Browse through any internet marketing message boards, and the buzz about Penguin; is deafening. When 2.0 launched in October of 2013, Google’s beloved update took aim at spammy practices and black hat backlinks tactics. Updates have continued to be released unexpectedly, but nothing significant enough to warrant a 3.0 label. It’s coming though – we don’t know when, but we know it’s on the way.
Rather than wait until the release hits and becoming reactionary, it’s wise to take stock of your site and SEO practices now to identify areas that require improvement. This article will serve as your handy guide to prepping for an onslaught of penguins. Act now, or prepare to get pummeled.
Penguin’s Poignant Purpose
Google has made one thing clear over the years: they don’t like spammy tricksters who attempt to cheat the system. Why? Because users don’t like the results. If a search for “best shoe site” yields link farms and sites that are simply traffic hogs without any supporting content, users will be disgruntled and go elsewhere. Google is therefore a slave to their searchers.
Penguin, unlike its cousin Panda, aims specifically for backlinks and related SEO practices. If sites are clearly purchasing backlinks or are an aforementioned link farm, their search engine results were likely highly diminished when Penguin first hit the scene.
Some sites aren’t necessarily black and white in their practices, and plenty of small business owners felt the squeeze, but without an understanding of how or why. If you don’t yet know how affected you’ve been by any of the updates, check out this handy free Penguin results tool; it will show you what you need to know.
How to Ensure You’re Not Dinged by Penguin’s Update
Here are some critical tips to follow so you don’t see your SERPs plummet:
- Be diligent about checking all sites that link back to you. If they are questionable in any way (content, black hat practices, irrelevant to your industry, etc.), not only will the links not help you, they could diminish an otherwise stellar reputation.
- Use backlink verifiers like IWebTool and OpenSiteExplorer to thoroughly check your links.
- Be meticulous about the data you see in Google’s Webmaster Tools. Check your site’s stats to ensure you have no offenders. The best way to proceed is to comb through the list of sites who link to you. This is laborious, but worth it; not following up on these links can be hugely detrimental to your marketing efforts.
- Use sites like RemoveEm, which feature tools that try and predict which links are bad. If you notice a good number of questionable links, consider doing a full-service paid option to enlist professionals in your quest to clean house.
Once you identify all the offenders, it’s a two-step process:
- Make sure you are not linking to these sites.
- Contact the webmasters of each site and request link removal. In your letter, make it clear you’re a site owner addressing a Google penalty, and be specific about the URLs you want removed. Include the full URL where the link can be found, your link, anchor text, and any other specific and relevant details. Make this as easy on them as possible so you’re more likely to get a positive response.
Some sites have contact information that is difficult to track down. To unearth the info you need, earch for @WEBSITENAME to see if any results yield an address, or, if available, use the website’s Contact form. If you’re still not having any luck, these tools can help:
- SpyOnWeb: Perfect when you have a single URL to research. SpyOnWeb lets you find all domains associated with a URL. All you need is the website address, IP address, or Google Analytics / Ad Sense code.
- DomainTools: Lets you do a whois.sc lookup to find the owner of any site you’re listed on. They can’t hide from you forever.
- Keep excellent records of these bad links, and all attempts at correspondence. If you ever do get dinged by Google, this kind of paper trail shows your due diligence and can help tremendously.
- Finally, if you feel Penguin erroneously penalized your website, fill out the Penguin complaint form on Google’s site. You’ll need to list the specific search terms you feel you are wrongly penalized for, but it’s worth the effort if you know it’s a mistake.
A word to the wise: backlinks are rarely neutral. They either help your results by giving you credibility and relevant industry support, or they hurt you through black hat practices. Don’t amass links just for the sake of having them; they have to make sense, and your partners must echo the same integrity and commitment to quality. Otherwise, Penguin will strike.