Google’s Penguin Update is due for a refresh sometime before the end of 2014
What is Google’s Penguin Update?
The Penguin Update was a significant tweak to the search engine algorithm that addressed linkspam.
What is Linkspam?
Linkspam is the use of unnatural linking to boost a website’s performance in Google’s SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
What is unnatural linking?
Any link that is built rather than earned is against Google’s terms of service!
Google uses links as a way of ranking sites because it considers that links are a barometer of how relevant and useful a web page is – if lots of other websites on ‘blue widgets’ are linking to a page about ‘blue widgets’ then that must mean that the page being linked to is relevant and useful and Google will reward that page with higher rankings.
How can Google tell if my website has unnatural linking?
There are a number of ways Google can identify unnatural linking patterns on a website;
1. If you have bought links from a ‘link network’or are involved in a public ‘link scheme’ then you are in danger. Google has made a point of identifying, infiltrating and then penalising all sites in link networks.
2. Too many links too quickly – using automated software it is possible to build thousands of links daily. If a site suddenly goes from a few to hundreds and thousands of links over a period of time without an attendant spike in traffic then this is a red flag that these links are not natural.
3. Too many low-quality links – related to the above, software builds mostly low-quality spammy links on certain kinds of sites which again present a red flag to Google.
4. Over-optimised anchor text – anchor text is the actual text of the link eg. ‘click here’, ‘read more’, etc. Before Penguin changed the landscape, if you wanted to rank for a particular phrase you would simply build as many links as possible with that specific anchor text. So, if you wanted to rank for ‘blue widgets’ you would build thousands of links to your page all with the anchor-text ‘blue widgets’.
Bearing in mind that all links are supposed to be earned, does it seem natural that hundreds or thousands of different websites would all link to a single page with exactly the same text? No, of course that is not natural and is probably the cause of most Penguin penalties. Any site that has anchor-text ratios of 5% or above is in serious danger of falling into penalty!
What happens if a site gets a penalty?
There are two kinds of penalty – algorithmic and manual.
Algorithmic penalties generally occur when your anchor-text is over-optimised or when too many low-quality links are built too quickly. The page in question – generally the home page, but it can be any page – will then pretty much disappear from the SERPs. When the home page is under penalty when you search for those keywords you will find that ‘Contact’ or ‘About’ or some other page on your site shows up before the home page.
So, for the site ‘TheBlueWidgetCompany.com’, if they were under penalty for the phrase blue widgets, when you searched for ‘blue widgets’ you would go through the first ten pages of results and somewhere around page 6, 7, 8, etc you would find their ‘Contact’ or ‘About’ or some other internal page. Obviously the home page is the most powerful page and under normal circumstances this page would be much more visible.
A manual penalty is when a real live human being from Google has looked at your site and its link profile and decided that your are breaking terms of service with unnatural linking. You will get a message in webmaster tools that you have been penalised, your website will drop anything between five and ten pages in the SERPs for a variety of keywords and you will need to go through an arduous reconsideration process to get the manual penalty lifted.
Check this short video from Google about manual penalties;
How do I get a penalty lifted?
As mentioned above a manual penalty requires a lot of work to get it lifted. If you have a message in Webmaster Tools or you think that you have a manual penalty there are plenty of resources online to help you understand exactly what you have to do.
An algorithmic penalty can generally be over-come by balancing out your anchor-text. For example, if ‘TheBlueWidgetCompany.com’ had 1000 links and 10% (100) of those were for ‘blue widget’ it would need to build another 1000 links with brand and generic anchor-text to get that down to 5%, which may be enough to get out of penalty. It may not, it does depend on the history of teh website and how much trust and authority it has in Google’s eyes. The more authoritative and trusted a site is in Google the higher percentage of anchor-text ratios it can withstand before it falls into penalty.
When does the penalty get lifted?
This is the bone of contention and why Google’s announcement s so important. ‘TheBlueWidgetCompany.com’ has worked hard and got its anchor-text ratio down to just 2%, but the site is still in penalty. This is because the Penguin Update needs to be refreshed before it can take into account the new anchor-text ratios.
This means that there are lots of sites that have been in penalty that have addressed their anchor-text issues and are waiting for the refresh so that their sites come out of penalty.
It works the other way too – sites that have not taken care with their anchor-text ratios will fall into penalty when the new update is released!
Google’s announcement is important for websites that have been working to get out of a Penguin penalty.
However, this will only improve visibilty for sites that have been under penalty and have taken the necessary steps to correct the issues.
If you are concerned about your business website’s performance in Google, then please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org and we can advise you of the issues holding your site back.
Here is an SEO Roundtable video which goes over some of the above;