Google Penguin explained

When you hear the word ‘Penguin’, you probably don’t think about Google. But Google Penguin was a very important update that had a big impact on search. What does Penguin do, and how to you deal with it? Watch the video and read on!

What is Google Penguin?

One of the most painful Google updates that can hit a website is called Penguin. Google Penguin aims to remove sites from the search results that have been trying to game Google by buying or otherwise “unnaturally acquiring” links to their website. It does that by basically applying a negative value to specific links. So if you have certain links, your rankings will become lower, not higher.

“Luckily”, if a site is hit by Google Penguin, 9 times out of 10, the owner has been gaming the search engine and could have seen it coming. Most of the sites hit by Google Penguin have bought links from so called link networks, or “private blog networks” or whatever name you want to give it.

Getting rid of Google Penguin

If you’ve been hit by Google Penguin you probably need help. You’ll need to identify which links are bad and either have those links removed or “disavow” those links. Disavowing links is something you can do through Google’s disavow tool. It allows you to upload a file with URLs and domains that you have links from, saying: “I don’t want these links to count”. The file has to be in a specific format, explained here.

We have written about this before, this post goes into more detail about cleaning up bad backlinks.

Google Penguin and Negative SEO

There’s one very nasty side effect of Google Penguin, one that’s usually not talked about by Google but I’ve seen to be very real. Because certain links have a negative value, you can use them negatively. You can buy links towards your competitor and have them be hit by Penguin. This is not easily done, but it does happen and it can be very bad for business if it does.

Several services out there can look at your backlink profile and can help you do pro-active disavowing, we personally like both LinkResearchTools and Kerboo. This, luckily, isn’t needed in most niches, but in some of the more aggressive niches it might be something you need.

Google Penguin real-time

In the video, I still speak about Penguin running “every once in a while”. Since its release, the Penguin update ran several times, and Google added it to the core algorithm in 2016.


You shouldn’t buy links. Ever. The risk is just too big. Google Penguin has made very sure of that. There are some negative side effects to Google Penguin that most people won’t have to worry about but if they affect you, they can be very painful.

The basic idea about links is simple: if you can buy a link, it’s not worth anything and in general should be considered a risk. Links have to be earned, through good PR, cool tools, nice marketing, etc. We have a couple of nice posts about link building, so start reading those!

Read more: A brief history of Google’s algorithm updates »

9 Responses to Google Penguin explained

  1. Shivangi Varshney
    Shivangi Varshney  • 9 years ago

    Thanks for the information. Its a new thing for me to know. Can you give me a example for understanding Google Penguin more clearly?

  2. Devidasan S D
    Devidasan S D  • 9 years ago

    Hi Joost,
    One of my Blogs got hit from Pengiun. There were about 800 spammy liks to my blog. I didn’t buy any links from anyone. Do you think it may done by my competitors?

    Most of the links were coming from sites like “” and
    “”, which have no relation with topic of my blog.

  3. Paul Georgakakos
    Paul Georgakakos  • 9 years ago

    Joost, can paid backlinks by our competitor really hurts? If so then how to get rid of that to stay safe from penguin. Is it do we have to regular audit our link profile I think. What you say gentleman.

  4. Gary Trotman(Steelasophical)
    Gary Trotman(Steelasophical)  • 9 years ago

    Whats to stop a competitor from buying traffic hits to your website for the sole purpose of hurting your ‘Google Reputation’

  5. Jasa Seo
    Jasa Seo  • 9 years ago

    There are so many who are not familiar with google penguin, unfortunately of them buy lots of links to boost ratings. This certainly would be bad for their site.

  6. Derek
    Derek  • 9 years ago

    Would this make it possible for malicious attacks by competitors on your site? I.e. they pay for bad backlinks to your site?

    • Joost de Valk


      • Piotr Pokraczy?ski
        Piotr Pokraczy?ski  • 9 years ago

        How to defend against them ?

  7. D
    D  • 9 years ago

    Hi Joost,
    Thanks for amazing work and insights all these years!

    Please have my attention, my competitor is out ranking me on all of the niche keywords.
    I found out about their 110k links comparing to mine 5k. After deeper analyzing i found out that they have purchased dozen of new domains and copied their website, where each link is a backlink to the original website. Classic ‘duplicating websites’ and ‘manufacturing backlinks’.

    I have reported them to Google a month or so ago, and still nothing happens. They are still ranking quite high!

    What would you do in this scenario? Will Google consider my report?
    Or why shouldn’t i, or anyone else just do the same if this strategy (still) obviously works?

    Thank you so much,

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