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Penguin 3.0’s Action and Reaction Guide

As you know, the digital marketing world is a big, fast-moving place. It seems that every channel evolves every day. So one of the biggest parts of any digital marketer’s job is to keep up with headlines in their area.

At North Studio, a number of people work on SEO, but it is mostly my specialized area of knowledge, so it’s my job to keep up with trends, best practices and updates by Google.

Recently, Google has released major updates to their antispam algorithms. However, the biggest headline was the update to the Penguin algorithm.

The Penguin algorithm targets bad linking practices, like buying links or building links from low quality, non-relevant websites. The algorithm does not constantly run, but Google updates (adds new signals and re-runs) or refreshes (just re-runs) the algorithm every 6 months or so. With this update, Google wants to send a message to the webmaster community about bad linking practices. Thus, if you were affected by the algorithm, it could be difficult (or impossible) to recover until the next update or refresh.

How to figure out if you were hit by Penguin

Have you worked with an SEO company in the last 10 years?

If you have worked with an SEO agency, or done SEO in-house, what tactics were used?

Look back into your reports and look for mentions of link building and any associated reports. If you find any mention of link building, especially pre-2012, it should be investigated. You could have still been hit by Penguin, even if you have not worked with an SEO company.

Did you see a clear drop in your organic traffic between October 16 and 30, 2014?

Go into your analytics account and choose a date range of September 1st to October 31. Under ‘Acquisition’, click ‘All Traffic’. From there, find ‘Google / Organic’.

If your traffic is consistent and follows a pattern, this will be easier to do.

Look at the number of sessions for a given day in each week and see if you see a decrease starting the week of October 16th. It may not look drastic, but the graph above shows that there has been a decrease in organic traffic for this website. If your graph shows decreases in average organic traffic past the 16th you should complete the next step of the review.

Manually review your links (using Open Site Explorer)

If you haven’t manually reviewed your link profile yet and feel comfortable doing so, it is a good way to confirm if your drop in organic traffic indeed a Penguin penalty. There are many tools you can use to view all the domains pointing to your site, but our favourite is Open Site Explorer by Moz. Once you go to OSE,

  1. Copy and paste your domain name in the tool

  2. In the navigation, click ‘linking domains’

  3. Manually look through the domains and click on any ones that look less than legitimate. Domains like,, and other random looking domains are good signs that they are poor websites. If there are more than a few of these, it is a good sign that you need a proper link audit.

If you use a rank tracker for your important keywords, it will be easier to see the effects, but viewing organic analytics traffic works as an alternative.

What should you do if you think you were affected?

If any signal points to a Penguin penalty, it should be investigated. If you have been penalized, it’s important that you have your links reviewed for their quality. Any links that are not good quality, are not relevant or don’t send traffic to your site should be removed. There is a particular process that needs to be completed to remove these links, and you need to make sure that good links are not removed.

You should reach out to your current SEO company, if you are working with one, or contact an SEO agency to have your links reviewed. You need to remove bad links and earn new good links before the next penguin refresh so you can recover when that happens.

If you have any questions or anything to add, please comment below. We are happy to answer questions you may have!

Of course if you need our assistance, inquire about our SEO services.

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