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Category Archive: Penguin

  1. Is There a New Penguin Refresh Coming After All?

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    Google updates are not clockwork. They don’t run in a balanced, predictable, or even logical fashion. They tend to pop up out of nowhere, only to disappear into the void and pop up again several months later. Some search marketers have dedicated their careers to trying to predict the impact and timing of these updates, while most of us simply roll with the punches and focus on the bottom line.

    Until recently, most of us wrote off Penguin as a dormant update—one that is still relevant, but won’t be seeing any major additions or changes in the coming years. Think of it as a “complete” piece of the algorithmic puzzle that Google is satisfied with enough to leave it be.

    Only, this no longer appears to be the case. According to an update on Google’s own Gary Illyes’s Twitter account, the next Penguin refresh is going to come in a matter of months—implying that it will be a major push with the potential to shake up rankings like an old-style algorithm update.

    The Semi-Regular History of Penguin

    articleimage1279 The Semi-Regular History of Penguin

    Up until now, Penguin has been one of the more regular Google updates. Penguin 1.0 first debuted in April of 2012, with 1.1 coming out a month later and 1.2 coming out in October 2012. Penguin 2.0 came out in May 2013, roughly a year after 1.0, and 2.1 followed it in October 2013. Following this May-October pattern, most people expected Penguin 3.0 (or some other iterative update) to come out in May of 2014, but it wasn’t until October 2014 that we saw anything—in this case, it was 3.0.

    While this pattern isn’t perfect, it would lead us to expect an update either in May of 2015 (which didn’t happen) or October of 2015 (which could still feasibly happen). However, many search marketers also speculated that Penguin was the latest algorithm segment to become a part of Google’s new vision for updating.

    The Move Toward Real-Time Refreshes

    articleimage1279 The Move Toward Real-Time Refreshes

    Google Panda serves as a model for how I believe Google wants to update in the future. Previously, the company would “bundle” packages of code that change or update its ranking algorithm, then deploy that code all at once for a sudden, significant change. This worked well enough for a time, but often disrupted search rankings to the point where both businesses and users became upset.

    Trying to resolve this disruption while still maintaining momentum in gradually improving their search algorithm, Google opted for a new model with Google Panda, beginning sometime around 2013. Rather than making batched pushes, Panda started updating slowly and iteratively. Over the course of several days within any given month, tiny bits of new ranking processes and data refreshes would roll out to the live algorithm. Businesses would only notice small changes at a time, but at the end of the year, the impact would be more or less the same.

    It’s a much more behind-the-scenes approach that seems to work better for everyone. Businesses are disrupted less. Users have more consistent results. And Google itself takes less flak for making sudden, major changes.

    Why Doesn’t Penguin Operate This Way?

    articleimage1279 Why Doesn’t Penguin Operate This Way

    If we make the assumption that Illyes’s comments imply a major update is coming several months from now, it means that Penguin is not updating gradually and interactively, and that instead this refresh will have the old-style jarring impact we’ve come to expect from these types of updates. So why is this the case? Why isn’t Google making this iterative approach universal, across the board?

    According to comments made by Gary Illyes immediately after his original revelation, Google is working toward adopting this process, at least to some degree. He offered a suggestion that soon, Penguin will update in a much smoother, much faster way—so nobody has to wait for a year in order to see a ranking shift, and nobody’s blown away by a sudden penalty.

    It could be that Penguin is currently too complex to transition to this gradual-updating state, or it could be that Google has bigger priorities right now. Either way, it looks like eventually, Penguin will join this club but for now, we’re stuck waiting for the inevitable refresh.

    How to Prepare for the Next Penguin Refresh

    articleimage1279 How to Prepare for the Next Penguin Refresh

    I’m going to call this Penguin 4.0, though it may end up being something closer to 3.1, depending on how much changes. In either case, it’s probably not going to roll out until November at the earliest. That gives you four months to prepare—but if you’re paying close attention to link building best practices, you shouldn’t have to change much. This update is only going to make Google more adept at identifying “bad” links—it isn’t going to start disqualifying “good” links or anything revolutionary. As long as you’ve been building good links and avoiding risky rank manipulation behavior, you have nothing to worry about and nothing to change between now and then.

    The Future of Google Updates

    While it’s not out of the question that Google will someday introduce another game-changing major packet of updates, for the time being it looks like they’re trying to settle into a steady rhythm. Updates and refreshes happen gradually, step by step, so you don’t have to worry about sharp ranking fluctuations like you did back in 2011. Keep your users at the heart of what you do, and no matter how Google chooses to update, you’ll be in good shape.


  2. Why There’s No Whitelist for Penguin or Panda

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    During the SMX Conference, representatives from both Google and Bing revealed the existence of “whitelists,” which are essentially exemption-based lists that compile domains and prevent those domains by being penalized or changed by certain segments of algorithm changes. To address any misinterpretations, both search giants elaborated that these whitelists were not used to boost the ranking of any sites in results listings, nor were they used to completely exempt any sites from any and all algorithm chances.

    To illustrate how these whitelists function, let’s say Google releases a new algorithm update. The update is going to affect 99 percent of sites on the web in exactly the way they intended, but that remaining 1 percent is going to be hit with a penalty they didn’t deserve. This could be because the sites have a unique position, or because the algorithm cannot be perfected to accurately target each domain appropriately, but in any case, whitelists exist to prevent and correct those undue evaluations.

    Whitelists for Penguin and Panda

    articleimage886 Whitelists for Penguin and Panda

    The revelation of the existence of whitelists has been a relief to some business owners concerned about how their businesses might be affected by algorithm updates. Many websites hit by Google’s biggest updates, Panda and Penguin, have claimed that the resulting penalties were unwarranted. The idea of being “whitelisted” is a comforting assurance to those afraid of getting hit with future updates.

    However, according to Google’s John Mueller, a Webmaster Trends Analyst in Zurich, Google doesn’t have any whitelists for its Penguin or Panda algorithms. Mueller illustrated an example of a whitelist in action: the Safe Search algorithm is designed to flag sites with adult content, but a site about animals could be flagged as adult despite not featuring any offending material. Here, the site would be whitelisted and removed from that algorithm’s flagging system.

    He went on to explain that there’s no whitelist for Penguin or Panda because these updates were designed to affect all sites. Whitelists are intended to be a stopgap—a temporary measure to correct some fundamental flaws with algorithm changes. For example, Safe Search could be fixed in the future to avoid flagging material that it flagged in the false positive animal site. Panda and Penguin would require no such stopgaps.

    There’s another problem with the notion of being “protected” by whitelists; even if whitelists did exist for Penguin or Panda, they exist to serve the exceptions to the master rule. The odds of being the one site out of a hundred that isn’t served by the algorithm the way Google intended is—you guessed it—one in a hundred. Whitelists are short, and it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be on any of them in the first place.

    Google’s Motivation

    articleimage886Google’s Motivation

    The motivation behind keeping Panda and Penguin whitelist free is the same motivation that drove the deployment of those updates in the first place. Google wants to give users the best possible online experience, and that means giving them the best possible results for their queries. While they want webmasters to have a fighting chance at getting visibility, they also aren’t going to worry if a handful of businesses are hit particularly hard by a new update. Adding a whitelist to a major algorithm change is a way of undermining it, especially when the algorithm is focused on quality.

    Let’s compare Google Safe Search to Google Panda (or Penguin, it doesn’t matter in this case). Safe Search is unique because it scouts for very specific pieces of material—in this case, adult material, but similar algorithm changes could scout for other forms of specific content. Sites can be hit with undue penalties because they are categorized as having content that they do not have. However, Panda and Penguin are quality-focused, meaning their entire purpose is to generalize the quality of a site’s onsite content and offsite links. There may be a handful of signals that provide erroneous feedback to Google, but overall, their judgments on websites are fairly accurate. Exempting sites from this quality check is like saying that certain sites don’t need high-quality content or relevant links.

    Steps You Can Take


    There’s no whitelist for Penguin and Panda, so you don’t need to worry about it. All you should do is continue refining your strategy to give your users the best possible experience and put the best possible content on the web. For the Panda algorithm, that means updating your site with fresh, relevant, interesting content on a frequent and consistent basis. For the Penguin algorithm, that means building valuable, highly authoritative links on relevant sources with a relevant foundation.

    If you’re worried about getting on a whitelist in the future, don’t be. Google’s niche updates aren’t nearly as impactful as its major updates, and the chances of getting hit with an unfair ranking change are extremely low. In the event that you do fall in rank, you can make a case to Google, and they’ll probably be more than willing to manually exempt you. Still, this is a rare occurrence, and you shouldn’t expect to ever encounter it.

    As for larger updates in the future, it’s likely that Google will continue its approach of avoiding the whitelist entirely. Should Google unleash another Penguin- or Panda-like update on the world, you’re going to be subject to its evaluations, just like everyone else. And while you might experience a bit of unwanted volatility, the web will likely end up a better place because of it.

  3. Are Google Updates a Thing of the Past?

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    For more than a decade now, Google updates have been keeping search marketers on their toes. Every time you got used to one common SEO custom—such as the most effective way to build backlinks—Google seemed to respond by pushing a major algorithm change that altered how it took those factors into consideration. In the SEO community, industry professionals were constantly either looking for ways to take advantage of the most recent update or trying to anticipate what changes were coming with the next one.

    Now, as we enter a new era of search, Google’s update patterns appear to have shifted. For the past several years, rather than introducing new algorithm changes, the search giant is only making tweaks to previously existing ones and making minor changes to account for new technologies. Rank disruption is still occurring, but on a much smaller scale, leaving search marketers to wonder—are Google updates a thing of the past?

    The Major Overhauls

    articleimage861The Major Overhauls

    Google updates have earned a reputation for being large, disruptive, and sometimes annoying pushes that can raise your site to the top of the SERPs or drop you off into online oblivion. That’s because most of Google’s major updates so far have been massive game changers, either completely overhauling Google’s search engine algorithm or adding some new set of qualifications that turned the ranking system on its head.

    Take, for instance, the Panda update of 2011 affected nearly 12 percent of all queries, massively disrupting the search game by introducing a new concept of content-based evaluation. Sites with high-quality content were rewarded while sites with spammy content were penalized.

    It was a fair system, and searchers of the world were happy to start seeing more relevant results and fewer obvious attempts to climb ranks by whatever means necessary. But it was still a major headache for search marketers who had invested serious time and money into the previous iteration of Google’s search algorithm. For a time, updates like these were common, and search marketers were constantly on the run, waiting for more changes like the Penguin update, or Panda 2.0, which carried another massive update to Google’s content evaluation system.

    Modern Panda and Penguin

    articleimage861Modern Panda and Penguin

    Panda and Penguin, two of Google’s biggest landmark algorithm updates, have seen multiple iterations over the past five years. Panda 2.0 was followed by small iterations leading to 3.0, and Penguin 2.0 came out only a year after the initial round of Penguin. These algorithm changes were substantial, and search marketers attempted to predict the cycle based on existing patterns, projecting when the next major Panda- and Penguin-based algorithm changes would come.

    But something changed in 2014. Rather than unloading the Panda update in a major package, Google started rolling out data refreshes and minor tweaks to the algorithm on a steady basis. Instead of hitting the search world with a massive burst, it introduced a regular, unobtrusive pulse. Similarly, with the Penguin update, major iterations were virtually done away with. Marketers named an algorithm update “Penguin 3.0” in late 2014, but search volatility was limited compared to Penguin updates in the past.

    This, combined with the fact that Google hasn’t released a major overhaul to its search function since the Hummingbird update of 2013, seems to indicate that instead of rolling out massive, disruptive updates, Google is more interested in rolling out very small, gradual changes.

    Niche Algorithm Updates


    Other than extensions for its previous updates, Google has also released a handful of other changes. However, most of these are focused on niche functions—for example, the unofficially nicknamed “Pigeon update” of 2014 overhauled the way Google processes and displays local search results, taking local reviews from directory sites into account. Similarly, Google has been making changes to its Knowledge Graph and how it displays on SERPs.

    These niche updates don’t radically change Google’s core algorithm, nor do they interfere with any major updates of the past. They do have an impact on how search works and what strategies are the most rewarding, but they haven’t done anything to change the fundamental elements of a great SEO strategy.

    The Case for Micro-Updates

    There are a lot of reasons why Google would want to abandon large-scale updates in favor of smaller, less noticeable ones, and the evidence supports that transition:

    • Major updates have slowed to a stop. Instead of large batches of changes, Google is rolling out Penguin and Panda changes gradually and almost imperceptibly.
    • Google is no longer officially naming its updates. Penguin 3.0, Panda 4.1, and the Pigeon update are all unofficial nicknames—Google has abandoned the process of naming its updates, indicating it’s moving away from the process.
    • Search volatility is decreasing. Since Panda’s 12 percent disruption, nothing has come close to that level of volatility.
    • Google is finally at a stable point. The search algorithm is now complex enough to evaluate the quality of sites and the intention behind user queries, leaving little reason to rapidly accelerate through growth spurts.

    Of course, it’s possible that Google has a few more aces up its sleeves, but for now it looks as though major updates are dead, in favor of smaller, less momentous rollouts.

    What Search Marketers Can Learn

    There’s no reason to fear anymore. It’s likely that Google will no longer be pushing out the updates that have disrupted so many business rankings for so long. Instead, search marketers should understand that the fundamental best practices for SEO—improving user experience and building your authorityaren’t going to change anytime soon. The tweaks here and there might fine-tune some small details, but for the most part, the sites and brands that offer the best overall experience are going to be rewarded.

  4. Is It Possible to Remove a Penguin Penalty Through Disavowal?

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    The Penguin Update, since it first hit the search world back in 2012, has been the defining rule-maker for offsite SEO. Intended to weed out shady link building practices and reward sites with high-quality link profiles, the Penguin update has seen multiple iterations over the past few years, each with an added layer of complexity to penalize sites with questionable link building habits.

    These penalties can be devastating for business owners trying to improve their online visibility, especially when a manual penalty—which carries long-term, more severe punitive consequences—drags their site down harshly. Through remediated long-term link building strategies, it is possible to recover from any of these penalties, but for online businesses whose revenue depends on visibility and traffic, time is of the essence, and these business owners are often desperate to remove a Penguin penalty as quickly as possible.

    There is one “quick” means of removing a penalty, though it can still take days or weeks to take effect. However, this process of “disavowal” is only effective under certain circumstances, and should not be wantonly abused.

    Defining a Penguin Penalty

    articleimage788 Defining a Penguin Penalty

    First, it’s important to understand what actually constitutes a penalty, since not all changes in rank are due to a punitive action from Google. The Penguin update is an automated algorithm, which means it strictly follows the rules that are coded within it, and automatically distributes rank according to those rules. Companies who saw a sudden decrease in rank after the release of Penguin or one of its subsequent iterations were not victims of a penalty spree so much as they were simply relisted according to these new rules. However, many still refer to this type of decrease in rank as a “penalty.”

    The real penalties are manual actions performed by Google to sharply decrease the rank of an offending website. These penalties are given explicitly, with a detailed explanation given to the webmaster of the site in question. If you haven’t received a direct message from Google explaining the nature of the penalty, you haven’t been formally, manually penalized.

    If you have been formally penalized, be aware that these penalties are extremely difficult to overturn. However, both manual penalties and automated rank decreases can be overcome by disavowal under the right conditions.

    Reasons Why You’ve Been Penalized

    articleimage788Reasons Why You’ve Been Penalized

    Before you use the disavowal tool, you have to understand why you’ve been penalized. If you were penalized as a result of new standards set by the Penguin update, there is a major problem with your backlink profile. That means there are one or more links pointing back to your site on external sources that are deemed to be low-quality links.

    Such types of backlinks include:

    • Backlinks on low-quality external sources, such as article farms or obvious spam sites.
    • Backlinks on irrelevant external sources, such as local directories not related to your industry.
    • Repetitive backlinks, such as backlinks all packed into one source, or a large number of backlinks only pointing to one page of your website.
    • Backlinks stuffed with keywords or otherwise framed in a way not relevant to the conversation.

    If your backlink profile features one or more of these offenders, it is likely the root cause of your penalty.

    The Disavowal Tool

    Once you know that you’ve suffered a ranking loss or a manual penalty as a result of an external link, you can take a look at the Disavow Tool in Webmaster Tools. It’s relatively easy to find and use. All you’ll need is a Webmaster Tools account. The purpose of the Disavow Tool is to force Google to overlook the links that may be bringing you down.

    Assuming you already have a Webmaster Tools account set up for the URL in question, you can click here to get to the Disavow Tool directly. In your WMT dashboard, click on “Search Traffic,” and click “Links to Your Site.” From there, find “Who links the most,” and click on “More.” Here, you’ll have the opportunity to “Download more sample links.” When you do this, you’ll download a file that contains all the pages that currently link to your site.

    With this information, create a text file that contains all the links you want Google to disavow—in other words, all the links that you want Google to ignore for its purposes of calculating page rank. Make sure there is only one link per line in your text file, and once it is ready, upload it to the Disavow Tool directly. You can only manage one submission at a time, so disavow all your links at the same time if possible.

    Remember, the Disavow Tool is not a magic cure-all to use every time Google catches a bad backlink on your profile. It is to be used only when all other methods have failed. As a result, the majority of disavowal requests submitted through the tool are simply ignored or rejected. Even if your submission is approved, it can take days or weeks of waiting in limbo before you get a response.

    A Better Strategy

    articleimage788 A Better Strategy

    Since most disavowal requests are ultimately unsuccessful and even successful requests take weeks to take effect, you’re better off using other strategies to fix the damage from your Penguin penalty.

    Audit Your Link Profile

    First, you’ll need to audit your link profile. There are many ways to do this, but the easiest ways are either to use a backlink search engine like Open Site Explorer or simply download the pages that link to your site through Webmaster Tools (which we covered above). Once you have access to this information, you can scout for any abnormalities or links which could be seen as questionable. If Google has given you a manual penalty, you should have a specific indication of the culprit.

    Manually Remove Questionable Links

    Your first option is the easiest and fastest response—simply remove the problematic links yourself. This isn’t always possible, but if you’ve created a link as a guest poster on an external blog or as a commenter on a forum, you should be able to log in and simply delete the link yourself. Do this for any questionable links you can.

    Write to Webmasters

    Of course, manual self-removal is not always an option. There are many instances when only a webmaster with administrative access to a site can get the link down. In these instances, write to the webmaster directly. You can usually find this information in the “contact” section of the website, or through a Google search. Only after being ignored or rejected by a webmaster (which is a rare occurrence) should you pursue help through the Disavow Tool.

    Only after you’ve followed these important steps should you even consider using the Disavow Tool as a way to remove a Penguin penalty. While the tool can be effective in some situations, it is not designed to be consulted over every instance. You’re better off fixing what you can and spending the rest of your time making proactive changes to your strategy. Clean up the type of sources you use to build external links, and diversify your portfolio. Vary the type of backlinks you post, keep them as relevant as possible, and try not to post too often. Keeping your link building strategy clean will prevent future Penguin penalties and increase your rank.

  5. How Frequently Does Penguin Update on Average?

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    The Penguin update has been making waves for the search engine community since its introduction back in 2012, but the seemingly irregular intervals of updates and data refreshers has a majority of search marketers scratching their heads. Staying apprised of Google’s updates is a necessity in the modern era, as is updating your strategy to adhere to new best practices and stay in Google’s good graces. That process becomes especially difficult when you don’t know what to expect from the search engine giant.

    Fortunately, with a bit of analysis, you can determine the average length of time between Penguin updates, and implement a strategy to proactively prepare for a possible hit.

    Penguin to Date

    articleimage755 Penguin to Date

    In order to understand the significance behind Penguin update intervals, we must first understand the history of the Penguin update from the beginning. Penguin first debuted on April 24, 2012, under the generic name “the Webspam Update.” Intended as a follow-up to the Panda update, which penalized sites with weak or irrelevant onsite content, the Penguin update focused on black hat offsite practices, such as spamming links or posting links on irrelevant external sites. It was considered a major update, impacting approximately three percent of all search queries.

    Google followed up with a new iteration, Penguin 1.1, on May 25, 2012. Rather than a major update (which would have been called Penguin 2.0), this update was considered a “data refresh,” incorporating no significant algorithm changes but instead simply keeping the system up-to-date. The next Penguin update, informally referred to as 1.2, came in October 2012, impacting less than one percent of search queries. It was also suspected to be a data refresh.

    The next significant update for Penguin was 2.0, and it was a major algorithm update rather than just another data refresh. Impacting 2.3 percent of search queries, the update was released in May of 2013, marking approximately one year since Penguin 1.0. Another data refresh, affecting about one percent of search queries, was released in October 2013, mirroring Penguin 1.2’s release in October 2012.

    Following this pattern, many search experts anticipated a new Penguin algorithm update in the spring of 2014. It wasn’t until October of 2014 that we finally got a new iteration. Referred to as Penguin 3.0, mostly because of the massive length of time since the last Penguin update, the algorithm update was not assigned a version number by Google. It rolled out over the course of a few weeks, rather than the usual day or two, and ultimately affected about one percent of all search queries. There are some reports that suggest this update was not a major algorithm change, and that instead, it is merely a large-scale data refresh.

    Average Penguin Update Timing

    Looking at the historical timing of Penguin updates and refreshes, we can make a few assumptions about the average update timing. First, major algorithm changes are at least a year apart. It was about a year between Penguin 1.0 and 2.0, and a year and a half between 2.0 and 3.0. If we’re getting technical, if 3.0 isn’t truly a fundamental algorithm change, then the next algorithm update is yet to come.

    Looking at the data refreshes, which can shake up the search rankings almost as much as an algorithm change, these seem to come out around October of every year. Excepting the lack of a major algorithm update in May of 2014, Penguin updates have followed a pattern of release in both May and October of each year. While it’s still fairly early in Penguin’s history, this pattern has remained almost unbroken for three consecutive years, and can likely be considered reliable as you plan your strategy.

    The Lasting Effects of Penguin 3.0

    articleimage755 Thelastingeffectofpenguin

    There is one recent changeup in the pattern that might predict a revolutionary new format of Penguin updates. Penguin 3.0, rather than being released over the course of a few days, was released over the course of a few weeks. Over the course of Thanksgiving, more than six weeks after the first impact of Penguin 3.0, Google acknowledged that ranks were still fluctuating as a result of the refresh.

    As these fluctuations are still occurring, Google may have introduced a new, gradual style of updating Penguin. The Panda update, related to Penguin, also featured a recent update that rolled out slowly over the course of a few weeks. This change in approach might be Google’s way of trying to stabilize rankings while they make changes, limiting the tumultuous nature of algorithm updates while simultaneously making the changes it needs to make.

    When Will the Next Major Rollout Begin?

    The future of the Penguin update depends on Google’s approach. If they try to take a much more gradual, long-term approach to the update, as possibly indicated by the weeks-long release of Penguin 3.0, the entire Penguin pattern to date could be obsolete at this point. In this case, Google would simply roll out Penguin refreshes on a regular, perhaps monthly basis to keep their algorithm fine-tuned without making waves.

    However, it’s more likely that this update pattern will continue, albeit with more gradual rollouts to mitigate the chaos of sudden, major updates. If this is the case, we could potentially expect a significant change to Google’s ranking algorithm in May of 2015 (assuming they don’t skip another year). At the very least, we can expect a data refresh in October of 2015, which will affect up to one percent of all search queries.

    How to Tell if You’re Hit

    articleimage755How to tell if you are hit

    If you haven’t already experienced volatility in your ranks as a result of the most recent Penguin 3.0 update, you’re probably in the clear. While there are a few spurts left over from the weeks-long rollout, the majority of the update’s impact has already manifested. If you’ve noticed a sharp ranking drop for any keywords or a sharp drop in your organic search traffic, it could be a result of a Penguin-related penalty.

    To determine the root cause of the Penguin-related drop (and correct it as soon as possible), take a look at your backlink profile using an online tool like Moz’sOpen Site Explorer. Here, you’ll be able to browse through your current external links and locate any that appear to be built unnaturally—keep a special eye out for:

    • Links built on low-quality sites, like article directories
    • Links built on non-relevant sites, such as those not related to your industry
    • Links anchored in keywords
    • Excessive links built on the same source
    • Links irrelevant to the content of the page or to the users seeing your links

    How to Prepare in the Meantime

    While Google’s updates do follow a loose pattern, they are still somewhat unpredictable. Google is known for changing the game, and they like to keep search marketers on their toes. As such, it’s impossible to be fully prepared for everything Google has in store for the future.

    Instead of trying to take advantage of the current state of the algorithm or trying to predict what’s in the pipeline, focus on giving your customers and web users the best possible online experience. Build links that are truly valuable to the people encountering them, and build meaningful online relationships with reputable sites. These actions will always be favored by search engines, and you’ll never face a penalty for creating genuinely valuable links or content.

  6. What’s Next After Panda, Penguin, and Pigeon?

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    Google likes to keep search marketers on their toes. Its search engine algorithm, kept top secret, has evolved gradually over the course of more than 15 years, but its biggest changes have come in the form of incidental spikes. Google releases major updates to its algorithm in big packages, which roll out over the course of a few days, and have traditionally caused great volatility in the search rankings of countless businesses. Google also releases tiny updates, fixes, and data refreshes as follow-ups to these massive updates, but they don’t make nearly as many waves.

    The big players of the past decade have been the Panda update of 2011, the Penguin update of 2012, and the Pigeon update from earlier this year. These updates all fundamentally disrupted certain ranking principles we had all taken for granted, and their impact has dictated the shape of search marketing today.

    Today, it’s easy to understand why Google released each of these updates, but when they first rolled out, they were surprising to everyone. While there is a certain predictable calm in the current search marketing world, it’s only a matter of time before Google changes the game again with another revolutionary new update.

    So what will the nature of the next update be? And what can we do to prepare for it?

    Panda and Penguin: Two Sides of the Same Coin

    articleimage637Panda and Penguin

    In order to understand the possibilities for the future, we have to understand the context of the past. The Panda and Penguin updates served as complementary rollouts, targeting the negative practices of onsite SEO and offsite SEO, respectively.

    The Panda update came first in 2011, shaking up the results of almost 12 percent of all search queries. The update came as a surprise, but it was only a natural response to some of the practices that were rampant at the time. The update’s primary target was onsite content, and culprits who used low-quality content as a mechanism solely to drive rank. Accordingly, it penalized those sites and rewarded sites that maintained a focus in providing valuable, enjoyable content.Low-quality spam-like practices, such as stuffing content with keywords and copying content from other sites, were virtually eradicated.

    The Penguin update came out as a counterpoint to Panda in 2012, doing for offsite link building what Panda did for onsite copywriting. Penguin 1.0 affected just over three percent of search queries, giving it a narrower range than Panda, but the sites it did affect were affected enormously. Penguin targeted sites that paid for external links, built external links on irrelevant sites, or spammed links in irrelevant conversations. Conversely, it rewarded sites that built more natural links in a diversified strategy.

    Enter the Pigeon Update


    The Pigeon update was slightly different from its cousins. Like them it was a major update that fundamentally changed an element of SEO, but it was never officially named by Google. It was released in the early summer of 2014.

    The Pigeon update was designed to change results for local searches. Rather than attempting a global change, like with Panda and Penguin, Pigeon is focused only on redefining searches for local businesses. Through Pigeon, local directory sites like Yelp and UrbanSpoon got a significant boost in authority, and businesses with significant high ratings on those sites also received a boost. Now, local businesses can get as much visibility by increasing the number of positive reviews posted about them than they can by pursuing traditional content marketing strategies.

    The Bottom Line

    While these updates all surprised people when they came out, and their specific changes are still being analyzed and debated, they all share one fundamental quality: they were rolled out to improve user experience.

    Panda was rolled out because too many webmasters were posting spammy, low-quality, and keyword stuffed content. The update sought to improve user experience by promoting sites with more relevant, valuable content.

    Penguin was rolled out because the web was filling up with keyword stuffed, random backlinks. The update sought to improve user experience by penalizing the culprits behind such spammy practices.

    Pigeon was rolled out because the scope of local businesses online was getting more diverse, and users needed a more intuitive way to find the ones that best met their needs. Pigeon sough to improve user experience by adding sophistication to its local business ranking process.

    User experience is the name of the game, and it’s the sole motivation behind each of Google’s landmark updates.

    Building Off of Old Structures

    Since their release, Panda and Penguin have been subject to countless new iterations. Data refreshes and updates tend to occur on an almost monthly basis, while major updates have been rolled out annually—Panda 4.0 and Penguin 3.0 both rolled out in the past few months. Pigeon is still relatively new, but chances are it will see some expansion as well.

    For now, it seems that Google is trying to build off of the structures that already exist within the confines of its greater algorithm. Rather than trying to introduce new categories of search ranking factors, Google is refining the categories it’s already introduced: onsite, offsite, and now local. It’s likely that Google will continue this trend for as long as it continues to improve user experience, gently refining their quality criteria and targeting emerging black hat tactics as they arise.

    However, it’s only a matter of time before Google discovers a new category of refinement. When it does, the update will likely be just as surprising as the big three, and will warrant its own series of updates and refinements.

    What the Next Overhaul Could Bring

    articleimage637 What the Next Overhaul Could Bring

    If we’re going to predict the nature of the next update, we need to understand two things: the emergence of new technology and the fundamental focus Google maintains on improving user experience. The next major Google update will probably have something to do with significantly improving the way users interact with one or more rising technologies.

    The Knowledge Graph

    One option is a radical expansion of the Google Knowledge Graph. The Knowledge Graph, that box of helpful information that appears to the side when you search for a specific person, place or thing, is changing the way that people search—instead of clicking on one of the highest ranking links, they’re consulting the information displayed in the box. The next Google update could change how significant this box appears, and how it draws and presents information from other sites.

    Third Party Apps

    Google has already shown its commitment to improving user experience through the integration of third party apps—it’s favoring third party sites like Yelp and UrbanSpoon in search results, and is integrating services like OpenTable and Uber in its Maps application. The next search algorithm update could start drawing more information in from these independent applications, rather than web pages themselves, or it could use app integrations as a new basis for establishing authority.

    The Rise of Mobile

    Smart phones are ubiquitous at this point, but wearable technology is still on the rise. The swell of user acceptance for smart watches could trigger some new update based around proximity searches, voice searches, or some other facet of smart watch technology. Since smart watches are in their infancy, it’s difficult to tell exactly what impacts on search they will have.

    No matter what kind of update Google has in store for us next, it’s bound to take us by surprise at least slightly. We can study its past updates and the new technologies on the horizon all we want, but Google will always be a step ahead of us because it’s the one in control of the search results. The only things we know for sure at this juncture arethat Google will eventually release another new massive update at some point, and its goal will be improving user experience.

  7. 5 New Link Building Strategies for a Post-Penguin 3.0 World

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    Penguin 3.0 is finally here, and it’s delivered a similarly powerful scope of changes to the world of optimization as its predecessors. Penguin 1.0 started altering the linkbuilding landscape back in 2012 with an algorithmic change that impacted more than three percent of all search queries. The update targeted low-quality backlinks, such as those stuffed with keywords or those posted on sites whose specific purpose was hosting external links.

    Now, more than two years later and more than a year after the last Penguin refresh, Penguin 3.0 is forcing link builders to alter their strategies yet again. Fortunately, there are several new tactics that can keep you afloat and push you forward, free of ranking penalties.

    Penguin 3.0’s Refinement

    Penguin 3.0 has continued in the tradition of Penguin updates, refining what constitutes a “good” link in the eyes of Google and launching a more sophisticated algorithm for weeding out the negative offenders. Since most obvious negative links have already been caught and penalized with previous updates, Penguin 3.0 has focused on targeting previously unnoticed low-quality links. While the exact algorithmic changes remain undisclosed and therefore unclear, it’s reasonable to expect that the “naturalness” of external links can be somehow measured with even greater precision.

    Your goal as a link builder should therefore be to build as many natural links as possible, while cutting out any strategies that could make it seem like you’re building links only for higher ranks.

    Strategy 1: Get More Local


    Local optimization isn’t just a strategy for mom-and-pop gift stores or hole-in-the-wall restaurants. It can and should be harnessed by all businesses with a physical office, even if they operate nationally. Pursuing a local SEO campaign gives you a much higher relevance to a slightly smaller audience, with much less competition to deal with. You’ll immediately get more visibility with a wider range of keywords that deal with local-specific terms, but more importantly, you’ll open the door to a new world of link possibilities.

    Local optimization demands attention for local-specific publications and PR opportunities. For example, if you want to build links with some region-specific language around them, it’s a good idea to attend local events and publish press releases around the opportunity. You can also post more on your social media profiles about local events, and make blog posts about local developments. It’s an easy opportunity to attract new links, and it will give you immediate authority for local-specific keywords. All you have to do is pay attention to the local news, and put yourself out there.

    Strategy 2: Create Infographics for Niche Topics

    articleimage572 Create Infographics for Niche Topics

    Infographics have always been a high-quality link building strategy because they’re permanent, high-quality pieces of content that are easily shareable and naturally attract tons of backlinks. However, the modern market has been saturated with infographics, and building one that’s both relevant and interesting is becoming more difficult. Churning out infographics that are redundant or ones that serve no purpose could earn you a penalty, or worse—a poor reputation.

    Instead, start creating infographics for niche topics—the hyper-specific topics that no one in your industry has tried to do before. You’ll sacrifice the sheer volume of your audience, but the audience you have left will be much more appreciative, and your infographic will get much more visibility. For example, making an infographic about the most powerful buzzwords in Twitter marketing is much more specific than making one about “social media marketing” in general. In the end, this strategy will earn you more links and give your infographics a much better shot at getting found (though you may have to perform some original research to put them together).

    Strategy 3: Selectively Hunt High-Quality Link Sources

    articleimage572Selectively Hunt High-Quality Link Sour

    The highest quality link sources are also the most difficult to build links with. Governmental sites ending in .gov and colleges and universities that end in .edu tend to be some of the most powerful and authoritative link building platforms, but getting your links on those sites is difficult and occasionally problematic—first, you have to find a way to build a relevant, valuable link, and second, you have to convince the webmaster to host it.

    Instead of trying to post links yourself on these sites or sending out a mass email to fish for an opportunity, take time every week to hunt down a handful of key opportunities. Offer a new program or product that fits with their purpose—such as a scholarship that can apply to several colleges and universities. Then, reach out to each webmaster individually and politely request that one of your links be featured on their sites. Don’t be surprised if your response rate is low—the links you do win will be that much more valuable to your strategy.

    Strategy 4: Diversify, Now More Than Ever

    Diversifying your link profile has always been a good strategy, but in a post-Penguin 3.0 world, it’s not enough to simply build links on different sites. You have to build several different kinds of links (such as 301 redirects, nofollow links, and broken links) on several different sources, in several different ways. Diversity is an understatement—no two links you build should be alike.

    It’s a difficult strategy to manage, especially if you’re running thin on sources to build links on, but the payoff is worth it. Every couple of weeks, you should do a run-through of your link profile as it currently exists using a tool like Moz’sOpen Site Explorer, which is free and open to the public. You’ll be able to see all the links currently pointing back to your site, including the domains they’re hosted on, and you should be able to infer broad themes about your link building strategy and note key areas for improvement or development.

    Strategy 5: Link Build Without the Links

    It sounds counterintuitive, but there’s a way to build links without actually building links. Google recently disclosed that brand mentions (instances of your brand’s name on the web), even without an accompanying link pointing back to your site, pass authority to the appropriate site. This means you can build “brand mentions” instead of links to get a similar boost in page rank.

    As with links, you’ll have to keep your diversity in mind. You don’t want a backlink profile that exists entirely of backlinks, nor do you want a profile that exists entirely of linkless brand mentions. Vary up the format of your brand mentions too—for example, if you’re running a company called “Bunker Media Marketing and Advertising,” you could build brand mentions such as “Bunker Media Marketing” or simply “Bunker Media.” Those variations add up to register as natural occurrences, since no “real” customers are likely to use the exact trademarked brand in every single instance.

    These strategies can all help you achieve a more natural, more authoritative link profile, but keep in mind your direct efforts are not nearly as significant unless you have a dedicated audience building links for you. The true key to cultivating a high-quality, Penguin-proof link profile is nurturing a linkworthy content strategy that people want to link to. Spend your efforts making and distributing great content, and you’ll never have to worry about links.

  8. Which Types of Links Will Be At Risk from Penguin 3?

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    articleimage560Which Types of Links Will Be At Risk from Penguin 3After more than a year of total inactivity from the Penguin side of Google, Penguin version 3.0 rolled out over the weekend of October 17th. Like its predecessors, Penguin 1.0, 2.0, and the countless refreshers that followed, Penguin 3.0 is intended to streamline users’ web experiences and weed out shady SEO practices pertaining to unfit or spammy backlinks.

    Backlinks are an integral process of offsite search engine optimization, passing authority and page rank on to the link’s destination. But too many webmasters abused this property by posting hundreds of irrelevant, annoying backlinks on random sites in an effort to gain rank quickly. Penguin 1.0 and 2.0 fought back against these practices by introducing a more sophisticated way of determining what constitutes a “natural” backlink. With each iteration, that algorithm becomes more advanced and is capable of targeting different varieties of backlink offenders.

    After the debut of Penguin 1.0 in May 2012 and its follow-up 2.0 in May 2013, search marketers have been anticipating the debut of a 3.0 version for the past several months. Only now are we seeing the update roll out, and only now are we able to identify the types of links that are being targeted by this latest iteration.

    Perform a thorough review of your link building strategy, and watch out for any of the following link types—they could be subject to new penalties from Penguin 3.0.

    Links Rooted in Optimized Anchor Text

    Anchor text-related practices have been on their way out for a while now. In the early days of SEO, it was advisable to root your links in keyword-specific anchor text, such as “cheap cat toys.” Gradually, Google’s updates worked against such practices, and even reduced the authority of links whose anchor text exactly matched a page title (such as “Cat Toys” leading to a page ending with “/cat-toys”) as of Penguin 2.0. Now, it appears that Google is further tightening its grip on optimized anchor text. While it’s still unclear exactly which factors affect the determination of which anchor text is acceptable and which is not, we do know that any anchor text that looks unnatural or contrived can—and probably will—be penalized under Penguin 3.0.

    Backlinks on Questionable Sources

    The source of your backlinks has always been important, and Penguin 3.0 is revisiting the guidelines of what is considered a quality source. High-authority sources, such as .gov or .edu sites, are still the cream of the crop—get a link on one of these sites, and you’ll definitely be fine. Other sites with high domain authority are also good choices. Low-quality sources, such as article mills and unfocused directories, are still carrying the penalties that came with Penguin 1.0 and 2.0, but Penguin 3.0 could be expanding the roster of what is considered a “low-quality” site. If you’re posting a link on a site and you’re not 100 percent sure it’s a safe source, you’re better off not posting. One high-quality link is worth much more than a handful of low-quality ones.

    Irrelevant or Unhelpful Backlinks


    Relevance is a subjective quality, but Penguin 3.0 is rolling out new, sophisticated algorithms that can allegedly determine the relevance of a given link. By analyzing the destination of the link, the relevance to it in the context of the conversation, and the qualities of the link’s source, Penguin 3.0 can improve on its predecessors by weeding out the links that appear to be built unnaturally.

    As a general rule, you should already be focused on building links that provide some type of value to readers and users. For example, if your link can justify a fact or contribute something positive to a conversation, it’s considered relevant, but if it only exists to shuttle people to your site, it could be considered irrelevant or unhelpful. Scrutinize your links through the lens of a harsh critic; would an annoyed, picky user feel like this link was necessary or helpful? If not, it could be the subject of a Penguin 3.0 penalty.

    Links on Guest Blogging Networks

    Guest blogging has long been an excellent strategy for brand visibility and link building alike, but some types of guest blogging are getting a crackdown from Google. Back in March, the guest blogging network MyGuestBlog was taken down with a massive penalty, and with the Penguin 3.0 update, it looks like that type of penalty could roll out to other, similar guest blogging networks. Posting a guest article on an outside site, especially one that’s relevant to your industry, is still a great way to build connections, share audiences, and build mutual authority. But posting blogs randomly on sources specifically designed to aggregate others’ blogs is a bad idea. Watch out for links on these sites, and try to keep your guest blogging focused on the most relevant hosts.

    Paid Links


    Unless you’re working with some type of affiliate program, paid links have always been—and continue to be—a bad idea. If you’re paying someone directly to build or host a link pointing back to your site, you can almost guarantee a penalty if your caught. Penguin 3.0 is able to detect paid link building efforts more accurately than either of its major predecessors, so review your past work and get rid of any paid links if you haven’t already.

    How to Know When You’ve Been Hit—and How to Recover

    If you’ve had any of these links before the onset of Penguin 3.0, there’s a chance you have been penalized as a result. Check your rankings, and if any have mysteriously dropped at some point between October 17th and today, odds are you have suffered a drop because of the newest update. Don’t fear! Penalties are only temporary, as long as you take corrective action to remove the offending links and replace them with long-term improvements to your link building campaign.

    If you have been penalized, your first step is to do a thorough review of your link profile and identify any potentially problematic links or link sources. You can use the free tool at Open Site Explorer to discover and analyze every backlink pointing to your site. Look out for links resembling the usual culprits we identified above, and make every effort to take them down.

    If you can’t remove them yourself, contact the webmaster of the source in question and formally request a removal. If you don’t get a response, try following up. If, after several attempts, you still cannot get the link down, you can try using Google’s Disavowal Tool to have each link ignored by Google’s robots. Only use it as a final option, however, because Google only approves a small percentage of requests.

    Over the course of the next several months, work on adjusting and perfecting your link building strategy to fall in line with Google’s latest standards. If you commit yourself to natural, valuable link building, you can expect to restore any ranking you lost, and inch closer to your long-term goals.

    If you need any help with recovering from the latest round of Penguin, consider using our Penguin Recovery services—we’re here to help restore your rank and improve your online reputation.

  9. How to Prepare for The Next Penguin Refresh

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    If you were around for the first few iterations of Google’s Penguin update, you know just how much of an impact it had on the world of link building and search marketing. For months, Penguin refreshes served as follow-up attacks to Google’s initial release, and search marketers were kept on edge, trying desperately to stay ahead of the curve.

    Now, it’s been quiet on the Penguin front since late 2013, and many search marketers believe we’re long overdue for a new update, or at least a refresh. With the recent release of Panda 4.1 marking a quarterly rhythm for the search giant back in September, experts suspect a Penguin refresh could be right around the corner. If you incorporate link building as part of your offsite SEO strategy, it’s vital that you take immediate measures to protect yourself against the inevitable refresh.

    A Glimpse Into Penguin’s History

    articleimage540A Glimpse Into Penguinu2019s History

    First, we’ll take a look into the chain of events that led to the most recent Penguin release, and why so many webmasters were hit with ranking penalties in the first place. Penguin 1.0 was first rolled out in April of 2012, designed as a complement and a follow-up to its predecessor in 2011, Panda. While the Panda update was created to penalize websites with low-quality or keyword-stuffed content, Penguin was created to penalize sites with low-quality or keyword-dense backlinks. It was a one-two punch that sent both onsite and offsite black-hat SEO practitioners scrambling.

    While Penguin 1.0 only affected around three percent of all search queries, the long-term impact it had on the world of link building was tremendous. Link builders could no longer build large quantities of keyword-stuffed, irrelevant links wherever they pleased. Instead, links had to be on-topic, posted in a relevant forum, and had to appear as a valuable and realistic part of the conversation.

    Between May and October of 2012, various refreshes of the Penguin update hit on an almost monthly basis, rolling out new penalties to link schemers who might have otherwise survived Penguin 1.0 without a penalty. In May of 2013, Penguin 2.0 was released, introducing even more sophisticated changes to Google’s ranking algorithm and affecting another 2.3 percent of all search queries.

    A handful of refreshes came between May and October, repeating the same pattern as 1.0. It led many to believe that Penguin 3.0 would hit in May of 2014, following the pattern, but it never did. Here we are in October, a year after the last known Penguin refresh, and we still haven’t seen an update.

    What to Expect From a Refresh

    articleimage540What to Expect From a Refresh

    There are two reasons to expect a new update. First, we’re overdue for one. It’s been more than a year now without any follow-up from Google, and it’s highly likely that they’ve developed some new sophisticated tricks to catch link schemers and penalize irrelevant links by now. Second, Panda 4.1 hit last month, just four months after the second latest major Google update. This may indicate a new, almost quarterly pattern for the search engine giant’s updates, putting a new Penguin update anytime between now and December.

    The next Penguin update could be a simple refresh—a new addition of data that Google then uses to distribute penalties or change ranks for sites whose backlink profiles have changed since the last refresh. The update could also be a major overhaul, the long-awaited Penguin 3.0, which would change some of the criteria for how backlinks are viewed, analyzed, and determined to calculate page rank.

    Either way, the update could affect your site’s rank if you aren’t up to speed with Google’s best practices for user experience and link building.

    How to Prepare

    articleimage540How to Prepare

    It’s impossible to tell whether the update will be a refresh or a major overhaul, but any update will require you to reevaluate your link building strategy, and proactively eliminate any questionable practices that could put you in jeopardy of getting a penalty.

    We’ve put together a step-by-step guide to help you do just that:

    Step One: Hunt Down and Disavow Any Questionable Links

    Your first step should actually be a part of your regular link building process. Once a month or so, it’s a good idea to go through your existing links and weed out any that might look suspicious, or ones that you haven’t built yourself. You can use a free tool, like Moz’s so-called “search engine for links, Open Site Explorer. Don’t judge too harshly, but if you do see a link that stands out from the rest, consider it for removal. First, try and delete the link yourself. If you cannot, contact the webmaster in charge of the site—you can usually find this contact information through a contact page or through the domain registrar. If the webmaster refuses to take the link down, you can file a request for disavowal with Google directly.

    Step Two: Review Your Sources and Timing

    Next, review the totality of your current strategy. Take a look at your “usual suspects” of link sources, and weed out any that might be considered irrelevant, spammy, or of low authority. Examples of bad sources include article directories, link building schemes, or blogs and forums not directly related to your industry. Replace these sources with higher quality sites like news affiliates and relevant forums. You’ll also want to review how many links you’re building, and how often you’re building them. Posting too many links too quickly could send a red flag to Google.

    Step Three: Increase Your Brand Mentions and Nofollow Links

    It may sound counterintuitive, but your link building strategy shouldn’t be solely reliant on traditional links. Instead of posting nothing but links, work more brand mentions and nofollow links into your strategy. Google’s algorithm detects non-linked brand mentions—that is to say, mentions of your company name, product names, etc.—and treats them as similar to links. Posting more brand mentions and fewer traditional links will give you a similar increase in domain authority without putting you at risk of a penalty. Nofollow links, which are links marked with a rel=nofollow tag, will not affect your rank at all, but will allow you to post links to your site without seeming spammy.

    Step Four: Encourage More Natural Link Building

    Finally, establish more avenues for natural link building. Your goal shouldn’t be to make your links appear more natural. It should be to make more natural links. You can do this by posting more relevant, engaging, amusing, or insightful forms of content such as infographics, videos, and detailed blog posts. Syndicate these through your social media channels, and if your content catches the public eye, you’ll easily attract hundreds of new links—and you’ll never have to worry about any of them triggering a penalty.

    Watch Out for Penguins

    Take the time to review and adjust your link building strategy—even if the next Penguin refresh doesn’t hit this year, you’ll still receive the benefits of the extra offsite authority, and reduce your chances of a future penalty.

    If the update does hit and your site seems to be affected—don’t panic. Contact us, and we’ll work with you to determine the root of your penalty, and rebuild your link profile to restore your rank.

  10. How to Recover From a Penguin 3 Penalty

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    Sooner or later, Penguin 3.0 is going to hit, and if it’s anything like its predecessors, it’s going to hit hard. Like previous Penguin updates, its intentions will probably revolve around rewarding sites with natural, relevant backlinks and penalizing sites with questionable practices. It’s best to be proactive and possibly prevent yourself from being penalized by adhering to best backlinking practices, but all it takes is a handful of suspicious links to garner a Google penalty.

    If you find yourself struck by the onset of Penguin 3.0, don’t worry. It might cause a temporary hiccup in your SEO strategy, but if you respond quickly and patiently rebuild your authority, you should be able to make a full recovery.

    Waiting for Penguin 3.0


    While Penguin 3.0 hasn’t yet been deployed, we speculate that it could happen any day now. Penguin 1.0 and 2.0 made major waves and as of the writing of this article, it has been 10 months since the last major rollout.

    Penguin 1.0 and 2.0

    Google Penguin 1.0—the first major backlink-specific update from Google—appeared on April 24, 2012, affecting approximately three percent of all search queries on the web. Designed to fight back against the backlink spamming practices associated with black hat search engine marketing, Penguin 1.0 unleashed a wave of penalties on sites whose backlinks were determined to be irrelevant, spammy, or otherwise intended solely to manipulate rank.

    Penguin 2.0 came out over a year later (after a handful of minor refreshes to 1.0) on May 22, 2013. It affected another 2.3 percent of all search queries, doling out another strong wave of penalties to sites with questionable backlink building practices.

    As a result, the world of link building changed completely. Search marketers were no longer able to rely on traditional practices, which favored the sheer number of backlinks over any other factor. Instead, search marketers were now forced to comply with Google’s new web experience standards—only posting links that are relevant and valuable to the reader, and only on authoritative, legitimate sites.

    What will the Penguin 3.0 update affect?

    Penguin 3.0 will undoubtedly be focused on improving backlink practices, just like its predecessors, but beyond that it’s difficult to tell. It could follow in the footsteps of its counterparts, affecting roughly three percent of all search queries, but there’s always the possibility that it could hit harder, closer to the 11 percent of search queries that Panda hit back in 2011.

    No matter how impactful it is, it’s highly likely that Penguin 3.0 will simply reinforce the standards that Google has already put in place: backlinks need to be varied in content, appropriate for context, valuable to the reader, and relevant to the site on which it is posted.

    When will it come?

    Since the release of the last Penguin 2.0 refresh, things have been relatively quiet. There have been regular Panda refreshes building upon the Panda update, as well as a handful of new updates designed to improve local searches and other peripheral factors, but there have been no major backlink-related updates since the last 2.0 refresh in October of 2013. That’s a gap of almost 11 months, putting search marketers on edge. The gap between Penguin 1.0 and 2.0 was slightly over a year, so if history is any indication, the 3.0 update should be coming by the end of 2014.

    Of course, Google is somewhat unpredictable. It could be another year before we see 3.0, or it could be tomorrow. Stranger still, it could never come at all. But our best guess is that Penguin 3.0 will be coming out by December.

    How to Know You’ve Been Penalized


    The word “penalty” gets thrown around often as a way to describe a sudden loss of search engine rank, but there is an important distinction between manual penalties specifically created to target a domain and the automatic search rank drops that come about as a result of an algorithm update. As a victim of the Penguin 3.0 update, it’s far more likely that you’ve suffered a loss as an indirect, automatic result of the algorithm change.

    If you keep track of your search engine ranks and domain authority (as you should), the penalty will be evident within a day or two of the algorithm’s official release. Depending on the severity of the penalty and the significance of the algorithm change, you could drop a few ranks or a few pages, for any or all of your keywords. If you notice a significant drop across the board, or notice that your domain authority has taken a heavy dip, it’s a clear indication that you’ve been penalized.

    If you have been penalized, try not to panic. Unless you’re engaging in heavy spam and shady link buying practices, your penalties will be short-lived as long as you respond appropriately—and even if you are engaging in spammy tactics, odds are Penguin 1.0 and 2.0 have already penalized you.

    Link Removal and Disavowal

    articleimage431Link Removal and Disavowal

    The first and most important step to take after identifying a Penguin 3.0 penalty is to start removing questionable links and disavowing links that are particularly bad offenders. Go through your backlink sources and immediately delete any links that feature the following:

    • Placement on a low-quality or irrelevant link directory
    • Placement on a blog or forum irrelevant to your industry
    • Spam-like qualities, in any context
    • Mass duplication of anchor text
    • Mass duplication of link destination (for example, if all your links point to your homepage)

    However, even deleted links can have a legacy effect on your site. If there are major offenders, such as a host of links coming from a known paid source, it’s better to perform a disavowal, which is essentially a notice sent to Google that requests them to ignore those links permanently in their search algorithm.

    Once your link profile has been cleaned of any possible offenders, your immediate actions are complete. All you can do at this point is maintain solid, high quality link building practices, and patiently wait until your rankings return to normal.

    Best Practices

    Moving forward, in order to recover from your Penguin 3.0 penalty or simply prevent a new penalty from occurring, you’ll need to follow best practices for backlink building:

    • Use a variety of sources.

    It’s a good long-term strategy to build links on as many external sources as reasonably possible. Play it like an investment strategy: diversify your portfolio.

    • Use high quality sources.

    Make sure all your sources are somewhat authoritative, relevant to your industry, and supportive of Google’s best practices. Don’t get caught in a web of spam.

    • Point links deep within your site.

    Only using links that point to your homepage is penalty bait. Instead, use a variety of links that point to your internal pages as well.

    • Blend backlinks and brand mentions.

    Links aren’t the only thing that counts anymore. Use links in combination with linked brand mentions and non-linked brand mentions for a multifaceted, conservative approach.

    • Use viral content to encourage natural link building.

    The best way to build links is to let your audience do it for you. Use high-quality, viral-sensitive content like infographics and whitepapers to attract sharers and link builders to point to your site.

    It will take time to recover from a penalty, even if you do everything right. But it’s important to be patient and comply with Google’s standards; spend your time giving your users a good experience and try not to worry about your specific ranks.

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