I just got back from Pubcon 2014 in New Orleans, which is one of the top two Internet marketing conferences in the world along with SMX. A big takeaway from the conference was that a lot of the top SEO companies are focused at the moment on doing what is called Penguin repair. It’s certainly not enough just to blog and add content to your website and even optimize it for the search engines, because in the days of the almost over-intense Google algorithms, you also need to cover your bases with algorithm updates. Issues like Panda, which was about quality of content/user experience; Penguin, which is about having a clean backlink profile; and Hummingbird, which is about mobile and having helpful conversational content all need to be addressed.
I’ve had numerous law firms come to me recently who had no idea that they had major problems with their backlink profile and that it was a very big part of the reason they are just getting nowhere with organic search.
What types of companies participate in negative link-building practices and how did we get these terrible backlinks?
I will be the first to admit that even we used to do basic article link building and limited directory submissions, but we have never been black hat, and now focus solely on high-quality content link building and making people aware of the dangers of going to the dark side. Think you’re immune if you’re with FindLaw or some supposedly large SEO firm that focuses on lawyers? Check out this link about how FindLaw got into major hot water gaming Google:
Findlaw has an amazingly large site and client base, but I do hope they change their tune and help clean up the link profiles of their customers. The recent stories I hear tell me they haven’t updated their practices completely and don’t even bother checking to see if clients have been notified by Google that they have problems.
What is Google Penguin?
Google Penguin is a name for an update to Google’s algorithm that seeks to ensure that people trying to optimize their websites do not go overboard and get low-quality links.
What are the dates associated with Google Penguin being released?
Penguin refresh dates are as follows:
- April 24, 2012 (this is when Penguin first launched)
- May 25, 2012
- October 5, 2012
- May 22, 2013
- October 4, 2013 (this is the most recent refresh of Penguin)
When will the next Penguin update occur?
Many people, such as Bruce Clay at Pubcon New Orleans, theorized that because Penguin has gone in six-month cycles that we are due for another Penguin update shortly, perhaps in May, if it follows the same course it has been taking.
Should I be worried about Google Penguin?
Actually, you should be terrified of Penguins :-). Seriously, Google is not messing around, and even if you had no idea that someone was pointing terrible links at your website, you have to address it. It may have been your past SEO company that you thought was doing things in your best interest, but was actually buying directory links or doing things like article submissions, forum comment spam, and blog comment spam, etc.
How do I check if bad links are pointing at my website?
You can use tools like Open Site Explorer by Moz, Ahrefs, or Majestic SEO, and you should definitely make sure you have a Google Webmaster Tools account and look at what backlinks Google reveals to you.
How do I know if I have an algorithmic “penalty” if I don’t have the notification of a manual penalty in Google Webmaster Tools?
You need to log in to Google Analytics and see if you have significant traffic drops at any of the dates associated with Google Penguin.
How do I know if I have not only been filtered by the algorithm, but have actually been manually penalized?
Google Webmaster Tools is where you will go to see if you have been notified of any of the manual penalty types. There are two main types of Penguin action: partial match or site-wide match.
Which is worse, a manual penalty or merely being filtered by the algorithm?
Both are bad, but some people, like Eric Enge, say they almost prefer a manual penalty because there are potentially more concrete ways to know when the penalty is removed. But with that said, you may recover less from a manual penalty.
What do some of the bad links look like?
Without giving a long list of specific bad links, below is a more general idea of what to look for using fictitious names just to get the point across:
- articlesite12345.com (sites with a very similar name, or template look and feel)
- legalsites-pradaxa-directory-keyword.com (sites built just for links in the legal industry)
- 8589.com (sites with just numbers as a URL)
- spammyname.ru (sites with foreign domain extensions, especially from countries known for spam)
- sites-owned-by-the-same-person.com (if the WHOIS record shows the same webmaster information, then the sites are potentially part of a spammy network made just to get backlinks)
This gives you a rough idea, but you will have to manually look through your links to look for patterns and click on the sites to see what they look like to get a better idea if they are actually good or bad. Tools like LinkDetox and Remove Em can save a lot of time, but don’t do all of the work.
How do I get a penalty removed?
If it is algorithmic filtering, you need to do a Google disavow to upload a spreadsheet of links to Google that you feel are no longer things you want to be associated with. You also need to continue to get good links, because after you show Google what links not to count against you, you will have to rebuild your link profile if you want your traffic to go up.
The only way to get rid of a manual penalty is to also do a reconsideration request, where you prove to Google that you have emailed all of the sites that link to you that you think are bad at least a few times to try and get them to take the links down.
For more information, check out some documentation at Google.
And a great library of articles at Search Engine Land.
Also have a look at our fun cartoon about Google Penguin and getting links the right way.
Have you been affected by Google Penguin, or do you have any questions? If so, feel free to comment, email me, or give me a call – I love to help people understand this complicated issue.