Penguin 2.1- What Has Changed?

Stuart Shaw 5 years ago

Penguin 2.1 is here, and from what Matt Cutts has quoted it is supposed to be quite a minor update with only 1% of search queries affected. If that were the reality then few webmasters would have noticed it but the reality seems to be entirely different.

matt cutts penguin 2.1

From looking at the buzz on the web, especially in major forums, a lot of sites have seen a big impact and Barry Schwartz confirmed this here.

What’s changed?

So what happened and, most importantly, what’s changed? The short answer, it seems, is ‘more of the same’ with the screw being turned on several key metrics to further demote sites that still have existing questionable link profiles. Here’s a breakdown of the type of links that seem to have been targeted specifically in the latest update:

  • Blogs that allow all do follow links: Google have cottoned on to sites that are setup completely for paid content placement, and these sites usually allow all their links to pass juice. Penguin 2.1 targets these blogs to stop them. The important point to make here is that these are network sites with no other content on them other than commercial guest posts. Guest posting as a tactic is NOT being questioned here, more those that are still basically paying for links on blog networks.
  • Forum and forum bio spam: This has been covered in previous Penguin updates but it targets forum comments and bios with exact match anchor texts. This is something very much being picked up by the latest Manual reviews also.
  • Blog roll links: Again this is an old link building technique that is being targeted, specifically site wide links from the blog roll. Some of these will still work, just be careful with the anchor text.
  • Low quality/spammy directories: For years we have seen spammy directories be devalued and de-indexed. Now we are finally seeing them be penalised. This can only be a good thing and will help clean up the vast amount out there.

Beyond this though our own data has thrown up several other critical findings around how Penguin, and recovery from it, is affected. Let’s look at those now.

1. You can only recover on the next Penguin update

This statement is commonly found on the web and it makes perfect sense since the Panda update follows a very similar pattern. If you are hit with Panda, you will see a direct drop, then once you have made the necessary changes to clean up the on page issues within your site, on the next update you will recover.

Now this was, and has, always been true for Panda but it has become a lot harder to track since the filter is now running very regularly now as part of the main algorithm. I can understand how people would think that Penguin runs in a similar fashion, but this is not the case from what we see.

Over the last few months, we have looked at a lot of new clients that have come to us after being been caught by Penguin and we have data to prove that it is possible to see recovery outside of the standard updates. Take a look at the client below as an example.

In this example we were approached because they had lost rankings. Once we looked into when the actual rankings drop occurred it was clear Penguin 2.0 had hit them. Just to confirm there was no message in Webmaster Tools indicating a manual penalty.


The task was clearly to work on link analysis and profile rebalancing but I am not going to discuss how to go about finding and discovering unnatural links as that is a post all of it’s own. Instead please take a look at our earlier guides on this:

The one additional statement I will make to the link analysis and removal process of Penguin is:

2. Make sure you physically remove the links as well as disavow them.

The second point to make from our data analysis concerns the effort of manual link removal and it impacted the approach we took to the client campaign as above.

While manual removal was initially discussed as a necessary action as part of any penalty recovery process Google’s John Mueller recently muddied the waters slightly by suggesting that companies should not pay for link removal, just disavow them.

Even though I respect the fact that this information has come from a credible source in Google, I cannot turn my back on our own data and the evidence we have gathered here that actually shows that physically removing links has a quicker effect.

In addition to this, if the unnatural links are causing problems with Google’s algorithm, in time other Search Engines will catch up and devalue or penalise these links also. If you simply submit these links to Google’s disavow tool, that won’t have any effect on other Search Engines. It is better to get rid of them completely.

Client example

Back to the client campaign discussed earlier and we embarked on a three months link removal campaign based on these findings, alongside content led link building to both get rid of the unnatural over optimised links and replace them with high quality branded links. We then started to see gradual recovery…

penguin recovery chart

Checking the date of that uplift there is no mention of any Penguin refresh or update. This recovery happened slowly over time and is still continuing to do so now. This has happened now on several occasions and it has taught us the following:

  • Google does not fully trust or take notice of the disavow tool, or there is a significant time delay for when it starts to take effect for algorithmic updates.
  • As a knock on effect to the above statement. Google can take time to re-crawl sites to notice links that have been removed. This would explain the slow recovery overtime.

I know there will be a few people that will say that they have seen huge recoveries on Penguin updates and there will undoubtedly be opportunity to do that but the more data we look at the more it suggests that refreshes are happening more regularly now and recovery happens at other times too.


So, what is the conclusion to our dig into Penguin 2.1? Here are a few key takeaways:

  1. If you are desperate for recovery continue to work hard on link removal. Do not JUST disavow.
  2. Google is tightening the percentage of allowable ‘spam’ across every metric. We shared some more data on this over at Search Engine Watch earlier this month.
  3. Pay close attention to anchor text and forum posts, as these seem to have been more heavily targeted this time.
  4. You can recover outside official Penguin updates so work fast and hard on link profile improvement, as recovery is possible!
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  • Nice round-up. From my own experience and talking with other consultants, there is definitely some correlation with successful disavow efforts and Penguin. I saw a significant impact in the rankings of a client, with a lot of their links cleaned up through the disavow tool a few months ago. There was no real impact until latest penguin update and others have agreed that the penguin updates refresh the disavow requests.
    p.s. One thing to add that you haven’t noted is that when you disavow links through Google Webmaster Tools, that you also disavow the same links through Bing Webmaster Tools. I can’t get my head around why people wouldn’t naturally do this.

  • AdamJamesMason

    GeoMusson Thanks for the comment, I do hope that the time is coming where we will be able to fully trust the disavow tool to see recovery. It would be a lot easier, for now until we see enough confirmation on that we will certainly be disavowing and removing links. Have you seen many recoveries from Penguin with just disavowed links?
    Thanks for the mention about Bing Webmaster Tools disavow, it’s an excellent point and one that’s easily forgotten in this Google dominating world :). I will add this into the post as an update.

  • AdamJamesMason I think there is a lot of harm to be done to a wbeiste by using the disavow too eagerly. Thankfully I haven’t had to utilise the disavow tool for any other client, i wanted to see the effect first on a client. I’m looking into testing it out again when it’s needed.
    Yeah, it makes sense to disavow on both platforms. It’s not likely, but i wouldn’t rule out some kind of shared data.

  • jbobbink

    GeoMusson did you considered the fact that because of Penguin 2.1, lots of other websites have been hit and rankings of your clients’ websites have gone up because others lost them? People often only track their own data and some additional competitors, but never the top 100 websites ranking for a specific keyword.

  • AdamJamesMason

    jbobbink GeoMusson Very good point. It also explains the slow recovery we’ve seen on some sites yet others see a direct increase. It could simply be down to other sites dropping due to being hit.

  • ScrittySEO

    It may be of interest (but possibly not) to know that a site of mine has been targeted for the last 6 days for a continuous negative SEO attack. A peek into the admin area shows 100’s of pingbacks an hour for articles and comments and other types of link spam being posted. Currently in the region of 60,000 links and climbing by the hour. Nothing I can do about it.
    Out of the 400 words or phrases my site ranks for, the 7 specific keyphrases that are being used exclusively as anchor text for this barrage started to slip after 4 days. They are heading down a few places a day. The other 393+ are not moving (well some are – but up as much as down) these 7 specifically are the ones Google is demoting. The chances or drawing 7 out of 400 in blind luck is trillions to one against – it’s no coincidence.
    This shows me two things. That link spam is now an effective way of achieving a negative SEO effect on competitors. This is not a good idea. For Google to have a system that benefits anyone for the production of spam is just plain messed up thinking and likely to come back and bite them on the behind.

    But looking on the positive side it is giving me the chance to case study a full Google disavow cycle, including producing some resources that may be of use to others in a similar position.
    However, i’ll have to wait for it to stop before I can really start the process. Can’t hit a moving target

  • AdamJamesMason

    ScrittySEO That is interesting. It does continue to show that the Penguin filter is something you can slowly slip into or more importantly out of over time. We are seeing more confirmations from our own data and other people that you do not have to wait for a Penguin update to see recovery.

    Thanks for sharing, please keep me posted on how it goes with disavowing you links. It would be very interesting to see how quickly it takes for Google to react to it.