A Google algorithm update is just around the corner. John Vlasakakis of GMG SEO offers steps to assess your links and prepare your site for the inevitable.
Update: Penguin 3.0 has just been rolled out. Here’s our post predicting it would happen.
If you monitor the search engine world frequently, you know that it changes as quickly and sometimes as aggressively as the Melbourne wind. But you may have also noticed something hasn’t changed: there has not yet been a Google Penguin algorithm update in 2014.
This thought has weighed on the minds of many SEO experts, including myself. I have been waiting and wondering, but only recently have I felt like it was fast approaching. Earlier this week, my suspicions were confirmed when John Mueller, senior Webmaster trends analyst at Google, hinted at the update in a Google Hangout. Working in SEO for many years, I feel confident saying that Google does not hint lightly, and therefore you shouldn’t take this advance warning lightly.
Google Penguin is the name for Google’s algorithm that was created specifically to reduce the trust of unnatural backlinks. Penguin was first introduced in April 2012 with the aim to alleviate links built for the sole purpose of improving rank, without adding any value to the page.
Google factors in the number of URLs on the web that link back to a particular page. Not all links are created equal; the higher the quality of the backlink, the more value that link will add to the ranking. This is why buying links, automated link building programs, and participating in link schemes to promote SERP (search engine rank position) are all likely to be a failure; such links are a clear violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
In terms of link building, relevancy is of high importance. Google wants to display the most relevant links on their search engine and devalue links from websites with low quality or duplicated content. The shortcuts to quick ranking through unnatural links only result in short lived results.
So it’s time to ask yourself the tough question: Are you prepared for the march of the Penguin?
Here are four steps that GMG SEO would recommend you take to ensure your website is protected from the impending update.
1. Perform a link audit on your site
Use an online link research tool such as ahrefs or Majestic SEO to gather all the existing links to your domain and analyse the authenticity of those links. For any that feel “spammy” or unnatural, don’t risk it and disavow. Alternatively, you can contact the Webmaster for immediate removal.
2. Ensure your site doesn’t have outbound links from link networks
A link network is a set of websites that are set up for the sole purpose of linking out to sites, rather than providing any legitimate user experience. Google frowns heavily upon this and has penalised dozens of link networks over the past two years. In order to assess what a link network looks like, keep an eye out for sites that have an extremely high number of outbound links, all to sites without a common theme. For example, if the links are to a plumbing site, a food site and a travel site, this is highly indicative of a link network. These can be identified with the same link research tools as those listed above. Disavow links from these networks immediately.
3. Remove any ‘exact match’ anchor text from your site
By analysing your backlink profile, you may notice there are a large number of links pointing back to your site that do not include your brand name or domain. For example, if your site sells engagement rings, and the vast majority of these links are the key phrase “engagement rings”, this is a clear indication of unnatural link building. Google will spot this quickly, and penalise swiftly.
4. Verify the relevancy of the sites that are linking to your site
Google wants to reward rankings to sites that have garnered natural authority. As such, they will favour links that are of a relevant nature and exist between sites that are relevant to one another. An engagement ring website should not obtain a link from a site in the air conditioning industry. These two sites would not share a target market, and therefore they have no reason to link to one another in a natural way. Ensure all your existing links are relevant to your users, and align with your site’s purpose.
We estimate that approximately 15% or more of all English search queries will be penalised in the coming update, soon to be known as Google Penguin 3.0. In fact, despite being highly web savvy, Australia’s largest car insurance company, Youi, was among those that suffered in a past Google algorithm update.
“After being number one in Google for ‘car insurance’ for many months, it was a shock when we suddenly dropped back and no longer ranked on page one. When we received the Webmaster notification from Google that we had been penalised, we knew it was serious, and spent a considerable amount of time trying to fix it,” said Marketing Manager of Youi, Fabrizia Roberto. “Eventually, we decided to appoint an experienced agency and signed GMG to assist with our penalty recovery. The process was quick, efficient, and we are now in a position to recover the ground we lost.”
Though Youi is an example of a big player who suffered a previous Penguin, they are also an example of a company that has learned from penalty and are thus better informed and prepared for whatever rolls out next. By collaborating with GMG, Youi was able to illustrate to Google a systematic effort in adhering to their guidelines. Additionally, Youi now communicates with GMG to keep their finger on the Google pulse and ensure their digital strategy is cohesive and compliant.
As exemplified by Youi’s experience, your site being hit with a Penguin penalty is not the SERP death sentence it seems. It’s never too late to conduct a link audit and remove harmful links, and there is always a chance at recovery if you source the experience required to initiate a comprehensive disavow. While there are many automated link removal tools on the market, leaving the audit entirely up to a digital entity can result in failure, as it lacks fundamental human appropriation, specifically when it comes to identifying the precise links responsible for the penalty.
Updates to the Penguin algorithm will continue to roll out, and as such, it would be practical to connect with someone who performs continuous research in this field and is experienced in assisting with disavowing links.
For more information on Penguin preparation and penalty recovery, contact John and the GMG team at firstname.lastname@example.org