As most of us are well aware, Google is set to release its latest update to the Penguin algorithm any day now. We have been expecting it since October 2015 when Google first announced they’d be bringing in their update. Then, just a couple of months later, they stated that Penguin 4.0 was to be put back and wouldn’t be released until 2016 because of the Christmas holidays. So with these comments by Google’s John Mueller in a Google+ hangout, everything pointed towards us seeing the new ‘real-time’ Penguin 4.0 update by January.
This of course did not happen, so it was said that the update would be released in the first quarter of this year. But then Google’s Gary Illyes went on to say he didn’t know if that would still be the case, followed by him conceding that he was “done giving out estimates because I’ve been wrong in the past and it’s bad for business.” So there you have it folks, lots of chatter, quite a few estimates, it’s been 18 months since the last Penguin update, and we’re still waiting. Any day now.
If you like to think positive, however, (and you’re not waiting for this update to recover from a past penalty), you could use this to your advantage because it means you’ve had more time to prepare by cleaning up your backlink profile and making sure you don’t end up getting penalised when 4.0 does roll out.
With that in mind, below you’ll find a few things that you may want to keep an eye on to avoid getting caught out by this coming update.
Who’s Linking to Your Site?
As we all know, the quality of websites pointing to your site can be reason enough for getting slapped around by a penguin. The old saying “Tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are” is definitely true when it comes to your website’s backlink profile so be careful who you allow in your circle. Even if you think you’re doing the right thing and you don’t pay for links and you don’t get involved in link farms, or black hat link building tactics, you should still check your backlink profile at least once a month.
The reason for this is because we cannot control who links to our site; there are tons of low-quality sites and directories out there that will link to thousands and thousands of websites and of course we know negative SEO is very well and alive.
What to Look For
For a proper backlink profile analysis, I recommend using a tool like this. It will collect links from over 20 sources including Ahrefs, Majestic, and Google. You will have a ton of data for each individual link which can help you identify risky links. As with most tools in SEO we cannot trust it 100% – but combined with personal knowledge and judgement it should make for a good team.
You’ll want to look for the following:
- Sites not indexed in Google
- Malware detected on-site
- Low-quality (and most) directories
- Link Schemes/networks, link farms, similar website footprints, IPs, registrants, C-class, etc
- Any website that has high POWER and low or zero TRUST
- Hundreds of site-wide links
- Low-quality sites that offer nothing to a user and/or have a lot of ads
Of course, there are many other factors that make for a low-quality backlink, these are just a few. Once you have determined which sites you don’t want linking to you, you can proceed with email outreach to try and get these links manually removed from the web. Even if it’s a low-quality directory that doesn’t have a contact email and only gives you the contact page, it’s worth making the effort – you may be surprised at how many links you can get removed.
For those links that you couldn’t get removed, put them in the disavow file and upload that into Google Search Console.
Anchor Text Distribution
Since it became an issue with search engines in April 2012, it is natural to ask, what percentage of my backlinks should have money keyword anchor texts? The answer? You guessed it, there is no exact number on this – different experts offer different opinions and it is likely even Google doesn’t have an exact number.
The studies are out there, however, and the following observation is not uncommon : “Every single site we looked at that got negatively hit by the Penguin Update had a ‘money keyword’ as its anchor text for over 60% of its incoming links.” Those studies go on to report that the sites unaffected by the algorithm had “much more random percentages”, while also noting that not every single site that had over 60% or more money keywords was penalised – but we get the idea. If 60% of your backlinks have money keywords, it is very likely you are engaging in spammy link schemes, which means it could be just a matter of time before a penguin comes knocking at your door.
As a result, you should use different brand anchor texts, URLs, long-tail keywords and other non-descriptive anchor texts. We recommend keeping your money keywords under 35-40% or so.
It is said that this version of Penguin will be ‘real-time’, which means there will no longer be these big single updates but more ongoing refreshes of the algorithm. The ‘real-time’ factor is meant to crack down a lot faster on websites trying to game the system, so as soon as spammy links or tactics are detected you can be Penguin-slapped with a penalty. But this also means you can recover a lot faster if penalised, although Google has stated that repeat offenders will see harsher penalties or find it harder to recover.
It seems Google is really trying to get rid of link-building in general as reported here (in Portuguese), where they said “Do not buy, sell, exchange or ask for links.” This statement was then re-worded to say “Do not buy, sell or ask for links that may violate our linking webmaster guidelines.”
As we know, such a rule will never truly be enforced – links are still one of the biggest factors in search engine rankings and they will continue to be. Penguin 4.0 will definitely scare some webmasters and SEOs, however – as it should – into avoiding spammy link schemes, but SEO is always changing, people have learned to adapt to all the changes, and this should be no different.
We would recommend, however, to follow the steps above and play it safer than you normally would, and let’s see where this takes us and how it all shapes out. After all, links are only ONE factor among many that you should be focusing on to rank well.