The Penguin Update was initially designed to fight spam link tactics and monitor the quality of links on a website. The first iteration was released back in April 2012 and it immediately caused major ripples in the digital industry.
Sites which weren’t playing by the rules were suddenly missing from search results, while content-driven quality sites found themselves boosted to the front of the results list. Later updates have been released over the past few years.
Every time a new Penguin is released, there are significant changes to the way the search results look, but for the most part it’s a positive update for websites that are doing digital marketing the proper way and a major obstacle for those trying to cheat the system, from Google’s point of view.
Google Penguin 4.0 and What You Need to Know
Penguin updates have been causing ripples in the SEO industry from the very first release. It’s pretty difficult to give the exact measure of the impact of Google’s algorithms updates. Still, anytime something is being measured in percentage of queries impacted, even if it’s just in the single digits, you know things are serious.
We’re not talking just English results either. In fact, the release 2.0 of the Penguin algorithm tended to affect just as many queries in German, Chinese and Arabic as it did in English (3%), and a larger percentage of queries in Polish than it did in English (5%).
But with update 4.0 being prepared to be released for the end of this year, things may get even more serious.
Just a couple of days ago, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes confirmed on Twitter in reply to a tweet that the new Penguin iteration “will be real-time which is a huge change” .
This has been hinted at for a while, but last week’s tweet marked the first time a Google-affiliated person confirmed it without any qualification (previously Gary had been saying that the real-time feature will happen “eventually”).
This update will be, indeed, “a huge change”, because it will be a significant departure from the current update system.
Timeliness can make a world of a difference, whether you’re applying white hat or black hat techniques. If you’re in the right and well-intended, the new update is likely to be a big plus for you.
It will basically mean that as soon as Google discovers that a link is removed or disavowed, it will process it in real time, and you would be able to recover from a penalty incredibly quickly.
If, however, you’re trying to get away with some tactics that are not to Google’s liking, the Penguin will catch up with you really fast and you will not be able to use those tactics for any significant amount of time.
The Need of Ongoing Risk Assessment and Cleanup
With the current system, you could probably wing it out most of the time and just pay extra attention every once in a while. Kind of like how most people living on their own treat household activities: sure, you clean and cook and maybe do some yard work (if you have a house) before holidays and visits, but you don’t have to be constantly in top shape.
But if Google makes good on its promises surrounding Penguin 4.0, it will be akin more to the change from living on your own to moving in with someone: tidying up won’t be just a seasonal activity, but a much more consistent part of everyday life (as evidenced by data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Moreover, future updates might not make the headlines like the previous versions did (particularly Penguin 2.0 and 3.0), because updates will become a real-time part of the algorithm.
This means, quite simply, that the algorithm will be, in a certain sense, evolving seamlessly, as it will become smarter and at a quicker pace than before, as the search engine will be able to roll out changes as needed as opposed to scheduling one massive update.
With Penguin going real-time, the algorithm will now likely get a lot closer to fulfilling its ultimate goal: catch spam link profiles as quickly as possible and keep low-quality sites from ranking well in the search results.
All of this is to say that if you want to stay ahead in the game (or in the SEO game at all), you will need to find a way to constantly and consistently audit your links and perform cleanups where necessary.
Sure, the penalty will probably be raised much quicker than they are currently, but why get in that position in the first place?
Know Your Link Profile as Well as Your Competitors’
“Know thyself” is always a good starting point in any endeavor (business or otherwise), but in the case of business in particular it might come second to “Know thy competitor”.
There’s a twofold reason for this.
On the one hand, the SEO and marketing world (much like the business world at large), is a zero-sum game.
Whatever you’re losing by not doing some things right, your competitors are winning by doing the same things right (and vice versa, of course).
On the other hand, there is a slew of research (both qualitative and quantitative) that suggests quite convincingly that healthy competition is a key growth factor for businesses, big and small.
So how do you go about this? First, you’re going to need to use some tools to understand who your competitors actually are. You can figure them out from the industry big names which also happen to have a web presence, or you can track them down by analyzing the results for the keywords you’re using.
Just remember: this time you’re not interested in how they’re succeeding, but rather in whether or not they’re getting admonished by Google Penguin.
If they are, what for and can you avoid falling into the same scenario? If they’re not, how much can they get away with and would it work for you if you tried to apply it (whatever “it” is)?
Take, for instance, anchor text ratios. What is a healthy ratio of keywords being used as anchor text for external links to your site?
There is really no definitive answer on that. And there is – sadly – just one sure way to find out: trial and error. Just that in case of error, you’re bound to see some jumps in your rankings (and they might not all be upwards).
Google hasn’t really set any numbers in stone, so your guess is as good as any other person’s. Moreover, the ratio might differ depending on the context.
A lot of people will recommend a 30% to 70% ratio (30% branded anchor text, 70% non-branded keyword anchor text), but is this reasonable in every case?
Having no idea how the Penguin thinks and moves, there is no guarantee that in a particular context (short sentences, high-authority link, popular keyword) it won’t interpret it as spammy and decide to teach you a lesson.
It’s not just the ratio itself, but the choice of words as well. Penguin is in itself pretty scary, but think of what happens when you combine it with Google’s other black-and-white pet, the Panda?
You really don’t want to be on the search engine’s wrong side if you plan on doing any business. Which is why monitoring competitors is so important.
If you have at least a couple of websites you can keep an eye on, you can compare results for them and draw conclusions based on the differences you see in the tactics they use and the results they get.
You might not be able to perfectly isolate a cause and effect relationship from just one example, but you have a fairly good chance of making an accurate guess once you start piling up case studies.
Monitoring your competitors’ activity is a great idea because this way you can easily spot a lot of flaws and opportunities.
What else can you gain from competitor analysis?
It is basically akin to performing research both in a sandbox (from your point of view, as there is no risk as far as you’re concerned) and in a very real environment (from your competitor’s point of view, as any penalty will feel very real to them).
If you manage to monitor their profiles and understand when and why they are getting penalized (or rewarded), you can then use what you’ve learned to refine your tactics so that they are both effective and in line with the ever-changing Google rule-book.
Before testing something out on your website, look at what it did to someone else’s website.
Real Time Penguin – Real Time Disavow: Get Rid of “Risky” Links as They Appear
Once you’ve started accumulating findings, start acting accordingly.
If one of your competitors was penalized for using a certain tactic (knowingly or unknowingly), start running the same kind of analysis on your own website and remove any link that you now know will get you in trouble with Google.
It is best to be on the side of caution than to have to constantly backtrack and be on a never-ending path of recovery.
With Google making available the disavow tool and a future real time Penguin, we will probably be forced to remove the unwanted links as they appear.
It’s usually harder to make than say, yet, with a bit of determination and using the right tool, this process can be done way easier and friendly.
We propose you a 3 steps disavowing process, as seen in the screenshot below.
All you need to do is carefully review all of your unnatural links, click disavow on the ones you want and after that export and send the disavow file directly to Google.
Regularly Monitor Your Backlink Profile
With Penguin rolling real-time, you need to be alerted with the same frequency as Google, whenever a “search engine unfriendly link” appears into your system.
You might not be able to look at your link profile 24/7, and this is why the Alerts are one thing you could use.
Setting an unnatural links mail alert, which sends you messages the moment it finds new unnatural links for your site (or competitors’ site) might save you from unpleasant situations.
This way you will stay up to date with the evolution of the Google Penalty Risk without the need to constantly check your link’s profile.
If the Penguin begins to be real-time we have no other choice than to keep up with it and play by its rules.
The good part of the story is that there is already a solution from cognitiveSEO implemented for this matter and all you need to do is to stay aware and react on the spot.
If The Real-Time Penguin 4.0 holds to its promises, it will truly bring a significant change to the table and a major step forward towards its goal of purging the search results list of websites that really have no business ranking as high as they do.
But despite this potential impact, we know so much less about the Google variety of Penguins than about the Emperor kind in the Morgan Freeman narrated documentary.
So we might as well take advantage of what’s coming and use Penguin’s new features to our advantage.
Currently, the type of competitor analysis we’ve described in this piece would be, at best, ineffective, mostly due to the long and intricate process of recovering from a Google penalty.
But since the future is likely to bring speed as its main offering, why not take advantage of it and learn from mistakes, especially since they don’t have to be yours?