Penalised by Penguin? Here’s What to Do

If your site has been hit by the Penguin update, you’re undoubtedly scouring the web for information to help you recover.

Now that the dust has settled a bit, there is enough information available to make an educated guess about what sort of behaviour Google was targeting in this update.

Not surprisingly, the ranking signals that were most strongly targeted appear to be related to external linking, which explains why so many quality sites were affected by the update.

If you have good, quality content on-site but your links are mostly keyword-targeted links on unrelated sites, there’s a good chance that your site is in trouble right now.

Good content alone is not enough to keep you from being penalised by Penguin. Here are some steps you can take if your site has lost its rankings:

Determine Whether You Were Hit by Penguin

There have been other things going on with the rankings lately, not just Penguin. Take a look at your analytics. If you see a significant drop in traffic after April 24th, then you were probably hit by Penguin. If the drop came before that, it could have been caused by the last Panda update, the targeting of backlink networks, or even a glitch in the Matrix.

Figure Out Which Pages You Need to Work On

Penguin seems to work on a page-by-page basis. It’s very possible that some of the pages on your site were penalised while others are doing just fine. Compile a list of the pages that were hit by the update.

Come Up with an Action Plan for Each Page

Next, you need to evaluate each page on the list and figure out what got it penalised so you can create a plan for getting its rankings back. Unless you have people helping you, it is probably best to concentrate on one page at a time and implement the plan for each page before moving on to the next. Assuming you’re content is original and useful, here are the other potential pitfalls you should watch out for:

1. Anchor text used in backlinks: Most of the sites that were penalised aggressively used their keywords as anchor text in their backlinks. If this is your problem, focus on building new links using the name of your site (unless it’s a keyword) and its URL as anchor text. Adding a few generic links with anchor text like “click here” and “read this article” wouldn’t hurt. Keep adding links until at least 40% of your backlink profile is made up of non-keyword-optimised links.

2. The relevance of the sites that link to you: Roughly 70% of the sites penalised by Penguin had 30% or more of their inbound links coming from general article sites or sites in other niches. To fix this, focus on guest posting for other blogs in the same or similar niches. For example, if you sell a weeding tool, concentrate on writing guest posts for gardening blogs for a while.

3. Exact-match domains: It doesn’t look like exact-match domains were directly targeted because there are still some ranking. However, if you have an exact-match domain, it’s much more likely that the percentage of incoming links containing your keyword is too high. Be cautious about linking with your site’s name. Try not to let the percentage of keyword-optimised links get too high. Even if you are getting the links naturally, you might need to counteract them by adding more non-optimised links.

4. Anchor text of internal links: Using the same anchor text to link to a page over and over again internally seems to cause problems as well. This problem is most often caused by plugins that add links automatically. Get rid of the plugins and add your own internal links where they make sense. As with external links, you should vary your anchor text when linking internally.

Depending on the number of backlinks you have, it could take a massive effort to build enough links to get your link profile back in balance. It may be tempting to try to shortcut the process by asking to have some of your existing links removed.

However, doing this can do more harm than good because you never know for sure which links are helping you and which are not. Since the percentage of good links seems to be a major factor, it’s likely that the less desirable links will still help you a little once you get the percentage back in balance. After all, they still count as links to your site.

Recommended Reading:

This post was originally published on our CSO’s blog.

About Omar Kattan
Omar is MD & Chief Strategy Officer at Sandstorm Digital. His experience includes 10 years in traditional marketing and advertising in the Middle East and a further 10 years at two of the largest media agencies in the UK. Follow Omar on Twitter for updates on the latest in digital, branding, advertising and marketing.
Elizabeth Smith
Elizabeth Smith

I have a question. How can you avoid being hit by penguin? You know protection is better than remedy. Thank you for this great article. :)


Interesting points. I think the way forward is to become more original with SEO. Cheers..great site.

Omar Kattan
Omar Kattan

Spot on.  Protection "future-proofing" is always better than remedy.  The only way to do this is to write useful content that attracts links naturally.  It's really as simple as that.


Good point but what if you have a single page website (sales page). I would imagine that natural links would be very hard to come by.

Omar Kattan
Omar Kattan

Yes that's a good point Jason.  But you can still create content that will attract links to that page.  For example a mortgage form page can have a mortgage calculator.  A Kitchen sales page can have a kitchen planner tool. A car sales page can have a 3d widget that shows the car from all angles. etc. etc.  If you provide content that is useful to your users (i.e. beyond just selling).  People will link to and share that content.


  1. […] mins ago by Omar Kattan (online) 0 // With Google’s recent updates codenamed Panda and Penguin, it’s now more important than ever for companies to move away from on-page SEO, and towards […]

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