Panda, Penguin and Penalties

Google has introduced many algorithms that can cause devaluations and demotions / penalties to your website ranking.

October 17, 2013

Search Engine Updates

Large search engines like Google roll out updates to their algorithms all the time. Some are small while others affect ranking a lot. Two of the most known and "big" Google algorithm parts are Panda (site and page quality analysis) and Penguin (backlinks quality). Common for these two are they make or break many small companies since ranking in search engines can easily account for a large percentage of their sales.

You can follow the history of various Google updates at http://moz.com/google-algorithm-change. If you have suffered a penalty at some point, it is a good idea to correlate the drop in rankings using e.g. Google Analytics with the dates for the various updates. That will help you determine what made your website take a hit.

Going Into The Shadows

Since ranking has such high importance, many people will at some point get tempted into purchasing links or automating creation of backlinks. The quality of purchased links can vary greatly, from blatant spam to high quality articles masked as guest posts or similar.

With the arrival of Google's Penguin updates, many websites with a suspicious backlink profile have suffered an algorithmic penalty. In addition many link selling networks have been targeted by Google causing many people to receive manual penalty letters in their Google Webmaster Tools accounts.

Even the highest quality white hat
  • Attribution links (e.g. site themes that contain a link back) are now frowned upon even though these types of links can be and often are completely natural. The most known example is WPMU. You could see their initial article and analysis here from 2012: http://wpmu.org/wordpress-penguin-google-matt-cutts/.
  • Guest posting if overdone. At least there are now indications these have the potential to be valued and possibly penalized the same way as (mass) article submissions.

  • Recover from Penalties

    If you have received a manual penalty warning, the first step is find all your backlinks. Then remove the worst of those you can. When done, submit a reconsideration request to Google and hope for the best.

    If you are hit by an algorithmic penalty Penguin (quality) or Panda (content) you may need to dive into further analysis, also what is called forensic analysis is explained here by John Britsios. Part of the problem with these kinds of penalties are that you can not simply fix the problem and submit a reconsideration request. Instead you will have to wait patiently for an update to take place and hope you fixed the things that triggered the algorithmic penalty in the first place.


    You will have to analyze backlink sources and anchor text very carefully using tools like the one from Link Research Tools. However, the process of doing this can be very slow, and the amount of recovery "success stories" is very low compared to the amount of sites affected.

    Many people end giving up. Instead of fixing the issues, they start new websites on new domains writing new content. While that should be considered as a last resort, it may be worth it compared to waiting forever for a penalized site to start ranking again. One additional thing to consider for Penguin is that other people can also spam links pointing to your site, and hence do negative SEO on your website. While you may be able find and disavow such links, see Google's disavow help page, it will at best be a very long process.

    To optimize chances for a penalty not being passed when moving a website to a new domain, you may want to consider apply one of the following techniques on the old website:
    • Return 404 - not found
    • Return 404 - not found - but link to the new page
    • Return 200 - found - but link to the new page


    Compared to Penguin, the steps are somewhat simpler. This site-wide penalty can be triggered by having many thin low quality pages. When that happens, it can affect rankings of all pages including your quality content. Hence, the first thing to try is removing and rewriting pages with little content or low quality. In addition, you should remove duplicate content and URLs as much as possible although doing so can be rather tricky for some websites.
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