Is It Possible to Have a Partial Penguin Penalty?

Published Nov 03, 2014 by James Parsons in SEO
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With the release of the most recent iteration of Penguin, many people are asking; is it possible to have a partial Penguin penalty, or is it an all-or-nothing deal?  The answer, as you might expect if you’re familiar with SEO, is “sort of.”  Penguin itself is an all-or-nothing update, with different degrees of damage depending on the links it detects to punish.  On the other hand, there are other link-related penalties, including partial manual actions, that may fit the bill.

The Scale of Penguin

Penguin is not a flat, across the board penalty for everyone it strikes.  It’s a penalty that looks at your links and analyzes them.  It looks for how many bad links you have, how many good links you have, how many links have overly optimized anchors and how they stack up against each other.  Does it look like you paid for links?  Does it look like a flood of negative links have targeted your site?  Does it look like you spent some time on building links using a bad strategy, like press releases or spammy guest posting?

Penguin then levies a penalty depending on the severity of the problem.  Two identical sites, one with a small handful of bad links and the other with hundreds of them, will be penalized to different levels.

Penguin also works on a stored version of the search index.  Unlike Panda, it’s not a part of the core Google algorithm just yet.  Rather, they test and adjust penalties in a closed environment, then roll out the changes to the live search results, generally over the course of days or weeks.  This most recent Penguin update has been comparatively minor, all things considered, making it difficult to track.

Because Penguin is not live and always active, it’s not something you can quickly and easily fix.  Most of the time you spend on fixing the cause of the penalties is set for a long-term payoff.  There’s no magic Penguin removal.

Alternative Link Penalties


The thing about Penguin is that it’s not the only bit of the algorithm looking at your links.  This is why Penguin penalties can be “removed” and your traffic can increase, despite no new Penguin refresh adjusting your position.  Links are important to search, so removing bad links and fixing link issues will give you a boost, even without Penguin.

One of the potential link penalties is the partial manual action.  The manual action, partial or otherwise, is a more direct review of your links and their quality.  See, Penguin is an algorithm.  It operates by fixed rules, compares your links according to templates and lists of good and bad sites, ranks your links and adjusts your position accordingly.  It’s entirely algorithmic with little or no human oversight.

Manual actions, on the other hand, are levied by a real Google employee reviewing your site and determining that there’s something wrong with your link profile.  Maybe it’s Steven.  Do you want to let Steven ride on his penalty, or do you want to take the wind out of his sails?

Penguin, being algorithmic, hits all sites the same way, if not on the same scale.  If a site has bad links, it gets a penalty.  A worse profile is a worse penalty.  It’s that simple, and it’s that dumb.  Steven is smarter than the algorithm, though you may not appreciate it at the time.

When Steven puts a manual action on your site, he’s seeing specific bad links he wants taken care of to restore your rank.  A link-based manual action may mean one of three things.

  • A few bad links, judged to be not under your control, have been identified as pointing at your site.  These have been adjusted to not count either for or against your site.  You lose any benefit they may have given you, but they do not actively penalize you.  You may, if you desire, attempt to disavow and remove them and submit a reconsideration request.
  • A large number of bad links, judged to be under your control, have been identified as pointing at your site.  Because Steven believes you control the linking sites, those links penalize you.  Until you remove them, your site will suffer a penalty.  When you do remove them, you can submit a reconsideration request.  Steven will very likely present you with more links to remove; the list he gives you each time is partial.  He’s just telling you what types of links, not what specific links, should be removed.
  • A number of links are identified as coming from your site in a spam manner.  Steven decides you’re participating in a link scheme and informs you that you must remove those links or face a penalty.  The manual action will be reassessed upon a reconsideration request, once you have removed the offending links.

Partial Penguin?  Full Penalty?


With so many different forms of link penalty floating around, it’s hard to tell what’s Steven, what’s Penguin and what’s what.  To simplify it for you, just remember there are three ways a link-related penalty can affect your site.

  • Partial match manual action.  This is a link-based penalty that affects only some pages of your site.  For example, if you have one sub page you want to rank highly, so you built unnatural links to it, that page might be removed from the rankings.  The rest of your site would remain unchanged.
  • Site match manual action.  This link-based penalty affects your entire site.  If you invested in a bad link scheme targeting your entire site in general, those links are going to harm your entire site.
  • Algorithmic action from Penguin.  This affects your entire site, regardless of where the links were detected.  Penguin looks at your site as a whole, not individual sub-pages.

The only difference between a site-wide penalty and a Penguin penalty is that a site-wide penalty can be lifted as soon as you’ve made the desired changes.  Penguin penalties are not lifted until the next Penguin data refresh, which could be months down the line.

Written by James Parsons

James Parsons

James Parsons is a blogger and marketer, and is the CEO of Pagelift. When he isn’t writing at his personal blog or for HuffPo, Inc, or Entrepreneur, he is working on his next big project.

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