A Penguin 4.0 recovery case study

We’ve had time for the dust to settle after the real-time Penguin 4.0 update was released.

Date published
November 08, 2016 Categories

We’ve had time for the dust to settle after the real-time Penguin 4.0 update was released.  

It’s now been more than four weeks since the Penguin update was implemented, and close to a month since Google announced the end of the launch. The question in everyone’s mind now is – what can we learn from this update? How should we proceed now that Penguin is integrated into the algorithm?

In this article, we’ll delve into an analysis of results pages to determine what can be inferred from this latest update. Unfortunately, we are not at liberty to disclose the site, but we are free to discuss the details and process that we followed to achieve this recovery.

Out of Antarctica

Many have complained that there have been few recoveries from Penguin 4.0. I think it’s important to analyze those sites that recovered so we can identify what works and what will continue to work now that Penguin 4.0 is real time.

Let’s start by looking at the organic traffic patterns according to SEMrush:

As you can see, this is an obvious case of a Penguin recovery. Traffic doubled when Penguin 4.0 was released, and thousands of long tail terms increased in the rankings.

The penalty

What caused this site to receive a Penguin penalty to begin with? This client came to us after engaging in the typical Pre-Penguin linking schemes. They had engaged in article submissions, profile spam, comment spam, web 2.0 spam, and other such links.

At the time of the penalty, the site lost between 40-60% of organic traffic.

The strategy – cleaning out

We started with a link audit, where we mapped their backlinks by patterns. We looked at all of their anchor text backlinks, and disavowed them all.

Next, we looked at sites that fit the typical Pre-Penguin patterns, including article directories, forums, and web 2.0 sites. We disavowed every last one of them.

We didn’t stop there. We looked at every single backlink to look for low quality sites, scrapers, and any other site that wasn’t of value to Google. All of those were disavowed as well.

The strategy – building up

Knowing that many of the links that had previously supported the site’s rankings had been disavowed, we proceeded to earn high quality links.  

Our strategy was not to “build links” like many other companies were doing. Instead, we pursued campaign based digital PR with blogger, media, and press outreach. We focused on quarterly campaigns with high level content creation featuring unique stories and research.

One of the campaigns constituted a survey of over 50,000 participants to explore an industry specific question that hadn’t been previously explored. The findings were visualized with infographics, ebooks, and other digital assets.

The results included coverage in Huffington Post, the Telegraph, USA Today, and LA Times, amongst many others.

The campaigns were complemented by reaching out to bloggers and influencers, and sharing the findings of our study. Instead of offering compensation, bloggers and influencers were compelled by the fact that the study was unique and the data not found elsewhere.  

What should site owners do?

If you still have a Penguin 4.0 penalty, there is hope! Now that Penguin is real-time, you do not have to wait months or years for Google to run an update and to see the results of your work.  

You can now count on seeing recoveries sooner if you go through the effort of cleaning out your link profile and earning quality links.

If you do not have a Penguin penalty, then you can start building links a little more aggressively.

Google announced that the negative links will no longer result in penalties. Instead, the links will simply not count – positive or negative. So if the links are negative, they will not boost your rankings, but will not cause terrible traffic loses like they used to.  


Manual evaluation of links and manual penalties will likely increase. With all of the disavow data Google has sufficient data to apply AI spam filters, which will likely alert human spam raters who will review and apply manual penalties. DO NOT BUILD SPAM LINKS.  

Recovering from manual penalties is infinitely harder than recovering from Penguin – especially now.  

What real-time Penguin means is that you can be a bit more aggressive, without fear of accidentally tripping algorithmic penalties that cause a loss of site wide traffic. And if you DO build a few low quality links along the way, you do not need to fear as much as you would’ve in the past.  

Exit mobile version