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Understanding Google’s Penguin Algorithm

Marie Haynes is a leader in the field of Google penalties and algorithm changes, whose company Marie Haynes Consulting, Inc. focuses on assisting business owners struggling with traffic drops caused by such penalties and changes.

What is Penguin?

Penguin is a penalty by Google. As opposed to manual penalties, which are applied by Google experts and can be seen in your Google Search Console/Manual Action, Penguin penalty comes from an algorithm and does not provide notification – it will just get the Google rank of the website lower.

While good and sharable content, links, and usable design take your website’s ranking higher, Panda and Penguin drag it down. The degree of such lowering depends on seriousness of violations. Despite being well-done, a website will not go up in rankings with this “sandbag” – Penguin algorithm – applied to it.

How to identify Penguin?

Take a look at your data from Google Analytics or any other analytic tool to see organic traffic and traffic from Google. If your website has been affected by Penguin, you will see a drop in traffic coincidental with the date when Penguin was rerun (see list of dates here: If the algorithm affected your website, you will see either a sharp drop in traffic or a smooth decline.

What does Penguin detect?

98% of Penguin is about the quality of links at a website. It will target your link building and react to:

  • obvious low quality links (from link-generating directories, put with the purpose of manipulating Google);
  • ‘high-quality’ self-made links (linking to your website at every possible related resource might be considered unnatural by the algorithm);
  • too many links with obvious keyword anchors (when brand names are used as keywords, links will not be affected).

In order to analyze your website’s backlinks keywords, you can use, or These services show if there are too many keyword anchors in your links – if so, you need to get rid of them.

Penguin recovery: 4 steps

  1. Thorough link cleanup. Get rid of 100% of unnatural links (80% just wouldn’t work). Go through all of your website’s links to see if they might seem unnatural to the Google’s algorithm.
  2. After that, Google revisits the unnatural links.
  3. Then Penguin needs to rerun, which, unfortunately, happens rarely. The last rerun took place in late 2014.
  4. And last, but not least – the site must deserve to rank. It must have great content and attract natural links on its own.

How to cleanup links

  • With automated tools. This is not recommended – automated cleanup needs manual checkup afterwards for it might miss unnatural links and remove really good links (e.g., from news outlets).
  • Link audit. Any link that was made for SEO and manipulating Google needs to go.
  • Remove or disavow. Google allows disavowing a link with its disavow tool, which means a link can stay, but the link equity from it will not be accounted.

 Disavowing tips

  • For Google to disavow your links, you submit a file with a list of them. Your next submitted file rewrites your previous submission, so make sure that whenever you send a new list to Google, you update your old one with new links, not replace it.
  • Disavow at domain level, not URL.
  • It usually takes about 3 weeks to disavow a link (up to 3 months).

Recovery after Penguin hit

After the cleanup, you have to wait for the next Penguin rerun. If the cleanup was done thoroughly, the website will see a recovery.

If a website was #1 due to large number unnatural links which are gone with a cleanup, it usually never recovers to #1 again, but it still can pop up at the bottom of the first page after the rerun.

Irina Titova