Google Penguin Penalty: Step by Step Guide to Removal, Recovery

Consult with an SEO specialist if you’ve performed the steps below and haven’t seen your search traffic return to normal levels after two to three months. 

Your website will receive a Google Penguin penalty for having unnatural links pointing to its domain. An unnatural link is from a website that is highly unlikely to be associated with your domain in any way. The location of the domain containing the unnatural link, as well as the content on this domain, are indicators to Google about the quality and relationship between both websites.

Result of Penalty: Penguin penalties will generally eliminate 90% or more of a website’s non-branded search traffic. Regardless of on-page SEO, site architecture, page speed, popularity and other SEO variables, a penguin penalty will have the same devastating effect on search traffic.

Purpose of Penalty: Google was primarily built on the foundation of PageRank. PageRank is a key part of Google’s algorithm that calculates the importance of the pages on the Internet by how they relate and connect to each other.

As such, SEO specialists, agenices and more have historically tried to build PageRank to their websites through link building schemes or other non-organic methods.

The Penguin Update by Google is the search engines response to those who are manipulating its algorithm for higher rankings.

How to Recover from the Google Penalty:  First, you’ll want to conduct a link audit using Google Webmaster Tools. Go your Webmaster Tools dashboard, click on your website, and then click on search traffic. A drop down menu will contain an option to view links to your site.

What to Look for in a Link Audit:

  • Foreign domains
  • Matching link text that is the same over and over again on the same or different websites
  • Domains with thin or irrelevant content
  • Domains that have nothing to do with your services or content
  • Websites with unoriginal content, known as scraper sites because they have duplicate content from other domains
  • Websites that are “partner” websites – i.e. if you have a network of websites related to your primary domain and you’ve linked them together
  • Links from other domains which have been penalized
  • Links from web pages that are no longer online or can’t be found
  • Any links that were paid for
  • Links from directories (they may will contain words in the URL like ‘backlinks,’ or ‘SEO’).

What Natural Links Look Like:

  • Links from guest blogs you’ve written
  • Links from websites you’re familiar with
  • Links from websites of companies you have a relationship with
  • Links from news sites
  • Links from other sites in your industry
  • Links on webpages where the content is strong, original and relevant to your company or website
  • Links from authors who create original content on their website
  • Links from websites that you’ve been to before or often

Review all backlinks and anchortext at Moz’s

Contact Webmasters of Spammy Domains to Remove Links: Google emphasizes the importance of taking this step. Personalize your emails and make things as easy as possible for the recipient/webmaster to find and remove the link pointing to your site. If a webmaster demands payment for a link removal do not pay them.

It is important to document the steps you’ve taken to have the bad links manually removed. It is recommended you keep track of efforts to remove the bad links on an excel file.

Submit Spammy Links to Google’s Disavow Tool:  Go to the Disavow Links Tool by Google. Choose and click Disavow Links.

How to Use the Disavow Tool from Google: “First, create a text file (the file type must be .txt and it must be encoded in UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII) containing only the links you want to disavow—one link per line.

If you want Google to ignore all links from an entire domain (like, add the line “”. Your text file can include additional information about excluded links, as long as each line of description begins with the “#” character (all lines beginning with # will be ignored). Don’t upload the entire list of links to your site: the text file that you upload is the list of links you want Google to ignore.

Example: Here’s a sample of a valid file:

# removed most links, but missed these
# Contacted owner of on 7/1/2012 to
# ask for link removal but got no response

If you want Google to ignore all links from an entire domain (like, add the line“

Submit a Reconsideration Request: On top of disavowing all unnatural links, should also submit a Reconsideration Request.

Reconsideration Requests can and should be used by any websites that have been penalized by Google or have noticed they’re not performing nearly as well in search results.

Step 1: Craft a very clear and compelling reasons for Google to take your reconsideration request seriously. Explain the drop in search traffic you’ve witnessed and include the date it began.

Step 2: Explain why you think you were penalized. Include all evidence of spammy links.

Step 3: Make it very clear that the unnatural link building practices your site was a part of have stopped. This means explaining that you’ve used the disavow tool and stopped working with the SEO agency or individual that was responsible for causing the Google penalty.

Step 4: Articulate an up to date and accurate understanding of Google’s quality guidelines. You can review their technical, quality and design guidelines below.

Estimated Time to Recovery: According to the head of Google’s Web Spam team Matt Cutts, “It can definitely take some time, and potentially months. There’s a time delay for data to be baked into the index. Then there can also be the time delay after that for data to be refreshed in various algorithms.”

Studies show that there is a large variance in how long it takes for a website to recover from a Google penalty. It’s important to keep cleaning up your link profile and submitting reconsideration requests until your site improves in rankings.

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