SEOPenguin 3.0: A Proven Roadmap to Recovery

Penguin 3.0: A Proven Roadmap to Recovery

Many wondered if recovery from Penguin was even possible; in this case study, we’ll show you that it’s not only possible, but exactly the steps we took to accomplish this recovery.

Many wondered if recovery from Penguin was even possible; in this case study, we’ll show you that it’s not only possible, but exactly the steps we took to accomplish this recovery.


A site came to us with a severe manual penalty, one that included a complete absence of their BRANDED terms in the SERPs. Their money terms had been banished to Antarctica, but even branded and very long-tail terms were banished, too.

It took us four months and three reconsideration requests to get the manual action removed, but unfortunately, the site’s traffic didn’t come back as we’d hoped. Instead, it took the Penguin 3.0 refresh for us to see regained rankings for branded terms, and movement on money terms.

The Recovery

We noticed an increase of traffic that started Friday evening. All of the tools we use showed promising signs:

SEMrush Keywords Ranking


Webmaster Tool Search Queries


See the percent change in the average position column – significant for a large number of keywords.

Webmaster Tool Search Queries by Top Pages


Again we saw many penalized pages that had lost all traffic and new pages starting to improve in the rankings.

Top Search Queries Chart


In the graph above, you can see the increase in search queries over the weekend of Oct 17, getting progressively higher since the update.

As you can see the site shows evidence of a recovery, also apparent in improved keyword rankings across the board.

Now that we see evidence of recovery, let’s talk about what it took to get there.

The Problem

The client came to us with a serious problem:


They had been hit by a manual penalty that took away about 90 percent of their organic traffic.

This site had more than 6,500 referring domains, many that were low-quality links acquired through private blog networks, article marketing, and directory submissions.

The profile looked like this:


There were many different footprints that we discovered:


At least 25 percent of the profile had money keywords in anchor text:


Unfortunately, they had earned their penalty by pursuing unnatural links.

The Process

We started with a comprehensive link audit, then performed link removals, uploaded a disavow file, and filed for reconsideration…three times.

The Audit

The first step was to use tools to identify patterns and footprints, followed by manual inspection of all links, to fully classify the link profile. We looked for patterns in the following areas:

  • Backlink Patterns Analysis
    • Date Discovered
    • URL Patterns
    • IP Patterns
    • NameServer Patterns
    • Whois patterns
  • Anchor Text Patterns and Analysis
  • Keyword Classification
  • Link Detox Risk Analysis
  • Sitewide Links Analysis
  • Paid Links Analysis
  • Redirect Analysis
  • Link Growth Analysis
  • Link Network Analysis
  • Country Ratio Analysis
  • Deep Link Ratio Analysis
  • Link Status Ratio Analysis

The tools used helped us identify patterns that we wouldn’t have seen with a manual audit. Using these tools while manually looking at the sites in the backlink profile helped us gain a more comprehensive overview. Here are a few examples of the types of data we looked at:

By URL Patterns


By NameServer Patterns


By Link Discovered Date


Unfortunately the first two reconsideration requests failed because we tried leaving sites out of the disavow file in order to minimize further loss of traffic and rankings. For the third reconsideration request, however, we decided to disavow as many links as possible and gathered links from the following sources:

  • Webmaster Tools
  • LinkResearchTools
  • MajesticSEO
  • Ahrefs
  • Bing WebmasterTools
  • Moz
  • Scrapebox
  • ScreamingFrog

We used pattern analysis and scraped sites in order to uncover as many linking domains as possible and included all of them in our audit.

Link Removals

Having identified all the potentially toxic links, we emailed the websites and asked them to remove our links. We uncovered contact information from visiting the site, using WHOIS data, scraping the site for contact forms and email addresses, and using a social media scraper to contact them via social media (usually Twitter).

We took screen captures of the contact form emails and social media messages sent, and saved the source code of all emails, referencing them all on a spreadsheet. Each site was contacted at least three times to request removals.


In the image above you can see the amount of referring links and domains decreased exponentially with our link removal work.

The Disavow File

We included thousands of URLs in the disavow file, including:

  • 404 links
  • Nofollowed links
  • Pages no longer indexed in Google
  • All toxic domains

Why include 404s and nofollowed links, you may be wondering? Our goal was to be incredibly comprehensive for both the manual audit and the algorithmic update, so we figured it wouldn’t hurt to add 404 and nofollowed links, as they were surely not helping anyways.

Our Disavow file contained 7,369 domains:


Less than 100 high-quality links were left in the profile, with more than 98 percent of the profile being disavowed.

The Manual Penalty

After four months and three reconsideration requests, the manual penalty was lifted…but the traffic and rankings did not.


So many links were disavowed, including many of the links that were actually helping the site to rank for long tail terms.

Overall it seemed our efforts had been futile.

Penguin 3.0

In the last few days since Penguin updated, we are seeing the following:


Rankings have improved exponentially, and traffic is increasing.

The penguin penalty that was suppressing so many keywords was removed, allowing the site to regain some old positions, while attaining new ones, as can be seen in the charts above.

Are traffic and rankings back to pre-penalty levels?

Not yet. The improvement is clear, but there is still a long road to full recovery. The comprehensive disavowal of almost all links from the profile left the site devoid of the signals required to rank well. The site was left with high trust rank but low citation flow given the amount of disavowed links.

The current challenge remains – to create powerful, compelling content that attracts links.

The Future: A Penguin-Safe SEO Strategy

To keep moving forward, the future strategy for this site will include:

  1. Authoritative, comprehensive content
  2. Blogger outreach to create awareness for the content
  3. Influencer outreach to amplify promotion of the content
  4. Paid social amplification to promote the content to psychographically relevant audiences
  5. Brand amplification via social signals and social media outreach
  6. Press mentions using social amplification and PR

With powerful, unique and engaging content as the foundation, all that’s required is a scalable amplification strategy using a variety of channels, as mentioned above. Amplifying the content generates editorially earned links, which is what Google seeks to reward.

Repurposing content from article to e-book to presentation to infographic to video creates a more varied link profile, all with social amplification as the foundation.

If you’d like to learn more about the process, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for our Google Penguin Penalty Recovery e-book – it’s free and explains in detail the steps we take for all penalty recovery clients. We look forward to hearing from you!


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