Anyone who runs an SEO agency has experienced the following scenario.
A client comes to you and explains they ranked number one for a keyword(s) before Penguin. They got hit, having fallen into near invisibility in the Google SERPs and are desperate to get their Google traffic back and recover from Penguin.
Manual vs. Algorithmic Link Penalties
Post Penguin we most commonly see two types of Penguin related penalties. Manual and algorithmic. Manual penalties usually happen to those that have received the “unnatural link warning” email from Google.
In the case of a manual penalty, someone at Google has decided your backlink profile is actively attempting to manipulate the algorithm. This is the hardest of the two to overcome. Why?
Because it means that your link profile will undergo much more scrutiny than it would trying to recover from an algorithmic penalty. There's an actual person making a judgement call on your links (and their intent) vs. a mathematical formula.
In an algorithmic penalty, it's merely Google's algorithm that has detected some type of irregularity that seems like manipulation in your link profile and you get caught up in its filter.
While not “easy” to overcome, it's easier to recover from than a manual penalty, because your link profile is being reviewed by an algorithm vs. a human. Identify the issue and remove links, disavow links and/or build links to rectify the balance of your link profile and the signals your site is giving off to the algorithm.
Penguin Recovery Doesn't Mean “Getting Your Rankings Back”
The common misunderstanding is that Penguin recovery means you recover your original rankings. This is almost never the case. Penguin recovery merely means you're no longer being “punished” by Google. It means that Google has decided your site is no longer “guilty” of link manipulation. It means you've escaped the filter or had the manual penalty lifted.
So why don't you “get your rankings back” in regards to where they originally were?
You've lost links that were actually helping
The whole reason that Google “dinged” you in Penguin was because it felt you were ranking with manipulative links. When you remove (some of) the manipulative links, you also remove some of the links that were indeed helping you rank before you were hit by Penguin.
Typically Penguin recovery returns you from oblivion to somewhere within the first three pages of the search results for your former “number one ranked” keywords. If you're lucky, your recovery will return you to the first page – but almost never back in your original number one slot. In short, the recovery won't be as stark a climb as it was a drop off.
This is especially true in recovery from manual link penalties, which usually require a lot more helpful (but deemed manipulative by human eyes) links to be removed.
What Penguin Recovery gives you is the ability to earn top rankings again.
Reinclusion Requests Won't Help With Algorithmic Penguin Penalties
If you did not receive the feared “link warning” email, but suffered a “hit” corresponding with a Penguin update, then you're caught up in the Penguin filter and reinclusion requests will not help. Why not?
“Google” didn't give you the penalty in this case – their algorithm did
If you didn't get the link email, then there was no manual decision made to hit your site. The decision was made by the algorithm. And as such, the algorithm has to be the one to decide to release you from the filter.
Again, the good news is that (in my experience) the algorithmic Penguin penalty is easier to recover from (though still not easy per se) than a manual link penalty.
The bad news is that because the penalty was algorithmic you have to do what needs to be done and then wait for the next Penguin update to occur to see if your escape efforts were successful (*edit – in the last month or so, we've noticed sites seeing MINOR improvement within a week or two of the implemented fixes – repeat, minor).
Not only will reinclusion requests not help remove an algorithmic Penguin penalty, but they merely stand to potentially draw attention to your link profile from Google – which in my experience isn't something you want to do. :)
(Edited to add: My buddy Paul emailed me to tell me that Google recently removed the ability to even submit a reconsideration request UNLESS a manual spam action has been found for the site… I'm guessing that might be due to all the reinclusion requests they were likely getting for algorithmic penalties that didn't require them – haha.)
The Penguin Algorithm isn't fair (or about hard numbers)
Understand that the Penguin algorithm isn't fair. Just because your competition has managed not to trip the filter with the same link building techniques you used doesn't mean that you'll be as lucky. Lamenting about what the competition is getting away with won't fix your rankings.
Additionally, IMHO, being hit by Penguin's algorithm is all about your overall backlink profile. Not specific links or link types as individual entities. So looking at what your competition is doing may give you deceiving results.
For example – Site A could have 100 directory listings. Site B could have 60. If Site A has a 40,000 overall links and Site B has 400 overall links, then that means that less than 1% (.25% to be exact) of Site A's backlink profile is made up of directories, while 15% of Site B's is.
Site A may do “more” directory link building, but it is a much smaller, less glaring percentage of their backlink profile. It's not about “hard numbers” so to speak. It's the overall profile.
In the case of a manual penalty, the situation is even more unfair. You'll often have to remove more links then you would need to in an algorithmic penalty – with many of those links being the same kind of links your competition is benefiting from.
What Penguin Recovery Really Looks Like
- This client came to us having been hit by Penguin and had not received a link warning email. (Unfortunately, they didn't have analytics on the site at the time, but their sales numbers allowed us to pinpoint the date they were hit to confirm Penguin).
- We found some technical glitches causing what appeared to look like a link network from a sister site and cleaned them up (pink line).
- We also found that a link building service they had formerly used appeared to have accidentally (we assume) developed links for another client, but had used our (now) client's URL causing them to have a slew of 100% unrelated anchors. We disavowed those. (purple line)
- We disavowed a few other very low quality links (also purple line).
- No reinclusion requests were submitted.
- Penguin 2.1 came into play (green line) and the client bounced back to the first page (except at number five whereas they used to be number one).
Organic search traffic is way up since their recovery, but not back to their old traffic levels before they were hit by Penguin. Getting that done will take some renewed and better executed marketing efforts.
Born again SEO
Essentially, recovering from Penguin gives you a chance to “start over” so to speak. Unlike a brand new site, you at least have some good backlinks and a few decent rankings to start with. But getting back your top ranks means you'll have to build new, defensible links – the right way – forever swearing off your former link manipulation sins. ;-)