How to Diagnose Google Penguin 3.0

Correctly diagnosing Google’s Penguin 3.0 is difficult for one big reason: Penguin 3.0 was rolled out with a few other algorithms at the same time. This is quite unusual. I have already seen a few misdiagnosed Penguin 3.0 drops and recoveries.

Around October 18th, 2014, Google was also releasing 2 other updates that could have affected your website:

  • Panda
  • Pirate Update

Panda recoveries were far more significant than Penguin 3.0 recoveries, as I mentioned in my Penguin 3.1 post.

The Pirate update was mostly unnoticed by the SEO community due to the buzz around Penguin 3.0, but they started paying attention when they saw huge drops for torrent sites.

Take a look at the ranking drop.

TorrentFreak reported a huge ranking drop across many Torrent sites.

Ricochet drops and jumps

All the recoveries and drops caused many ranking shake-ups, affecting sites’ rankings that weren’t even directly hit by any of the updates. I saw niches where nearly all the top 10 results changed due to a few Panda recoveries and Penguin 3.0 hits.

How to diagnose a Penguin 3.0 drop?

As you can see, diagnosing a Penguin 3.0 drop or recovery can be tricky due to so many different factors. Fortunately, I’ve found several ways to know why your website’s ranking shifted around October 18th, 2014.

1. Links to your site disappeared

Sites negatively impacted by Penguin 3.0 all have one thing in common: “No data available” in the Google Webmaster Tools – Search Traffic – Links to your site section. (I wrote about that first in my Penguin 3.0 analysis post at

It is not the rule, as I saw a few Penguin hit sites with visible links still. I’d say that it happens in 60% of cases.

2. Link profile check

It is always worthwhile to check your link profile with e.g. Link Detox with your disavow uploaded (if you have it) to see if your link profile is good. Of course, your acceptable link profile’s toxicity level can be higher or lower depending on the niche.

To find your niche’s “spam level,” you can use Competitive Link Detox. For most websites, it is safe to assume that a score above 1000 is an invitation for Penguin.

Below is an example of a toxic score for a site hit by Penguin 3.0.

If your link profile is in the red, you need to do a full, manual link audit of all your backlinks.

3. Google Analytics check

Checking Google Analytics is still the oldest and most popular method to diagnose the reason for ranking swings. Unfortunately, it’s not very good at diagnosing Penguin 3.0. Still, it is one of the important factors to examine.

With Penguin 3.0 we are looking for one rapid ranking change on October 18th, 2014.

Of course, remember to filter the traffic to only Google Organic.

4. Other factors

After you finish all the checks above, look for these different factors that could affect your website’s ranking:

  • Your competitors recovering and ranking above you now
  • Server problems
  • Google Panda problems
  • Pirate content within your domain

5. Logic and objectivity

Last but not least, logic and objectivity are the most important factors when working on any diagnosis. Quite often I talk to website owners who have no objectivity – they’re too close to their site to see its problems. Two days ago (Oct. 23rd) a webmaster of a torrent site contacted me about a total ranking loss for a torrent site (with the Pirate Update rolling). He didn’t believe me when I told him the Pirate Update hit his website. He still thinks it’s something else.


People say that Penguin 3.0 is still rolling, but I didn’t see any Penguin 3.0 drops after October 18th, 2014. But Penguin is only one of your worries right now. You have to also investigate possible Panda and Pirate hits.

With the recent chaos at Google, I would be ignorant saying I understand everything and that 100% of the cases are clear. Still, with the data I presented above, it’s far easier to confidently and systematically examine your site to find and fix your site’s issues.

Good luck with your Penguin, Pirate, and Panda recoveries!