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September 11, 2016

Penguin essentials: What you need to know about Google’s Penguin update

Launched in 2012, Penguin is Google’s all-out assault on spammy link-building. Learn the basics here.

Links have long been a core determinant of domain rankings, which in the past has left them wide open to manipulation. Many companies attempted to outwit search engines by using artificial link-building to boost rankings. This changed with the release of Google’s Penguin algorithm update in 2012, which targeted websites engaged in low quality, spammy link building.

The release of Penguin saw businesses with previously solid rankings tumble to the bottom of the pile overnight. Spammy backlinks were no longer just devalued by Google; they were toxic. The algorithm went after unnatural links and anchor text, targeting links that were obviously paid for.

The Penguin update cycle

Penguin updates typically occur only every eight to 12 months, so many businesses who have been caught by Penguin sometimes take a very long time to recover – if they recover at all.

The good news is that Google is widely expected to update Penguin into a real-time algorithm in 2016. This means it will constantly be ‘on,’ enabling it to catch spammy links much faster. This also means that if your domain is hit with a Penguin penalty and you quickly rectify the bad links, you won’t have to wait so long for those efforts to be noticed.

What does Penguin target?

Penguin specifically targets dodgy links. Its role is to uncover low-quality inbound and outbound links, content that has been ‘keyword stuffed,’ duplicate content and spammy comments.

It’s also worth putting Penguin in a wider context. The stated rationale behind all Google updates is to improve user experience and prioritise highly relevant websites with engaging content. So while steering clear of spammy behavior will help avoid a Penguin-specific penalty, to really rank well you’ll need to address your whole site on a technical and a content level, looking at everything from content format to mobile friendliness to page load speed.

How does Google define good quality content?

To nail content optimisation for Google you need a solid understanding of how the search giant defines ‘good quality content’. Below is an overview of some of the questions it asks itself, and that you should therefore be asking when you create content:

• Would you trust the information in this article?
• Is the article written by an expert or enthusiast?
• Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
• Are the pages accurate and written with great attention to detail?
• Does the page provide substantial value compared to others in the search results?
• Are the topics driven by genuine interest to readers of the site?

How to avoid a Penguin penalty

The key to avoiding (and recovering from) a Penguin-related penalty is a clean backlink profile. You’ll need to check issues like lack of anchor text diversity, links from forum and comment spam, and sitewide links from irrelevant sites. For businesses with a long history of pre-Penguin SEO activity this can all become a headache, particularly if that history involves multiple SEO agencies operating under relatively little scrutiny.

Luckily there are a range of online tools that can help you analyse your backlink profile (we’ve even rounded up some of the best free ones). Once you’ve figured out where your problems lie, it’s a case of cleaning up those bad backlinks and waiting for Penguin to update.

And it goes without saying that you should have ditched all unnatural link-building practices long ago. If you haven’t, you’re living dangerously – you could be clobbered by a future Penguin update, or even hit with a manual Google penalty.

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