In this post I’m going to share with you the exact method that I used to bring my rankings back on not just one, but two websites that were smashed by the Penguin 3.0 update around October 17-18th 2014.
It’s the 26th of November as I write this post so that means it’s took me just over a month to fully regain my rankings. A month may still seem like quite a while to be losing traffic but when Penguin hits most people struggle to see any improvement at all until the next rollout which may not happen for another year.
Now in all honesty I probably could have regained my rankings much sooner but I wanted to be sure Penguin had fully rolled out before I attempted anything, just on the off chance that my site may magically rise back to the top of the SERPs.
I waited… and hoped… and prayed… but unfortunately nothing happened, so it was time to take action.
The initial Penguin hit.
Before I talk about my recovery I want to quickly show you the actual initial hit, because I’m not talking about dropping a few places here, my sites got totally obliterated.
I remember it well when it hit because it was on a weekend & I’d been out drinking with my friends on the Friday night.
I’d recently just come back from Las Vegas & I had an amazing time over there, and whilst I was out I mentioned how much I’d love to live over there.
Then my friend said to me… “What’s stopping you?”.
I thought to myself, what is actually stopping me?…. Nothing.
My income comes from the internet (I’m full time IM), so I could earn a living pretty much wherever I could grab an internet connection. This was probably 99% drunkenly spurred but I said, you know what, I’m going to do it…. I’m going to get a ticket and go live in Vegas.
I woke up the next morning still pretty hyped about the whole idea, maybe still a little drunk? I’m not sure, but I knew one thing – my head hurt.
Anyway I reached over & grabbed my phone, still only the one eye open & just waking up when I refreshed my affiliate stats for the day. Nothing… I thought hmm that’s strange, so I went over to Google & typed in one of my keywords only to find my site wasn’t there.
My site wasn’t there! My other eye flew open and I typed in another keyword…. Nope, gone from there too!
I was clinging on to all hope that it might just be my browser so I quickly headed over to a free proxy surf website & checked it there too. Yup you guessed it, GONE!
It’s safe to say I flew out of bed and powered up the computer, logged into Webmaster Tools expecting (hoping) to see a notification but once again you guessed it… Nothing.
My heart sunk, and I’d recently wrote a post on the upcoming Penguin refresh so I kinda knew in the back of my mind what had happened, I just didn’t want to believe it (I thought I was prepared – more on that in a mo).
Twitter soon confirmed my thoughts.
I was actually really shocked when I got hit because as far as I was aware my link profile was as clean as a whistle, but here’s the deal…
I’d recently made the transfer to HTTPS, but I’d only uploaded the disavow file to non-HTTPS version of the domain in Webmaster Tools. I understood Google treat these differently, but I thought surely the disavow file is going to be done at domain level and uploading on both would just be overkill.
Well, I was surely wrong & it turns out it’s much better to be safe than sorry. So there’s your first takeaway from this post, remember to disavow on both the HTTPS and non-HTTPS versions of your website!
But I’d been hit… I needed to recover.
My site was down, my income was down, I was down. I needed to recover & I needed to recover as quickly as possible. I couldn’t afford to wait around a year for another Penguin refresh to “maybe” happen and “maybe” bring my rankings back.
I began scouring online forums trying (hoping) to find someone posting their recovery story, but nope, nothing.
I let Penguin ride out for a couple of weeks before attempting anything and I did that for two reasons:
- In the hope that my rankings may magically re-appear.
- In the hope that in that space of time someone would have posted their recovery story.
Guess what, neither of those happened so it was time to pull plan 3 out of the bag.
- Stop crying, get to work & recover this thing myself.
The plan of action.
I’ll admit that it was just by chance I happened to think up this plan.
Thankfully being as clever as I am coming up with a plan was easy.
Here’s how I happened to come up with my plan:
At first I was going to simply redirect the .co.uk of my website to the .com in the hope that it wouldn’t pass the penalty. I’d seen a few reports of this working on previous versions of Penguin so I assumed it wouldn’t hurt to try it.
I went ahead and 301 redirected the .co.uk to the .com and I had both domains listed in my Webmaster Tools account.
I noticed the pages of the new domain begin to get indexed (I let nature take it’s course), but I more importantly I also noticed the links pass through to the new domain (that’s when genius struck).
I stuck with this method for around 2 weeks but my rankings were still abysmal. The old domain was out of the index, the new one was in but my rankings were now even worse than before.
However as I just mentioned when I noticed the links pouring through to the new domain in Webmaster Tools a bit of genius struck and I come up with a couple of plans to fall back on.
Firstly, here’s the plan for you lazy folk.
This one will allow you to send traffic from your old domain to your new domain but without forwarding the links.
This will mean you’ll be basically starting from scratch with a clean plate, but without losing your old traffic.
Obviously the problem with this method is that since you’re starting from scratch you’ll be doing just that. Whilst your ranks may not be as bad as they were after you got hit, don’t expect them to return to where they were prior the hit.
Why? Well whilst using this method you may no longer have a Penguin penalty, similarly you’re no longer going to have any backlinks either.
If you’re lazy, or you’ve got an insane amount of backlinks to disavow & just want to start from scratch but shrug of the penalty then here’s what you need to do:
- Get a new domain.
- Move the content from your old domain to the new domain.
- Delete the content from the old domain.
- In the root folder of the old domain, create a file named “.htaccess” (without quotes), and insert the following code:
Header set X-Robots-Tag “noindex, nofollow”
Redirect 301 / http://www.YOURNEWDOMAIN.COM/
Obviously replacing “yournewdomain.com” with your new domain, but remember to leave the trailing slash.
& whilst it might be tempting to “submit your site to index” in Webmaster Tools, don’t do it! Just let nature take it’s course.
It may take a few days, it may take a couple of weeks, but your new domain will begin to pick up some decent SERPs (better than your previously Penguin hit ones at least).
For those who want to try and keep their ranks prior to the hit.
If you’d prefer to make an attempt to cling on to the ranks that you actually had before Penguin hit then this is the method for you, and this is the exact same method that I’ve implemented that’s managed to get me around 90-95% of my traffic back.
This method will however mean disavowing your bad links, so if you’ve got a crazy big link profile you might just want to consider using the previous method, starting a fresh & re-building your link profile (it’s probably easier!).
So as I mentioned when I seen those links flow through in Webmaster Tools I came up with an idea.
What if we redirected through an intermediate domain & used it to disavow the bad links, to stop them flowing through?
So that’s exactly what I did, and take a look at my results:
When I got hit:
After I redirected through and intermediate domain & disavowed the bad links on that domain, but left the good links flow through:
It worked for me, and not only did it work on 1 of my websites but it worked on both of my sites that got hit.
More importantly here’s how I did it, and how you can do it too:
Firstly you’ll need to buy 2 domain names this time since we’ll be using one to “pass our links through & block the bad ones”. One domain will be the one that you’ll be using for your website from now on instead of the Penguin hit one (so pick that one carefully) and the other one will just be used to pass the links through so that one doesn’t need a great deal of thought.
Now before you do anything else you’re going to need to create a disavow file containing all of the bad links that point to your website. If you’re not too sure on how to do that there’s more information here.
Once you’ve got the disavow file created your going to need to add the new 2 domains that you’ve purchased to your Webmaster Tools account.
Using the disavow links tool, upload your newly created disavow file to the domain you’re going to be using to pass the links through.
Once that’s uploaded it’s time for the redirect & here’s how you’re going to do it:
So first things first you’ll need to move the files from your Penguin hit domain to your new “end domain”.
Once you’ve done that you’ll then need to delete the files from the initial domain & begin your redirects.
On your Penguin hit domain create a file named “.htaccess” (without quotes) and add the following code:
Redirect 301 / http://www.INTERMEDIATEDOMAIN.COM/
Change the domain name above to whatever you’ve chosen to use for your intermediate domain, but importantly remember to leave the trailing slash.
Similarly on your intermediate domain you’ll need to create a file called “.htaccess” and add the following code:
Redirect 301 / http://www.ENDDOMAIN.COM
Once again replacing ENDDOMAIN.COM with the new domain name that you’re going to be using for your website (and still remembering to leave the trailing slash).
Now your initial Penguin hit domain will be getting redirected through an intermediate domain where the bad links are disavowed and then it will be finally getting redirected to your end domain.
This allows you to not only redirect traffic but also allows you to keep the good links that were previously pointing to your site but getting rid of the bad ones at the same time.
From here it’s simply a waiting game – no matter how tempting it is, don’t submit your new site to be indexed by Google, instead just let nature take it’s course.
It could take a few days, it could take a couple of weeks, but you will begin to see improvements in your SERPs just like I have (providing you make sure you disavow all the bad links on the intermediate domain of course!).
I hope you found this post useful & I wish you the best of luck in your recovery from Penguin!