For over a year we all waited. Impatiently mind you … but we waited nonetheless. Knowing that with a Penguin-based penalty (or devaluation if you prefer) victims had no hope of relief until the next regardless of their actions, it was a very very long wait. And then the Penguin refresh began and the results were in. But what if you didn’t recover?
Monitoring as we do a number of sites in various states and reading about the scenarios of countless others we’ve seen or heard of many who actively worked to correct past wrongs only to find that their rankings weren’t recovered. These sites tend to fall into one of three camps and for those in a similar scenario it may be helpful to consider – which one are you. The three possible reasons for the lack of recovered rankings are:
You Didn’t Do Enough
This one is straight forward and probably doesn’t require too much explanation. If you have 1000 links and 900 of them are questionable and you only worked to remove or disavow 400 in your quest to maintain as much as you could, well – your fear of throwing the baby out with the bathwater saw it drown instead. When you’re looking at a penalty it’s not time to act like Scrooge hording links. Bring in an outsider who can look at your scenario academically and if something looks like it’s sitting on the fence, assume it’s bad and get rid of it.
Further, if you had a manual penalty combined with an algorithmic one, you need to have worked to actually get the links removed and not just disavowed. Basically Google wants you to jump through hoops to punish you for your past misdeeds. The purpose of this is to make it difficult to deal with and thus, dissuade people from the attempt in the first place. Jump through their hoops, remove what you can and disavow the rest.
In short, if you didn’t do enough it’s time to go back to the drawing board and the fee for a miserly approach to keeping as many poor links as possible is having to wait for the next Penguin pass.
Which brings us to the second possible reason you many not have recovered …
You Just Removed A Bunch Of Links
When you go hit with a Penguin penalty it was for poor link practices. The tactics likely worked for a while and then you got hit with the penalty. You went through all your links, maybe removed some or maybe just submitted the rest with a disavow file. Let’s think for a second about what that means …
Let’s say that with all those now devalued links you had a relative links score of 100 (I’m making the number up as it doesn’t matter what it is). Now let’s say that the sites below you had scores of 92 and 87. When the penalty came you lost your trust and essentially disappeared (good news for that 92 and the 87) and in the recovery process you had to disavow a bunch of your links. Now, it’s OK as those links not only don’t have value anymore but are actually hurting you; but if half your link strength came from these prior to the update then you’re now sitting at a relative links strength of 50. The 92 and 87 sites are still going to be holding fast against you.
In this scenario the real culprit was not building quality links during the downtime. I know of a few folks that simply went into a holding pattern after dealing with the penalty effectively stagnating for almost a year in some cases. When the update rolled out, the popped up but not high enough to matter. Often to the 5th or 6th page or some such position. Why? Because they removed links but didn’t replace the strength with new ones.
The final possible scenario is …
You Got Another Hit … Kind Of
A final possible scenario we’ve seen is sites that get a second hit though not from the same source. This tends to come from sites that used a variety of lower quality link sources. In the first round the site itself took the hit, got a penalty and recovered in the latest update BUT because of the prior draw to poorer quality links and link strategies, many of their other link sources, which not penalty drawing, are being devalued.
Let’s use an example I’ve seen recently.
- A site gets a Penguin penalty.
- A disavow file is submitted the includes most of the worst offenders leaving a bunch of fairly neutral, low quality but not guideline violating links.
- The next Penguin update rolls out and the linking sites get devalued but no penalty is passed to the initial site.
Essentially, this isn’t really a penalty as much as a correction in link value passing. It just feels like a penalty. You’d recognize this one if you saw a partial recover as illustrated in the second possible scenario however in this one an analysis of the remaining backlinks will quickly reveal the scenario. Where in the second scenario the remaining backlinks would be decent though not growing, in this one they themselves will be lowering in value. There are many tools from ahrefs and Majestic to Moz and even PageRank that can act as indicators here.
So Now What?
So now you get back to work. Knowing the cause of an issue is half the battle, maybe more. Because I expect that we won’t have to wait as long for the next Penguin update it’s time to start acting. If you didn’t do enough, get started today and get your backlinks cleaned up. If you simply lost ground, build a link strategy and if the links you had left got devalued … well … build a better strategy.
And in case you didn’t pick up on it, if you’re having to deal with another round of links removal, make sure you’re thinking of what you should be doing to build or attract quality links to your site as well. Remember, it’s not just about not losing, it’s about winning and it’s important to keep in mind that getting out from under a penalty is just wining a battle … it’s a long road ahead to win the war.
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