The Google Penguin Update and Google’s Unnatural Link Penalty some would argue have very similar symptoms, and as a result stirs up quite some confusion about their differences. This post is intended to distinguish the differences between the two. So here goes…
The key difference between the Penguin Update and the unnatural link penalty is that sites penalised by the unnatural link penalty receive a warning in Google Webmaster Tools (WMTs) due to Google’s suspicion of the site’s participation in link networks, paid links and unnaturally acquired links outside of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Sites affected by the Penguin update on the other hand have an usually high anchor text keyword to brand name ratio in the link profile which is indicative of web spam. The unnatural links penalty is somewhat manual & Penguin is automated.
Whilst Penguin is unleashed by Google to the interwebs on scheduled intervals (2 updates so far on 24th April 2012 & 25th May 2012), sites hit by the unnatural link penalty can get penalised at any time because it is more of a manual update. Remember that not too long ago, a high profile New York based SEO company iAcquire got de-indexed by Google over night due to Google discovering that iAcquire was running a link network – this is a classic example of an unnatural link penalty. Also remember what happened to link network BuildMyRank.com – another unnatural link penalty clampdown at the network level.
Is it Possible to be hit by both Unnatural Link Penalty and Penguin?
Yes – because behind most Penguin casualties lies unnaturally acquired links. There is a strong correlation (not causation) of sites with high anchor text keyword to brand name ratio (typical Penguin candidates) with the unnaturally acquired links. Sites that typically have a higher number of keyword links in comparison to brand name links would more likely have acquired the keyword links unnaturally to rank highly.
One other point to note about Penguin is that it is constantly learning artificial link patterns – it continually discovers unethical ‘spam’ link patterns and then and ignores them. As an example if prior to the recent Penguin update, a website had 4,000 spammy forum profile links or blog comment spam links with the anchor text ‘wedding rings’ to rank for the term ‘wedding rings’ and had a #3 ranking on Google as a result, the Penguin update would have ignored all 4,000 spammy forum links (because Google now understands how forum profile links work) and then only regard the remaining trusted links in it back-link profile to determine if it should still rank for ‘wedding rings’. Sites hit by penguin do not usually make the cut.
As Penguin is an update that runs at specific intervals only known to Google, there is no quick and easy fix. Sites hit by the Penguin update in the eyes of Google:
- Have more keyword links as compared to brand name links
- Have had a significant number of backlinks completely ignored by Google’s ranking algo
The fix is to:
- Acquire more brand name links & citations from ethical sources
- Try to remove spammy backlinks previously acquired (although I would not recommend spending so much time on this)
- Build a strong backlink profile from trusted domains
- Endeavour to build a brand
- Wait for the next Penguin update & keep your fingers cross – read this recovery story.
Unnatural Link Penalty culprits on the other hand have:
- Participated in a link scheme of sorts like a blog link network OR link wheel scheme
- Generally have a dodgy back link profile in significant scale that has drawn the attention of Google’s web spam team.
The fix is to:
- Remove/clean up all dodgy links
- Seize participation in the link networks
- Send Google a reconsideration request through Webmaster Tools detailing the actions your carried out to clean up your link spam
- If your link profile after the removal of the spammy backlinks is weak, then you would need to acquire quality trusted links
In summary, the Google Penguin Update is an automatic algorithmic filter whilst the Unnatural Link Penalty is applied manually as a result of the pro-active action carried out by Google Spam Team and notifications can be received at any time.
Recovering from Unnatural Links Penalty:
- Advice and confessions from a Reformed Link Network Spammer [SEOmoz]
- 6 Ways for recover from bad links [SEOmoz]
- Unnatural link investigation [Majestic SEO]
- Unnatural Links & Techniques outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines [Bowler Hat]
- Matt Cutts talking about the difference between Manual penalties & Algorithmic updates [Video]
- How do reconsideration requests work at Google? [Video]
Recovering from Penguin: