After 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.
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.
What can we help you with?