If you’re a Digital Marketing Manager, or have anything to do with online marketing, you’ll know that when an SEO expert talks about Penguin, they’re not referring to the singing and dancing sensations from Happy Feet; we’re talking about Google’s most devastating algorithm to date!
Unlike the Panda update, Penguin isn’t baked into the algorithm and updated regularly; it’s a slumbering giant that often appears out of nowhere, wrecking havoc on websites with a spammy backlink profile.
If you think I’m sounding dramatic, you may be correct. However, if you’re a business that held rankings in the Top 10 positions in Google for high volume search terms that got hit by Penguin in 2012, or 2013, you’ll understand exactly where I’m coming from.
So it’s pretty newsworthy when a Google Engineer starts chatting openly about the development of an updated Penguin algorithm right? Before we dig into that, I’d like to take you on a journey back a few years to explain why Penguin was created, and why it was necessary for Google to take such drastic steps.
History of Google’s Penguin Update
If you’ve been around the search marketing space for a while, you’ll know a lot of SEO techniques that are now labeled ‘Black Hat’ were accepted practice prior to Google taking action. It’s no big secret that your Domain Authority & PageRank metrics are determined by the volume of links you have linking to your site. But like most things in search marketing, when SEOs are given a method of manipulating search results, it gets overused and spammed. Link spam was occurring excessively; getting to position 1 became a matter of buying thousands of links for $5 from a variety of link networks in an attempt to out-spam your competitors!
Google knew what was going on and took action, introducing its Penguin update in April 2012 for over optimisation and spammy link building. Below is a list of the Penguin updates and the impact they had on search results:
Update: Penguin #1 (1.0)
Launch Date: April 24, 2012
Impact: 3.1% of English search queries affected – Spammy links & over optimisation on Domain level.
Update: Penguin #2 (1.1)
Launch Date: May 25, 2012
Impact: less than 0.1% of English search queries affected – Minor refresh to Penguin 1.0
Update: Penguin #3 (1.2)
Launch Date: October 5, 2012
Impact: 0.3% of English search queries – Spammy links & over optimisation on Domain level
Update: Penguin #4 (dubbed Penguin 2.0)
Launch Date: May 22, 2013
Impact: 2.4% of English search queries affected. Site-wide over optimisation.
Update: Penguin #5 (dubbed Penguin 2.1)
Launch Date: October 4, 2013
Impact: 1% of English search queries affected – Refresh to Penguin 2.0
Update: Penguin #6 (dubbed Penguin 3.0)
Launch Date: ??/??/2014?
Target: Site-wide over optimisation & rewards for cleaning up domain profiles
In a Google+ Hangout, John Mueller (Google Webmaster Analyst at Google Zurich) commented on a forthcoming Penguin update, saying that engineers were working on it at present and, while it’s still got some a way to go, it could be rolled out quite soon (see the below video).
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Further to this, he also said:
- Google have acknowledged Penguin updates are taking too long, with the last update coming close to a year ago
- Google are working on a solution to speed up the process of refreshing the algorithm
- Google acknowledge the refreshes aren’t happening often enough to see the effects of the hard work webmasters are putting in to clean up spammy link activity and replace with good quality links.
While everything you hear about algorithm updates should be taken with a grain of salt, a Google employee discussing a rebuild of the Penguin update being worked on by engineers is something that shouldn’t be ignored – especially given the large-scale devastation Penguin wrought on sites that were highly over optimised in the past two years.
The when is unknown; you’ll know when Google tweets out about it, SEO blogs start going crazy with Penguin articles and implications, or if you notice a sudden decrease in your organic traffic (hopefully this isn’t how you find out!).
These comments also suggest that Google is taking into consideration the hard work SEOs & Webmasters have been spending on the cleaning up their act. So if you’ve been working with an SEO company to remove bad quality links and build great content, give them some credit 😉
Regardless, Penguin is coming soon and you need to prepare. We’ve provided a checklist below so you can make sure you’re Penguin-proof!
What Does a Healthy Link Profile Look like?
For Onsite Links: You want to make sure you aren’t over optimised on site (i.e. pages with hundreds of outbound links)
For Offsite Link: If your anchor text profile looks like this then, generally, you’re in the clear for Penguin:
- 60%+ URL, Branded or Partial Match anchor text (e.g. Search Factory or Search Factory SEO)
- 30% Zero-match anchor text (e.g. Click here or Visit Website)
- >10% Exact match anchor text (e.g. SEO Company)
If you’ve got an anchor text profile with over 20% Exact match anchor text, you should consider cleaning up your anchor text to ensure you don’t get slugged when Penguin 3.0 rolls out!
Negative SEO has been around for a while. The reason it’s become such an issue this year is due to the accessibility to Negative SEO tools. It’s never been easier for a webmaster to purchase thousands of spammy links and direct them at a competitor’s site.
Matt Cutt’s released a video discussing spam attacks in response to questions about Negative SEO. His response was If you’re concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question. Google aggregates and organizes information published on the web; we don’t control the content of these pages.
We interpret this as you’re responsible for your backlinks. You should be actively monitoring the links coming to your site, and taking action to contact sites that are sending spammy links to you, requesting them to stop or ultimately disavowing them.
It’s much of the same that we’re going over in this blog post, but it requires daily monitoring and a constant update of the disavow file; something that your average Digital Marketing Manager or business owner doesn’t have time to do. If you’ve seen an influx of links being built to your site that you believe are malicious, Search Factory provide Negative SEO Recovery services and can shoot these links down as quickly as their built, allowing you the piece of mind that your backlink profile is constantly being monitored and maintained.
Removing Low Quality links & Exact Match Anchor Text
[accordian] [toggle title=”1. Download Backlink Data” open=”yes”]Download a list of all the domains that link to your domain. You can do this by using ahrefs, MajesticSEO or Webmaster Tools. The metrics you want are domain, amount of links and anchor text.[/toggle] [toggle title=”2. Filter the Data” open=”yes”]You only want:
- Websites that use exact match anchor text to link to your domain
- Low quality domains/links (Domain Authority <15 & PageRank <2), or backlinks that have a large amount of backlinks from a low amount of domains (e.g. 5,000 link from 3 root domains = BAD!). You can use the Netpeak Checker to get a PageRank and Domain Authority
- Note: Don’t include any links that are NOFOLLOW.
[/toggle] [toggle title=”3. Request Anchor Text Adjustment” open=”yes”]If some of the websites that use exact match anchor text fall outside the guidelines, you may want to reach out to them and request anchor text adjustment to Branded anchor text. Find their email addresses for Webmasters using WHOIS Search or WhoIS Australia tools.[/toggle] [toggle title=”4. Disavow low quality domains” open=”yes”]The Disavow tool is a part of Webmaster Tools, but is only accessible externally, due to the affect it can have on your rankings. Access the Disavow Tool here. You can then create or update your Disavow file by pasting links directly into the text file, or disavowing an entire domain by entering domain:[domain].come.g. domain:google.com.au[/toggle] [toggle title=”5. Continue monitoring your backlinks” open=”yes”] New backlinks arrive all the time so monitoring is very important. Link Research Tools allows you to upload a bulk export of all links and remove the links that are already in your disavow file, allowing you to focus on new links, saving you time sorting through links that have already been removed!
NOTE: The Disavow tool is described as a tool that should be used with caution as it may result in a decrease in PageRank or loss of positions in the SERPs. This is because while the domains may be toxic, some may still carry authority, and by disavowing them, you are indicating to Google that their link value should not count towards yours. This is why we manually review each link and only remove low quality links and try to salvage what we can during a backlink cleanup. If you’ve just imported a list from a tool and put them all in the disavow file, you’re most likely missing out on some good quality links.
Use this tool with care; if you’re unsure leave it to the experts!
Haven’t got the time or skill to do a cleanup?
Offsite SEO monitoring requires a lot of time or access to tools that can be expensive. If you’re in need of a link cleanup to ensure you’re Penguin-proof talk to Search Factory today and we’ll get your backlink squeaky clean.