Hot on the heels of the recent Panda 4.0 rollout and the Payday Loan 2.0 data refresh, which only a week ago left some webmasters confused about what was happening, it seems that momentum is gathering towards another major algorithm update – Penguin 3.0.
The big questions are:
1: When will Penguin 3.0 be rolled out?
2: How will it differ to previous Penguin updates?
3: What percentage of websites will be affected?
4: How can you prevent your site being hit?
What is the purpose of Penguin 3.0?
Penguin 3.0 will be used to continue Google’s war against manipulative linking techniques. Some of you may assume that Penguin 2.0 and Google’s Spam team have already taken care of this, but this isn’t the case. As Google evolves and finds ways to combat manipulative linking strategies, new ones are invented. While links continue to be an important factor in the Google algorithm, there will always be some website owners looking for a short cut to help them gain more organic traffic quickly.
What are the predictions for where Penguin 3.0 will target?
It’s not just “new” linking strategies that Penguin 3.0 will be attempting to deal with. I assume that it will be designed to try and find the spammy sites that still appear at the top of search results. I’m frequently surprised by some of the websites that we see ranking at the top of Google using “old school” spammy linking techniques. While implementing a Competitor Analysis report for a client last week, we found two websites ranking in the top search results for the most competitive search terms in their sector. When we analysed their back link profiles we found many exact anchor text links on spammy themed blogs that were added between 2010 and 2011. None of these “blogs” (I use the term lightly) had any new content added since 2012. Apart from one, which had a post added three months ago about a link building scheme…surprise, surprise!
Perhaps these links have been disavowed?
Some of you reading this post maybe thinking that these links may have been disavowed. There is always this possibility because we have no way of telling if this is the case without asking. Their link profile and other tools that we use suggest that this is not the case. The websites visibility does not appear to have dropped in the last two years. The websites link profile has a high proportion of exact anchor text links and the site is ranking highly for most of these terms.
Linking brings quick results though; surely it’s worth the risk?
Sometimes clients ask why they should be investing in great content marketing and natural link gaining strategies when some of their competitors are still potentially practising easier, cheaper, spammier link building techniques. The web is still littered with websites offering hundreds of links for less than a $100. In theory they should lead to a manual penalty or a drop in rankings due to the Google algorithm. As frustrating as this may be, we believe that Google are constantly getting smarter and it will only be a matter of time before they identify these sites and remove them from their search results! Perhaps Penguin 3.0 is the answer?
What happened when Penguin 2.0 was rolled out?
It’s now just over a year since Penguin 2.0 launched on the 22 of May 2013. Rather than launching the update twelve months later, Google have chosen to keep us all in suspense. There is no doubt that Penguin 2.0 had a massive impact on many sites. The big question is, “How many will the next update effect?” On the face of it, Penguin 2.0 should not have caused the ripples it did. The reported 2.3% sites which were affected may sound a small number, but with 48 billion pages indexed by Google this equated to thousands and of those, the majority saw crippling traffic reductions of up to 90%.
How many Penguin updates have there been so far- some say 2 and some say 4?
There’s some confusion as to which update this actually is as there have been four already; two were major and two were much smaller. The reason the number differs is because Search Engine Land gives major updates numbers such as 1, 2 and 3 whereas Matt Cutts at Google uses a decimal system to indicate the size of each one. So whilst the next Penguin update will actually be number five, it is the third major one and so is going to be known in the media as Penguin 3.0.
What’s the history of Penguin?
The first Penguin update took place on 24 April 2012 and had a major impact on the industry. It aimed to rid search engine results of many of the sites which violated the Google Webmaster Guidelines, specifically targeting onsite optimisation and manipulative link building techniques, also referred to by some as “black hat” techniques. Some of the techniques included unnatural link building techniques: from forum comments, profiles and low quality directory links, to more sophisticated strategies including sponsored themes and private link farms.
The second major algorithm update took place on 22 May 2013 and was more significant than the original. Many more sites were affected with Google continuing to focus on manipulative back links. There was also the introduction of the inbound anchor text mix. Google determined that a link profile with a very high proportion of inbound, exact keyword anchor text links, specifically aimed at the homepage was deemed unnatural. It is important to have a natural link profile that contains links for your brand name, domain name, URL’s, natural search terms, e.g. “click here”, not just keywords.
With many saying that the next Penguin update could happen within a few weeks, it’s a case of looking to try to decide which area Google will tackle next and how to be ahead of the game in case a site is affected, rather than fire fighting after the event.
What are the predictions for Penguin 3.0?
Penguin 2.0 sought out and eradicated huge amounts of webspam. It concentrated on spammy backlinks, exact match anchor text, over optimised anchor text, paid links and links from sites that were completely off subject and completely irrelevant to the target sites sector.
With these being the areas hit with the last major update, Penguin 3.0 is probably going to look to build on the success of these previous campaigns and to strengthen and then push the boundaries further to rid the rankings of sites using “unnatural” linking and over-optimised anchors. There have been suggestions that the value keyword anchor text will be reduced.
How could it affect my website?
The web is becoming more of a social beast and so the habits of users are changing. The way that people are linking to sites “naturally” has evolved in the last few years and it’s important to stay up with these trends. If your website has a high proportion of inbound links for exact anchor text terms and it hasn’t already been identified by Google, then there is a strong possibility that the next update will and your website on their radar. To prevent this happening you should implement a full review of your inbound links and either remove or disavow all unnatural or manipulative inbound links to your website.
Anyone buying low-quality backlinks is on a collision course with Google. We assume that some people must still be buying links, because like many other businesses we receive unsolicited e-mails offering cheap links for sale. Your best option is to either delete or block these messages because they may give you a short term boost, but ultimately, they will lead to a penalty or a significant drop in rankings.
If you don’t have control over your backlinks, there’s the very high probability that you will be hit by the next Penguin update. Suspicious backlinks have been targeted in the past and it’s pretty much certain that they will be again next time.
Matt Cutts has said in the past that he wants to look to stop all manipulative linking and recently targeted guest blogging. He’s tackled it in the past and he is still on a mission to continue this through the next and any future updates. On 18 April, he tweeted ‘any link or guest blog network that claims to have “zero footprints” is waving a giant red flag’; he’s very serious about this area of cleaning up the internet.
Why should I put work in where it may not be needed?
Not every site will be affected and there’s no way of knowing if you will be hit, but it’s always good to be ready if the worst happens and you wake to find that you’ve dropped like a stone down the search engine results or that you have a message to say you have a penalty. It’s good practice to carry out regular site audits and to look at your link profile. If you were affected by Penguin 2.0, you carry a greater degree of risk for when the roll out of Penguin 3.0 begins. Either way, preventive action is key.
What action should I take?
The step needed today is to carry out a link profile audit. If you are hit by Penguin 3.0, you’ll have no choice in the matter as you’ll have to carry one out, so it’s good to be ahead of the game as leaving it until you’ve received a Google Penalty is going to mean a great deal more work which could mean months trying to recover your rankings and sales.
When you have the results, look for “do follow” links from guest blogging networks and remove them. With the words of Matt Cutts ringing in the ears of those who use this technique, this is something which needs to happen as soon as possible. Remove any you have control over and for those you don’t, contact the site owner to request they are removed.
Erase links from spam sites; even if you didn’t know they existed, you should still check for them. Don’t leave your future rankings to chance. Have you used a company to build links for your website in the past? We have recently been working with a client that received a penalty from links that were “built” in 2010! Just because you haven’t been caught in the last couple of years, doesn’t mean that you will be safe in the future unless you are proactive.
The next area to tackle is any exact match anchor links. These are where the non-URL title is the same as the anchor text. An example would be if the anchor text is ‘luxury chocolate’ and the link is directed at example.co.uk/luxury_chocolate. Any links such as this should be removed. At the same time, erase optimised anchor links. Anything which seems to be over optimised – it has to go or be made “no follow” if you get relevant referral traffic from the link.
Techniques have changed over the last few years and it may be that not so long ago you had a wealth of links on guest posts and other sources which were created with the intension of improving your rankings on Google. It’s now time to return to these link reports and take positive action, such as getting them changed to “no follow” or having them removed or disavowed.
How to get help with being ready for Penguin 3.0
Working to stay off the radar of Penguin 3.0 means taking action now and cleaning up where you can. It’s always good website management to monitor your inbound links profile in case of a negative SEO attack or other unnatural spike in links pointing to your website. Although nobody can say exactly where Penguin 3.0 will target, being on top of your game will put you in the best possible position and to try and prevent a sudden drop in rankings.
If you aren’t sure where to start, contact High Impact to discuss a full website SEO audit and link profile analysis because “prevention is better than cure”. It will be better to act before the Penguin 3.0 update, rather than after it has been rolled out. Although recovery is possible, it has historically taken longer for sites to regain their rankings following a major update.
So when will Google start to roll out Penguin 3.0? Currently, the launch date is not public knowledge, but we’re confident that it will be soon.
Author: Julian Saunders is the founder of High Impact.
You can find on him on Google + here.