Penguin VS. Unnatural Link Warnings

On May 22nd, 2013 Google rolled out Penguin 2.0, an algorithm update aimed at better identifying and penalizing websites whose search rankings are benefiting from unnatural link building tactics. Though this update isn't the most recent significant change that Google has made - the Hummingbird algorithm owns this title - many are still experiencing the fallout from it.

Matt Cutts, a software engineer in charge of Google's Webspam team, pointed out that, contrary to what many believe, penalties doled out as a result of Penguin are completely different than unnatural link warnings (also called a manual warning). This has been a point of confusion amongst site owners and marketers alike since Penguin was first implemented.

In an attempt to put this confusion to rest, we're going to go over the key differences between an unnatural link warning and Google Penguin and how to address the issues related to each.

What Are Manual Warnings?

As the name suggests, manual warnings are notices that are generated manually by a reviewer who suspects that you're employing unnatural link building techniques (buying links, using automated services to create links to your site, etc.).

Website owners first started to receive manual warnings when Google Penguin 1 was released, and many didn't understand that the warnings and Penguin weren't one-in-the-same. To clarify, an unnatural link warning isn't related to Google algorithm changes like Penguin, because it's not performed algorithmically.

Manual warnings are dished out because Google believes that you're in violation of its terms of use but can't identify that violation through their algorithm (trust us, it happens). When your website is flagged, it's audited by a human reviewer who will decide a) if a penalty is warranted and b) the severity of the penalty. Currently, an unnatural link warning is issued via Google Webmaster Tools.


If you get one of these, read it immediately!

What Are Penguin Penalties?

The roll out of Penguin 2.0 is an effort to automate a lot of the manual evaluation conducted by human reviewers. Penalties are purely machine-based and determined algorithmically. Unlike a manual warning, you will not receive a notification from Google indicating if your website has been affected by the Penguin update. In most cases, Penguin is a re-ranking of the search results and not a penalty per se.


Addressing A Manual Warning

If you have been issued an unnatural link warning, the issue can be mitigated though link removal. As a first step, Google suggests that webmasters contact the sites where the bad links originate and ask them to remove the links. This can be time-consuming, and some sites are using this as an opportunity to increase revenue by charging for link removal.

If the email option proves unsuccessful, Google recommends using the Google disavow tool. The entire effort will be completed by submitting a well-documented reconsideration request, which should convey to Google that you've made the effort to clean up your site and provide the proof to back it up - for example, a record of the emails you've sent to webmasters requesting links be removed. (A comprehensive post on the reconsideration request process can be found here).

The work and time required to resolve issues associated with manual warnings depends on the severity or nature of the violation, and the corresponding corrective action that is required by Google.

Addressing A Penguin Penalty

Resolving issues related to a Penguin update is a much more complex and clouded endeavor. When you're impacted, Google won't tell you why you've been affected. And unlike manual warning cases, you shouldn't send a reconsideration request to Google.

Some suggest that manually removing questionable links can mitigate the damage, but a commonly held belief is that efforts to correct problems with your website won't produce any results until Google once again updates Penguin.

Either way, you should examine your Google Analytics account and see if you've experienced a drop in traffic and rankings for your targeted keywords, particularly on the specific dates that correspond with a key penguin update. These dates are:

  • Penguin 1 Update: Date: April 24, 2012
  • Penguin 1 Update 2: Date: May 25, 2012
  • Penguin 1 Update 3: Date: October 5, 2012
  • Penguin 2.0 Update 4: Date: May 22, 2013

    Being able to accurately identify the issue is necessary if you are to properly address it. You need to know the exact update you're dealing with before you can take any steps to correct any problems and get your website's search rankings back to their desired level.

    Have you been issued an unnatural link warning or been affected by the Penguin update? What steps are you taking to correct your website's issues? Sound off in the comments!

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  • About the Author: Daniel Kosir

    Daniel is a Content Writer at Search Engine People. He is always experimenting with new formats and looking for creative ways to produce, optimize and promote content. He previously wrote for CanadaOne Magazine and helped create and implement online marketing strategies at Mongrel Media.

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