The Long and Hard Road to Penguin Recovery

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I am currently working with two site owners who were negatively impacted by Penguin 2.1. Many of my other clients actually benefited from Penguin 2.1 and have seen an uptick in impressions and clicks, but these two clients came to me with a Penguin 2.0 penalty caused by the actions of former SEO providers. Any one who has tried to clean up a link profile knows what a hassle it can be. Both of my clients understand how they got into this situation and understand the long, hard road to recovery in front of them. If you are dealing with a Penguin penalty here are a few things we’ve done that might help you recover a little quicker.

1. Delete Author Profiles on Article Submission Sites

One of the client’s former SEO providers created a false identity, which they used to create profiles on sites like ArticlesBase, Amazines, and other mass article submission sites. These sites were hit when Panda first came out for having thin content, but now it looks like having those sites in your link profile could bring Penguin down on your head. Chances are any links from those sites are keyword-rich, as well as coming from less-than-stellar websites, so you’re better off just deleting the profiles and removing any articles that linked back to your website. In my client’s case, they didn’t have the login information but they were able to reach out to the sites and get the profiles deleted.

The same advice holds true for free or junky online PR submission sites. If they won’t add nofollow tags to your past releases just delete the profiles.

2. Disavow Entire Domains, not Just Individual Links

If you have a link from a site that exists on more than 2-3 pages it’s probably worth disavowing the entire domain (provided you don’t want your site associated with it in any way) with the Disavow Tool from Google. For instance, one of my client’s has a keyword rich link in the side level navigation on another site. That’s doubly unnatural according to Google. We’ve emailed the owner of the site several times to get the link removed or at least make it nofollowed, but never heard back. You can bet that domain is the first one in the disavow file we submitted. As far as we can tell that link never sent any traffic and the client isn’t even sure who created it in the first place. Their former SEO provider isn’t talking so we’ve taken the matter into our own hands.

Keep in mind we don’t know for sure how quickly Google takes this information into account so there is no telling when those disavowed links are no longer being held against you.

3. Delete Profiles from Spammy Bookmarking Sites

Bookmarking sites like StumbleUpon actually send a lot of traffic to websites, but as for sites like FolkD? Probably not so much. While those social bookmarking sites used to be a decent way to build up a few extra links, like any good link building tactic the spammers took it to a whole new level and ruined it for the rest of us. If old social bookmarking profiles aren’t delivering traffic to your site, don’t bother keeping it around. Delete the profile and any links tied to it.

Depending upon how bad your link profile was when Penguin hit, these tactics could decimate your link profile in a matter of weeks. As terrifying as that is, sometimes you have to start from scratch if you want to undo a penalty. While you working on removing the bad links, take time to focus on earning a few good ones to level out your link profile. Keep investing in your content marketing and social media efforts and look for new business partnerships and promotional opportunities that will introduce your brand to new audiences so you don’t have to rely so heavily on Google. Above all else just know that you are not the only one going through this painful process and you can learn from others as you go.

Nick Stamoulis
Nick Stamoulis is the President of Brick Marketing, a full service Boston SEO firm. With nearly 13 years of experience in the Internet Marketing industry, Nick Stamoulis shares his B2B SEO knowledge by contributing to the Brick Marketing Blog and publishing the Brick Marketing SEO Newsletter, read by over 160,000 opt-in subscribers.
Nick Stamoulis
Nick Stamoulis
Nick Stamoulis

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  • James Brockbank

    Whilst I would agree these are all necessary steps…in my experience, I’d also suggest that any form of exact match anchor text links need looking at, and removing…especially those which are site-wide in footers and the like.

  • Marie Haynes

    Hi Nick,

    Removing your links from spammy article sites and the like is a given when you are cleaning up the backlink profile of a Penguin hit site. However, what I have found is that you have to be BRUTALLY thorough when reviewing your backlink profile and address any self made links. Links from decent sites can actually be a factor as well. For example if you’ve done rampant guest posting then this can affect you negatively in the eyes of Penguin.

    Does this site have a good base of natural links? I have done a lot of link cleanups and disavows and the only sites that I have seen make some type of recovery are ones that had great links to start with before they instituted lazy SEO.

    I was hoping this article would be about a recovery story. Hopefully you will be able to report back with good news the next time Penguin refreshes.

    • Jeff

      A problem we are having is a client got thousands of links in 2009 on junky ezine sites from a previous SEO company. The profiles are not ours so we can not delete the profiles.

  • Tobias

    Hello Nick, thanks for your post. Like Marie I was keen to learn about some recovery stories since I haven’t heared about any yet…especially not about domains which got hit by penguin but received no manual penalty.

  • Chris Holdheide

    I’m going through this process right now of contacting people to get links taken down and I noticed I have quite a few spam sites that are purely spam with nothing but pages full of links and I was wondering would it be better for me to just disavow those domain or attempt to contact them and get them to remove the links?

  • Rohan Ayyar

    What are 3 other “Bookmarking sites like StumbleUpon” that “actually send a lot of traffic to websites” provided you don’t advertise on them?

    Social bookmarking isn’t “dead” – it’s exterminated.

  • Saday Kumar

    Very informative article Nick. Can you tell me what type off page task we should do for generating quality backlinks for our client websites. You are saying about spammy article site but how to decide an article site has been hit by Penguin? Can I submit article to goarticle, ezinearticles, sooperarticles? I have already stopped doing Social Bookmarking to low profile sites and this really helped my client websites to recover from penguin.

  • Ingrid

    Nick thank you for sharing this. I knew about the links from article sites and their profile links. Even the disvow of the entire domain is something I know and have been doing. But profile link from social bookmark sites that is something that needs to be looked into more as usually the top famous social bookmark sites are never looked into much and just taken at their face value that they are good. But what you wrote makes perfect sense and I would be looking into this more.

  • Jorge

    Hi Nick,

    Good article. I’ve helped a few clients recover from their penalties and in my experience I’ve also noticed other things that are important to check. First you need to know if you have a manual or an algorithm penalty. Categorize which links need to be removed is a bit tricky, many people think they should only remove links that are banned by Google or where the anchor text is heavily optimized however I believe you cannot take any chances in this step, you should check if your backlinks are coming from the same IP address (possible link network), same C-class, relation between domain age and PR, number of outgoing links and many other factors. This is a key step before you attempt to remove links. Requesting link removals is not only tedious but you need to be constant and show lots of tenacity, that is also key.

    Another thing I’ve noticed is that some people believe their backlinks is the only thing affecting their sites however I’ve noticed that the websites could be better. I’ve seen sites with duplicate title tags, descriptions, duplicated content and other on page issues. Make sure you check your website regularly to identify any issues and address them all. Make sure you use the best SEO practices, include social media, start using authorship, etc

    Removing links and disavowing what you cannot remove is only the first step, in many cases this only cleans your past but now you need to concentrate on a new updated marketing strategy that will bring you to the top once again.