Penguin 2.1: What Changed Since 2.0, and How to Recover

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On Friday, October 4, 2013, Google released the fifth edition of its Penguin update. If this latest version of Google’s web spam hunting algorithm has you concerned, you’re not alone.

What is Google Penguin?

Penguin’s job, in the most basic sense, is to devalue manipulative links. It does this to penalize websites that use one or more of the following tactics that Google has stated are against the Webmaster Guidelines.

Examples of Penguin bait include:

  • paid backlinks
  • low quality backlinks (typically generated using automated tools)
  • large numbers of links with optimized anchor text
  • excessive link exchanges
  • text advertisements that pass PageRank
  • other types of links listed on the link schemes webpage

Over time, since the initial launch of the Penguin algorithm in April 2012, Penguin has been improved. This is the fifth update, which Google calls Penguin 2.1. This is a minor release after the major Penguin 2.0 update that launched in May 2013.

A Summary of Penguin Releases

  • Penguin 1.0: April 24, 2012 (impacted around 3.1% of queries)
  • Penguin 1.2: May 26, 2012 (impacted less than 0.1%)
  • Penguin 1.3: Oct. 5, 2012 (impacted around 0.3% of queries)
  • Penguin 2.0: May 22, 2013 (impacted 2.3% of queries)
  • Penguin 2.1: Oct. 4, 2013 (impacted around 1% of queries)

A Brief Overview of Penguin 2.0

Google said Penguin 2.0 was a “next-generation change” in its Penguin algorithm. At the time, Penguin 2.0 was said to affect roughly 2.3% of web queries, which had the biggest impact since the initial Penguin hit on April 24, 2012.

After releasing Penguin 2.0, Matt Cutts, head of the Google web spam team stated, “So this one [2.0] is a little more comprehensive than Penguin 1.0, and we expect it to go a little bit deeper, and have a little bit more of an impact than the original version of Penguin.”

From Penguin 1.0 to Penguin 2.0, the main change was the depth of the algorithm. Whereas Penguin 1.0 only looked at homepages of offending sites, Penguin 2.0 introduced the ability to crawl internal pages and identify manipulative links and on-page spam.

Penguin 2.1

After announcing Google Penguin 2.1 on Friday, Matt Cutts stated that the new version of Penguin should affect roughly 1% of searches “to a noticeable degree”. While the latest release may not have as big of an effect as the 2.0 release, it still has a significantly larger impact than the previous minor refreshes.

Matt Cutts Penguin 2.1

So, what changed? While it’s still too early to tell definitively what changed, Glenn Gabe has posted an analysis that details some of his findings. My conclusion from reading his article is that Penguin 2.1 still targets all the same types of links that previous iterations have targeted.

The likely difference between Penguin 2.0 and Penguin 2.1 is simply a deeper level of analysis; the ability to crawl and analyze even deeper-level pages to identify spam activities happening at a deeper page-level. Glenn Gabe’s recommendations for recovery remain unchanged since Penguin 1.0, as do mine.

How Does Google Hummingbird Fit In?

Many folks who follow Google know they recently released Google Hummingbird. Does Hummingbird replace Google’s Penguin and Panda? The short answer is no.

Hummingbird replaced Google’s old search engine algorithm. The new Hummingbird is designed to improve Google’s search algorithm so it can handle more complex queries in a conversational manner (think voice requests from a mobile device). Google Penguin is being incorporated as part of Hummingbird but does not replace it. Google Penguin will continue to be updated to augment Hummingbird as they enhance the algorithm.

Has My Website Been Hit by Penguin 2.1?

I recommend that you monitor your organic search engine traffic for at least two weeks after a Penguin update. If your traffic dramatically drops during this time, it’s likely due to a Penguin update. I recommend Google Analytics for monitoring your organic search engine traffic.

Also, be sure to check your Google Webmaster Tools notifications to see if you have any manual penalties applied to your website.

How to Recover from Penguin 2.1

Step 1) Identify the offending backlinks

If you think your website has been hit by Penguin, the first step is to identify inbound links which may have been targeted by Penguin. I wrote an article here on how to do that, but this process is for advanced webmasters only, and is quite time-consuming.

If you’d rather have a professional audit your inbound link profile and identify bad inbound links for you, look into a professional link profile audit.

Step 2) Remove as many of the offending links as possible

Once these bad inbound links have been identified, you will then need to remove as many of them as possible. If you have access to any of the sites on which they reside, log in and remove them.

For most of the links, you’ll likely need to contact each website owner and ask them to remove the links from their sites. I’ve found that a typical success rate is between 5-20% for link removal requests. Google is looking to see that you’ve made an effort to remove as many links as you can, so this step is necessary.

Step 3) Disavow the remaining links

After you’ve removed as many bad links as possible, disavow the remaining ones using Google’s disavow tool. Here’s an overview on how to do that.

Step 4) File a reconsideration request

If you have a manual penalty, it should show up in your Google Webmaster Tools account. In this case, a reconsideration request will be necessary. However, if you have only an algorithmic penalty, then this step won’t help you.

Step 5) Execute a quality, strategic content marketing campaign

Some website owners, after being hit by Google Penguin and losing most (if not all) of their website traffic, tend to shy away from link building campaigns. Once you start removing large numbers of links, Google is going to notice. The trick is not to abandon link building; inbound links are still the most important piece of the ranking algorithm. Instead, you must replace them with high-quality, authoritative links that you earn.

One of the best ways to build these backlinks is through guest blogging. I’ve written an in-depth guide on how to execute a guest blogging campaign here: “The Ultimate, Step-by-Step Guide to Building Your Business by Guest Blogging.”

In addition to building links through guest blogging, you’re going to need a quality on-site content strategy. Your goal should be to fulfill the 3 Pillars of SEO: Content, Links and Social Media.

Social media sends a great sign to Google that your business and website is legitimate. Becoming active on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google plus, LinkedIn, and others will show Google that your website has a broad audience.


Having your website penalized by Google’s Penguin algorithm can devastating. It can take your website’s traffic and revenue and make it disappear overnight. One thing for certain is that Google will continue updating its Penguin algorithm as it attempts to identify and remove webspam.

The sites that have the right types of inbound links will win out in the long run, while avoiding penalization. Make sure you have a long-term plan that includes periodically auditing your links along with executing a high-quality content marketing strategy to build relevant links which will support your website in the rankings. Most importantly, stay away from low-quality link building tactics that do nothing more than create spam.

Jayson DeMers
Jayson DeMers is the founder & CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based content marketing & social media agency. You can contact him on LinkedIn, Google+, or... Read Full Bio
Jayson DeMers
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  • Jason

    Thanks for the article. Very informative. I am still trying to learn what Hummingbird is. Still a little confused.

    • tncstrategy

      Unlike panda or penguin, Google hummingbird is not targeted at webspam but just a new algorithmic add-on that targets mainly to return better serps for more complex and longer search queries. As more people are doing longer tail and more complex searches, Google wants to be able to bring the most relevant results to these users.

    • Nakul

      It’s the name of the new search algorithm that Google is using, one that Google says should return better results.Hummingbird is like Google’s entire ranking engine, whereas Penguin is like a small part of that engine, a filter that is removed and periodically replaced with what Google considers to be a better filter to help keep out bad stuff.

  • tncstrategy

    Great detailed post there!

    Sadly, recovering from an algorithmic penalty is one of the hardest and most time consuming thing there is in SEO.
    I will advise anyone and everyone to stay away from link building and start earning organic links through social media and content marketing. But if link building still going to continue . it will really be advisable to put in some effort to make them look natural by using environmental linking or using of less anchor rich keywords.

  • Peter

    One thing is for certain: Google has direct benefit over showing higher quality ads over lower quality search results. This update was not about quality, this update was about more money for Google.
    The SERPS are not improving, they are getting worse.

    Google has always been preaching to create great quality content, and you will be rewared.
    I have seen several sites that NEVER practiced in link spam scemes being hammed down by google.

    Google is hammering down on small business owners becourse it knows they dont have a voice, and allows the big multinationals to rank in the top 10
    Im seriously fed up with google and im definately moving away from them. There are other ( better) traffic sources. We dont need Google, Google needs us! Its time for people to understand this

    • Knt

      Completely agree Peter,

      I remembered their famous quote: Don’t be Evil.

      What google does is unfair, those that are “friends” with them they prioritize it and it seems that
      they exclude it from being penalize too, while those that “aren’t friends (small businesses)” will receive an awesome penalty that they don’t even deserve.

  • Michael Chiong

    great breakdown of google algorithm updates and it clears up some confusion as many are talking that hummingbird is replacing the penguin updates but it seems as though that is not the case.

  • Jorge

    Great article! I completely agree with the steps described here to recover from a Penguin penalty. In my experience I have a success rate between 20-40%. If you are consistent and polite with the webmaster they will reply to you, the problem is when you cannot find any way to contact them.
    Requesting link removals is a tedious task, therefore I also recommend to look for professional services.
    Thanks again for this great post!

  • Daniel Afanador

    Gret post, Jay! Let me ask you something about Penguin: what do you think of removing all links from Google Webmaster Tools without asking to the website owner? For example, someone that doing black hat SEO bought 1.000 backlinks in one day. How would you deal with this situation? Should I try to contact 1.000 site owners? It seems impossible :s Thanks!

  • Satish

    Awesome article Jayson! What I’ve known about Google Hummingbird is they might kill backlinks with this strategy. Read in SEW last week, and I’m afraid it shouldn’t happen.

    Hope we can find out a better way to recover from Google updates. And trust me, no matter how hard we try to recover our website from Google penalties, it will never give you the same traffic which you have lost.

  • Jonathan Wong

    I’m trying to learn more about SEO myself so this was a great read. I know there are conflicts between the webmasters and search engines, but I didn’t know these details. Thanks for the informative article!

  • Sunil Chadha

    There has given all information is very useful for recover my website from penguin update. I read whole post and I like so much.

  • Swifts SEO Services

    This becomes harder and more stressful but more natural. Google wants us to rank more naturally hence ‘Semantic Search’. So my formula is: Rich Related Content + Value Shared = Hummingbird Success.

  • Mark Reyan

    another penguin update and that will surely add headache to black hat world, But they are still booming dont know how

  • Bayon

    Lot of content hard to choose, thanks for giving me a hint on new penguin update, and you have written a great article.

  • Jason Vandenbrink

    So one of the things I have to do to get traffic is pay high traffic blogs to post one of my articles (blog posts). I do this because I find it better than advertising where I pay .40 cents click for people who are only mildly curious. These blog posts can often serve me traffic for months or years to come. Anyhow, do I have to make sure the link to my site at the end of the article (blog post) is a nofollow link or I will get punished by Google. Will Google see this as a “paid link” and punish my site for trying to “manipulate” my page rank. All this negative SEO business is getting scary. I totally understand why Google spanks spam links, but articles and blog posts now as well. Geeze!

  • Janmejai

    It’s really hard to find these “offending backlinks” i think it’s better to Disavow all these links as compare to find each one.

  • Alan Smith

    Good post indeed as usual Jayson! Removing offending links from backlink profile is the most effective way to recover from any Penguin update. @Daniel – I really agree with this logical question and also wonder that in such situation what web masters should do? Definitely now we can not file reconsideration request in algorithmic penalty as Google has removed this functionality now.

  • Soni Dutta

    Nice Article for Sure
    Penguin 2.0 didn’t put me in much trouble put this time a little sad for me
    Thanks a lot once again for the useful article

  • Lisa O

    Hi guys- is there a specific tool that you are using to check the backlinks and how do you identify the ‘bad ones’? my site has seen a 95% decrease in traffic, yet Webmaster tools is only showing up 16 inbound links? Thanks.

  • SEO Struggler

    Great article!……I am always struggling to keep up with changes and this helps to have all in one so that I can check through any problems I still have.


  • Tyson Willis

    Just looking for some help due to Penguin 2.1, our site was hammered by this when we thought we were doing everything right. We are looking at keeping our domain but creating a new site in order to disavow all of the apparently bad links. Would anyone have any feedback on whether or not this would work to disavow those links?

  • aju seo

    We were safe till Penguin 2.1. But badly hit by penguin 2.1. I am managing more than 100 sites, 10% of the sites got affected. The sites without a disvow txt file are mostly affected. No manual penalties. I have removed all the bad back links. Also found high percentage of exact match anchors. How can we reduce the percentage of exact match anchors? Someone please help me.

    The article is really helpful. But you can add something more about to maintaining the percentage of anchor texts.

  • Saleem

    How does Google know whether we tried to remove bad links or just uploaded the disavow file? Any idea. I don’t think there is a wsy they know we had tried ourself or not.

    • Danie Afanador

      I think (I’m not sure) Google takes data from Webmaster Tools and this is a way they know you disavow them. If you remove bad links, Google will find the links without checking Webmaster Tools. That’s the difference,, I think.

  • Yusri Big

    Too many exact match anchor texts is bad. Why? Because it is inconceivable that every one of your several hundred (or thousand) visitors used the very same anchor text to endorse our site. Even if it is our official site description. Forum signatures with similar anchor texts or the same raw links – this one is too obvious and was always a problem since Google decided to introduce its animal updates.

  • Samuel Albert Kadyakale

    There could be more to this update than just bad backlinks. Some sites with good links have also faced a drop in traffic as well. I guess it is google desire to promote branded websites at the expense of ordinary bloggers. In future it will be hard for the common man to compete with the branded websites.