to more organically grow your backlinks. The most important accomplishment of your efforts is not to recover but to establish a new baseline from where you can get a fresh start.

Penguin and Panda are ruthless and I’d bet if you’ve read through the above steps you had questions along the way or weren’t sure where your site fit in. Every scenario is different and you must take care when deciding precisely what path to follow if you’re trying to dig out of a hole. Clicks and Clients has helped sites with recoveries from both Panda and Penguin and we’d be happy to help you navigate any recent ranking decline or help you to grow your site’s organic traffic. Contact us if you’d like to discuss your site and you’re situation.