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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.