How to Identify a Link Profile Susceptible to Google Penguin

Just as we were getting comfortable with the Panda algorithm updates, Google introduced another game changer in Penguin on April 24th and refreshed it on May 25th in order to crack down on sites that use unethical on- and off-page SEO tactics.

As a result, some sites lost a significant amount of their Google organic traffic overnight. The impacted sites I am helping recover all had one thing in common: an unnatural link profile with a majority of their links coming from low quality sites along with overly optimized anchor text.

This article will explain how site owners can diagnose whether they were hit by Penguin themselves and how to detect whether it was off-page factors that caused it.

Identifying a Hit from Penguin

  • First, open your analytics. We will use Google Analytics for this exercise.
  • Since Penguin impacts organic traffic you receive from Google, we need to filter out all other sources of traffic.
  • In order to view your organic traffic, click on Traffic Sources, Sources, Search, and then Organic.


  • Next, remove your traffic from non-Google search engines since Penguin only impacts your organic traffic from Google. Click on Source then click on Google.


  • Now you should be looking at your Google organic traffic. Do you see a sharp decline in traffic starting on April 24 or May 25? For reference, below is an example of a site that was hit by the first rollout of Penguin on April 24. If you see a drop that looks similar to this starting on either of those days, then it is extremely likely you have been hit by Penguin. Or if you see drops that aren’t consistent with those dates, your site may have been hit by Panda or another update.


  • It’s important to compare this with your previous traffic in order to make sure it’s a true drop and not just a return to your normal levels of traffic. Look back a few months to examine your overall traffic patterns and do a week-over-week and a month-over-month comparison.
  • Now we need to see which keywords were the most impacted. While on the same page that shows your Google organic traffic, select Secondary Dimension, Traffic Sources, and then Keyword.


  • Next, since Penguin impacts sites at the keyword level, you should compare your pre-Penguin and Post-Penguin traffic over an equal amount of time so you can see if any keywords were impacted.


  • Looking at the overall drop in traffic and seeing their top keywords losing traffic, it’s safe to assume that this site was impacted by Penguin and we need to address the problem.

Analyzing Your Link Profile

  • We need to dig deeper to see if it is an off-page issue that resulted in the drop in traffic. However, even if your site wasn’t hit by Penguin, I highly recommend analyzing your link profile to see if there are any causes for concern. I recommend using Open Site Explorer for this purpose and filtering the links to your site using the following settings before downloading the excel file:


  • Run the Excel file through Link Detective. Link Detective is a free tool that automatically classifies the type of links pointing to your site as well as the anchor text.
  • Once you get your report from Link Detective it will look something like this:


  • First thing, you should filter out the dead links in order to get a more accurate link profile.
  • There are still a lot of unknown links we need to deal with, but at least we can see 50 percent of links classified as a type. At first glance, this isn’t a healthy link profile. The top three are poor sources that are unlikely to pass much (if any) authority – footer, comments, and directories.
  • As a next step, I recommend exporting an Excel file from Link Detective so you can manually categorize the unknown links to get a completely accurate picture.
  • Now we need to analyze the anchor text distribution. Click on the Anchor Text tab to take a look at the breakdown:


  • This is a perfect example of unnatural anchor text distribution. Microsite Masters recently crunched a bunch of data and found that once a site surpasses 65 percent of their links having optimized anchor texts then they are increasingly more likely to get hit. I’m willing to bet that number will decrease with the future Penguin refreshes, but Google is trying to get rid of worst offending sites first.
  • After you have completed these steps, you should have a good idea whether or not your site was hit by Penguin and if your link profile had anything to do with it.

How to Address the Problem

As for what to do about it, it depends on your individual situation. In most cases, sites are going to have to do some serious link clean-up.

A good place to start is by removing links from extremely low quality or de-indexed sites. Also, I would supplement any link removal by adding quality natural links to the pages that lost the most traffic.

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