Fresh From The Google Zoo: Panda and Penguin Penalties and How to Recover From Them

Google has been sending web publishers into a downward spiral with its love for alliteration in its Pandas, Penguins, and Penalisations. But what can you do if you think you’re being penalised? Shouldn’t you find out first if you are? And which of these black and whites are you being penalised for?

It’s unquestionable – once you’re hit with a penalty, correct the issue right away. You will inevitably lose 1.)  Visibility on Google; 2.) Traffic to your site; 3.) Conversions (which is bad for business); 4.) The list goes on….. The sooner you address the issues of your penalisation, the sooner you will get back to where you want to be. Remember, if nobody can find your website, there’s no potential for new business via Google organic search traffic.


Panda and Penguin penalties occur because Google loves to make changes in its algorithms to fight web spam. So no one is to be spared – everyone on the web can fall victim to these penalties. Don’t think that Google made these algorithm changes only to target your website – you are not alone (Google were themselves penalised for sponsored posts back in 2012!).

But, what can you do to get ahead of the curve? You need to identify first, what type of penalisation affected your website. Webmasters, heed our call! If you’ve been given a whipping by Google, then keep reading as this article will show you the ways in which to identify and recover from these nasty, yet avoidable penalties.



Pandas may look cute, but they can be vicious! It would make our lives more peaceful if we could just feed Google Pandas with a truckload of bamboo and be forever happy. But the reality is Panda’s can be mean!

A Panda hit happens with low quality content which may appear in the form of duplicate content, weak and thin content, bad SEO practices, use of templates, and other factors. It acts like a domain-wide penalty so that means your whole site is affected by the bad pages dragging your good pages with it. Here’s a short grocery list for why you might have been penalised:

  • Low quality content = Content is too short (less than 300 words) and not very well-researched
  • Bad grammar = Believe it or not, grammar counts! Content was not edited and proofread
  • Broken Links = Too many 404 error pages
  • Your Ads to Content Ratio is too high
  • Too few CTR from Google and other search engines = Weak or unimpressive meta descriptions or page titles


The recent Panda update rolled out on May 2014. To see if you were affected, your webmaster should review your analytics and check the traffic post-roll out on May 20th 2014 and then compare to the previous period (ideally giving yourself enough time to know. A couple of weeks is enough). Did you see a noticeable drop or rise in your traffic? If so, your website is probably receiving some blows from the Google Panda paddle.


It’s not as easy as you think, but it’s not as hard either. A Panda hit can always be corrected with a few major changes to your website:


1. Getting your site full of quality content
“If You Write It, They Will Come” or so the adage goes.Writing quality content means writing a complete blog post together with targeted and optimised keywords. This should be engaging and compelling so that readers will stay and read on. Chapter 2 from Danny Sullivan’s “Search Engine Land’s Guide To SEO” should be enough to convince you – he is the authority after all!

2. Removing of unnecessary pages or posts from the Google search results
If in the past, it was a good practice to have many indexed pages, now with Panda updates, it’s necessary to have only important pages and posts. This could be disregarding pages that do not really add much value to search engines. For example: newsletter pages, privacy policy, disclaimer, etc.

3. Removing low quality content
It’s now time to separate the wheat from the chaff and in the process, removing the chaff which adds no value to your site. If in the past, you have written posts which may not be very well-written, may be too short or not even keyword targeted, with Panda updates, Google is taking this low quality content quite seriously. You should start converting your old low quality posts into high quality articles.

But what constitutes a low quality article anyway? Actually, there is no sure fire way to label one as a low quality article. Here are a few indicators to help you decide:

  • *Is it useful for searchers?
  • *Is it informative and well-researched?
  • *Does your content have a trustworthy source?

4. Removing any Duplicate Content
We all hate copycats! Well, Google does, too! Whether it’s by plagiarism or your own content duplicated on your other pages, work on this problem with every detail of the structure of your site. Make sure you are not giving out duplicate content. Also, make sure you are using URL canonicalisation. Have your SEO team work on duplicate content with utmost detail to prevent this penalty.

5. Promoting your site on Social Media
Be among the many who already believe that social media marketing has its benefits. Many have testified about getting a ranking especially with Google+ votes, Facebook likes, Twitter retweets and Delicious (formerly updates.

6. Placing External Links
If you associate yourself with bad people, chances are you will eventually become bad. Why am I saying this? Because linking to bad neighbourhoods will definitely rank you poorly in search engine results. So stop selling paid links or doing paid blogs or reviews about anything! It will get you in trouble. It does however, get you good rankings if you are linking to legitimate and high quality content.

7. Lastly, Learning SEO
It’s not rocket science, but if you can (and have the time), then it will be beneficial if you learn SEO first. Without a basic understanding, your internet marketing future will be unpredictable knowing how Google’s algorithms are also unpredictable. Once you know the basics of SEO, you are armed with any algo changes and do your own tweaking to your website. Want to know where to start? You should start with the following:

  • Keyword research
  • Keyword optimisation
  • Backlinking
  • Removal of duplicate content
  • Robots.txt creation
  • Sitmap.xml creation
  • Social Media promotion


It’s another cute animal but beware, Google Penguin can also be mean. And wouldn’t it be much easier if, like Pandas, we just fed Google Penguins with a truckload of krill!

The second most common penalty is the Google Penguin algorithm. This affects basically owners of websites who have employed aggressive or low quality link building strategies. And so what if you have too many external links to your site? Shouldn’t Google be happy with that? Well, Google’s philosophy on links is that every external link should be natural and any link created for the sole purpose of increasing your ranking will be considered a violation of Google’s guidelines on link schemes.

During years of evolving as a search engine, Google has been upping the fight against link spam, which has been prevalent and reached its peak in 2011. Ever since, Google has been playing a cat and mouse game with all the spammers out there.

The Penguin algorithm is all about link spam which includes low quality links, too many links with optimised anchor text, excessive link exchanges and other unethical link schemes. Being hit with a Google Penguin penalty can impact your entire website and not just your home page (depending how aggressive you’ve been).


Upon checking your analytics, you noticed a sudden drop in traffic following the roll-out of a Google Penguin algorithm update. You probably have been hit by this Penguin. But how sharp was the decline for you to take notice? Well, if for example your specific keyword or group of keywords dropped in rankings from let’s say, the #3 position to the #435 position, you will most certainly notice!


And so you’ve been hit by a Penguin penalty, you should now start picking up the pieces and consider several steps to recovery.

1. Create a list of all your backlinks
It all starts with documentation and listing down all your medium to high risk backlinks. You can use tools such as LinkResearchTools from Christoph Cemper’s team (he’s developed some amazing stuff!), MajesticSEOOpenSiteExplorer, and so on.

2. Audit your list
Analyse all your links to check their quality. This involves a hands-on manual process as tools alone can’t identify everything!

3. Decide which links you want to remove and then take action
Ask for the outright removal of the backlinks from an entire domain rather than from just a specific page or pages. If you hired an SEO agency London, ask them to assist you in link removal. Remove your bad links first!

4. Stop going in hard with optimised anchor text!
Lessen your anchor text ratio by creating quality links to reclaim your rankings. If 10% of you backlinks are ‘money’ keyword anchor text links, it’s best to start building brand and natural backlinks to lessen the number of ‘money’ keyword anchor text links.

5. Focus on ethical approaches to acquiring links
Be ethical and be creative in building your back links. Ethics, we believe is still the hidden ingredient and focuses your efforts on link building quality vs quantity. Remember to let the quality of your content be the driving force to manoeuvre your link building strategy, whilst thinking about the searcher’s web experience with your site.


Recoveries from these 2 penalties can happen in as quickly as 3 days while others can take months to fix. Whether you have been a victim of poor SEO from an external vendor, or maybe some bad link-building strategies in-house, removing a Google penalty is very doable. There is still hope for your site regardless of the gravity of your penalties. It is best to always have a solid, well-analysed plan and execute it accurately and right away. Recovery may sound like a lot of hard work, but undeniably, that’s hard work that will definitely pay off.

Joe Ryan is the Founder & CEO of UK online marketing agency, Digital Search Group, which specialises in smart internet marketing. He is a specialist in online marketing strategy and brand building. When he’s not considering the next best online marketing strategy with his team, he enjoys travel and spending time with his family.