Friday, September 30, 2016

Google's Penguin Algorithm Update: What You Need to Know

Google's Penguin algorithm was introduced in April 2012 to penalize websites with "bad" or "artificial" links--or, as the search engine clarified, "Any links intended to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results."

To Google, a "good" link is a one-way link: a link that points from one site to another. Before the Penguin algorithm, many sites exchanged links, a practice Google penalized.

To avoid penalties, Black Hat webmasters created multiple websites, a hundred or more, all owned by one website, and built to create links to the primary website. Flooded with incoming, one-way links, the primary website leapt in the rankings.

The Penguin algorithm was created, in part, in response to these link-building schemes. Since its inception, Google has updated the algorithm three times, including a recent, final update.

Each successive update has improved the bad link filters, yet the algorithm also attempts to target webspam, including on-page factors, like keyword stuffing, hidden text, and cloaking--when the content presented to the user differs from the content presented to the search engine crawlers.

As John Mueller, the former Google webmaster, said a few years ago in a Webmaster Chat:

"The Penguin algorithm is a webspam algorithm and we try to take a variety of webspam issues into account and use them with this algorithm. It does also take into account links from spammy sites or unnatural links in general, so that’s something that we would take into account there, but I wouldn’t only focus on links."

The Penguin Algorithm is now "Real Time" [Photo Source]
Although Penguin's intent was to limit bad links and webspam, plenty of websites have suffered penalties from inadvertently breaking Google's webmaster guidelines.

Some sites were even penalized as victims of "negative SEO" campaigns--campaigns that Google had, inadvertently encouraged. As we noted before:

"Negative SEO--the practice of harming another site's search engine rankings--has been getting a lot of press in SEO circles recently. The well-respected site, SEO Roundtable, even conducted a poll and 75% of the respondents agreed: "Negative SEO is Easier" thanks to Google's most recent algorithm updates."

Read: "Negative SEO: What You Need to Know"

By penalizing companies for bad incoming links, Google created a weapon: It's impossible to control bad incoming links--and so many websites were "attacked" with bad links from competitors and penalized by Google.

For sites penalized by Penguin--fairly or not--the consequences have been dire and lasting. As Search Engine Land recently noted in its article on the recent update:

"Introduced in 2012, [Penguin] has operated on a periodic basis. In other words, the Penguin filter would run and catch sites deemed spammy. Those sites would remain penalized even if they improved and changed until the next time the filter ran, which could take months. The last Penguin update, Penguin 3.0, happened on October 17, 2014. Any sites hit by it have waited nearly two years for the chance to be free."

With this new update, announced last Friday, Google has seemingly resolved the wait:

"Penguin is now real-time," the search engine says. "Historically, the list of sites affected by Penguin was periodically refreshed at the same time. Once a webmaster considerably improved their site and its presence on the internet, many of Google's algorithms would take that into consideration very fast, but others, like Penguin, needed to be refreshed. With this change, Penguin's data is refreshed in real time, so changes will be visible much faster, typically taking effect shortly after we recrawl and reindex a page."

This is great news for websites that have been penalized in the past, especially those that have been penalized unfairly.

How to Identify Bad Links 

The first step to Penguin compliance is identifying any bad links pointing to your site.

1. You can ask a professional SEO specialist to audit your website. A website audit can also identify other on-page factors that might be harming your site's performance on Google.

2. Or you can manually investigate each link on your site. For the most part, bad links are fairly obvious; they point to sites with little or nothing to do with your site. These sites will often reveal the telltale aspects of spam: a lack of coherence or downright nonsense content.

How to Remove Bad Links

To remove bad links, you have several options:

1. Write the owner of the bad link and and ask him/her to remove it. This may or may not be effective, depending on the provenance of the links. Many bad links are generated by bots; certain websites deliver bad links in vast numbers. The owners of these websites usually lack integrity and they have little incentive to remove their own bad links.

2. A better option is to remove any page that has been hit by bad links; some website owners who have been victimized by negative SEO campaigns have removed entire domains.

3. If you can't remove manually remove you bad links, you can ask Google to ignore the links by using the disavow tool. Be careful, though. As Google notes:

"This is an advanced feature and should only be used with caution. If used incorrectly, this feature can potentially harm your site’s performance in Google’s search results."

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