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Protecting Yourself from the Penguin

Barrie Smith

Google manual penalties have been a hot topic for more than a year now. The fear of receiving the dreaded notification of a manual penalty in your Google Webmaster Tools account can be distressing for some.

This blog is to put your fear to rest by guiding you on the actions to take from preventing your website or business from being hit with a Google penalty. 

Why the upsurge?

Penguin — not the black and white bird you see at the zoo, and not the character from Batman, either. I'm talking about the Google algorithmic penalty introduced almost two years ago, back in 2012.

It would appear that the manual penalties sites are receiving from Google are a by-product of the Penguin algorithm. The penalty system itself was brought in as a way to hurt over-optimized websites.

Where to start

Don’t know if you’ve been hit by a Google penalty? Worried you may have been?

Login to your Google Webmaster Tools account. If you haven’t already set up an account, it’s easy to do. Once you’re in, click on your site, then Search Traffic in the left-hand menu and Manual Actions in the drop down.

A clean site will have the message “No manual webspam actions found.” A penalized one will have a message similar to the following:

google-webmaster-penaltyWhere you can obtain your link data

Maybe you haven’t received a manual action, but fear you have done some dodgy link building work in the past. Perhaps you're worried about a company you outsourced the work to, or concerned one of your competitors has run a negative SEO campaign on you.

Take a look at Google Webmaster Tools. It has a list of some of the links pointing to your site itself. It’s not comprehensive, however. This report is free, so it's always worth downloading and checking. There are also paid tools on the market.

Which links are the problem?

Currently, Google doesn’t shed any light as to which links in particular are causing a problem.

This is something that needs to be worked out by yourself, or by hiring a professional. Any links you’ve paid for are a no-no unless you nofollow them. Links on unrelated sites, links on low quality sites and comment spam, etc. should all be removed.

In recent weeks, Google has also become strict on guest posting. If you’ve done a few of those on low quality sites and/or slotted in some keyword rich anchor text links that don’t fit in naturally, you should get those removed. Same with guest posts on your own site – don’t give out any anchor text links willy-nilly.

Disavow file

Google has something called a Disavow file that allows you to report bad links pointing to your site that you don’t want Google to judge your site on.

Ideally, you don’t want to be adding hundreds or thousands of links to this file – basically owning up to Google that you’ve been doing some bad behavior in the past. That’s one of the reasons why I recommend removing as many of your bad links as you possibly can first.

Matt Cutts has also said in the past that Google isn’t just going to let a penalized site back into the ranking without the webmaster putting some effort into it first.

Still struggling?

If you think you’re at risk of being penalized, think you’ve been penalized, or think you have been penalized and you don’t know what to do, reach out to a qualified professional for help. It's better to address any issues now so you can avoid any headaches later.

Author bio:

Barrie Smith is an SEO consultant for Receptional Ltd. His last article for SEMrush was "5 Tools Every Digital Marketer Should Use."

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Author bio:
Barrie Smith is an SEO consultant for Receptional Ltd. His last article for SEMrush was “Protecting Yourself From the Penguin."
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