SEO: How marketers can prepare for the Google Penguin update
Introduced in 2012, the Penguin update was released to algorithmically penalise sites that were considered to be involved in link schemes. In particular it focused on those that were found to be buying links or obtaining them through networks or link farms designed to essentially boost Google rankings artificially.
Needless to say that Google’s Penguin update has shaped SEO strategies since it was first introduced into the landscape as it removed what it considered to be poor-quality links.
This meant SEO strategies had to place a lot more emphasis on obtaining quality links and producing content or on-site assets to engage with its users. Ultimately this would develop a backlink profile much more organically.
Rumours of an algorithm update to Penguin have been circulating the industry since 2015 with many seeming to agree it would come this year.
Whilst specifics have yet to be outlined, Google spokespeople have informed us that the update will be real-time which will mean any sites deemed to operate outside of Google’s Webmaster guidelines could be demoted instantly.
Conversely, sites that are penalised might also recover quickly after having removed and/or disavowing the likely penalty triggering backlinks or gained a number of higher quality, organic links.
Assess your current status
The last update to Penguin was almost two years ago, in late 2014. Before you begin putting a plan of action in place, you first need to look at your current state.
Consider your strengths and weaknesses as well as learning about how the previous updates may have impacted your SEO strategies so you can learn from past incidents and mistakes.
When you assess your current status you should take into account things that the Google’s algorithm may consider unacceptable. For example what do the backlink gains looks like?
Are they from topically relevant pages or domains? Are they sidebar or footer links, worse, comment or forum signature links as opposed to natural editorial links? Does your anchor text distribute in a natural way from trusted sources or are they all with your brand or domain name (which is fine and perfectly natural)?
Are there any links that you see that you don’t wish to have associated with your domain?
Answering the latter question, Google are well aware of a natural amount of toxicity by simply being online from things like content scrapers linking back.
But it’s worth checking what domains are linking and utilising the disavow tool if necessary. It’s an algorithm that’s running with little recourse for publishers, it’s better to play safe and not become collateral damage.
Google have also said that a penalty could be removed by building good links. Press links from tier-one/top-tier publishers might tip the balance away from the bad links to recovery or away from penalisation.
Anchor text diversity
Google has had a colourful history with overly-aggressive anchor text. Even before Penguin was introduced, marketers were penalised for the overuse of keywords and it goes without saying that users weren’t a fan of copy that was over optimised and filled with links.
The very nature of Penguin is to target sites that it considers to be in violation of Google’s guidelines
This was SEO in one of its earliest forms and if you are still using this approach, you might want to consider updating your strategies.
There is no exact goal or guideline to achieve the perfect balance of anchor text. However, as previously mentioned, Google is placing more emphasis on the user experience and therefore marketers are under increasing pressure to make sure their copy is engaging and contains a natural flow.
Optimise internal links
Now could be the time to assess your internal link profile and make any changes required. Internal links can influence how search engines crawl your site and view, prioritise and flow PageRank through the content hierarchy.
Similarly to external links you should avoid over optimisation and be more diverse with anchor text, using synonyms for instance where appropriate.
It’s also worth looking at your website and think of the journey you want users to take through the site and how your internal links can be utilised to direct them to particular sections.
Aggregating content towards hubs can help with SEO. If you're optimising a 'blue widgets' product page, typically the goal is to eventually rank for 'Widgets'. Utilising internal linking you can help guide Google and users through a clear hierarchy.
Focus on quality content
The very nature of Penguin is to target sites that it considers to be in violation of Google’s guidelines. Penalising black-hat SEO techniques involved in manipulating the links pointing to sites. Strictly speaking that means never knowing about a link in advance.
An effective way to ensure you could recover quickly is to make sure you’re providing Google with high quality content that is both engaging and relevant for their users and ultimately yours.
Various updates to Google’s algorithms have taken the focus away from simple ranking methodologies which essentially played in their technology curve, towards a holistic point of view and have placed more emphasis on the user experience.
Therefore, marketers that put more effort into creating the right content and experience across all devices for their digital strategies will be optimally placed to deal with algorithmic updates without sleepless nights.