4 Ways To Avoid Getting Hit By Google Penguin 4.0

With Google Penguin 4.0 expected to launch within weeks, the clock is ticking and time is running out for those who still need to implement the necessary steps to avoid the algorithm update causing problems for their brand. Despite being only a few weeks off 18 months since the last refresh of this spam-fighting machine, we’re confident that the rollout is imminent and that those who have been trying to take shortcuts and violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines will get what they deserve; drops in organic search positions and subsequent traffic.

BUT…there’s still time to put in place a plan to prevent any form of negative action from the rollout and even those who are confident they’ve nothing to worry about are strongly encouraged to spend half a day working through a short (but highly important) checklist of points.

Having previously spent time reversing the negative effects of Penguin for a number of named brands whose previous SEO agencies behaved irresponsibly, we’re confident in our approach to prevention, something which we’re only more than happy to share:

  • Conduct A Backlink Audit

How many SEO’s and digital marketers can truly say that they audit either their own or their clients backlink profiles on a regular basis? Not enough! Whilst the majority of marketers in 2016 are fully aware about the importance regularly auditing and monitoring the link profile of a site, it’s one of those tasks which is easy to leave until another day. With Google continually delaying the release of the forthcoming Penguin 4.0 algorithm, it’s no surprise that some are pushing back the time for a thorough audit but the reality is that there’s no time better than the present. Why? If there is anything unnatural flagged up, the longer timeframe there is to resolve it the better.

Don’t risk seeing negative action from Penguin simply because you kept putting off carrying out a thorough link audit. By thorough, we mean just that! Don’t be tempted to rely solely on one tool either as it’s still unusual for anyone product to pick up every single link which is pointing to a site. The best combination of tools as far as many are concerned is Ahrefs, Majestic and Google Search Console.

First things first; grab a spreadsheet from each tool which contains the links pointing to the site in question…direct URLs are far better than just the root domains. It may then take a little time but the next step is to set about merging the various sheets into one master one…that way you can see at a glance the entire link profile and be able to easily and quickly filter out duplicates.

From there, you’ll find you now have a ‘master’ sheet which outlines the entire link profile of a website. That’s all well and good but on it’s own, it’ll do nothing towards protecting your site from Penguin…it’s what you do with the data next that counts.

Spend time analysing both the link source and the anchor text and be prepared to start colour coding! You’re looking to highlight those links which either come from an unnatural source or display unnatural signals in the form of over-optimised anchor texts.

An unnatural anchor text is generally regarded as one which utilises a commercial term (as an example ‘red shoes’ rather than ‘buy red shoes from www.123.com’ or ‘as seen here,’ both of which are more natural ways of linking) however unnatural sources are, in theory, anything which has not been earned naturally. Common unnatural sources of links include bought links (sitewide sidebar or footer links are a common sign), spammy directories and spun articles.

In an ideal world, every link in the link profile needs to be marked either as ‘natural,’ ‘unnatural’ or ‘unsure’ to be able to fully assess the next steps.

  • Remove Unnatural Links

Once you’re confident you’ve analysed the full link profile (yes, it does take time but something which is a necessity), it’s time to get to work on dealing with those links which you’ve deemed to be unnatural. Be warned that having links removed does take time but it’s an activity which is important to carry out if you have even the slightest level of doubt about certain links in the link profile.

Whilst there’s various tools out there which claim to do much of the manual work for you, in many cases you can’t beat the accuracy of doing things manually and when it comes to link removal, it’s one of those times.

Armed with your list of unnatural links, start to populate another column on your spreadsheet with the contact email address for the site owner. You’ll often find this on a ‘contact’ page but may sometimes need to settle for a contact form or even the email listed when running a WHOIS check. This data will form the basis of outreach to request the removal.

When it comes to reaching out to those who are linking in an unnatural way to the site, be sure to work your way through one by one (avoid bulk emailing, as tempting as it may be) and take the time to highlight the exact URL of the page where you’d like the link removing from. It’s amazing what a difference something so small makes when it comes to response rates.

Be polite and don’t forget to follow up at least twice over the coming weeks to increase your chances. Whilst some webmasters will undoubtedly request payment for removal of links, don’t do it! Simply make a note of the site in question for future reference.

Whilst you’ll likely struggle to get everything removed, it’s important that you take the time to get as much removed as possible, doing your bit to cleaning up a questionable link profile.

  • Prepare & Submit A Disavow File

In an ideal world, you’d be able to have every unnatural link removed prior to Penguin 4.0 being released, however in reality, that’s never going to happen. Due to the way in which many links were ‘built’ in previous times (automated software and bought links from India being two common culprits), it’s near on impossible to remove everything of concern, however that’s where Google’s Disavow Tool comes into play.

As a general rule, we’d recommend putting together a disavow file (and submitting to Google Search Console) which goes deeper than you’d initially think of going. If you’re unsure as to whether a link is natural or unnatural, play it safe and include it within your disavow file.

You can read more about how to structure a disavow file here.

At this stage, with Penguin 4.0 set to rollout within weeks, preparing and submitting a disavow file is likely your best chance of avoiding a penalty if your link profile contains anything questionable. Whether it’s one link, one hundred links or more; if you’re concerned about any links in your link profile, play it safe and disavow…sooner rather than later as well! x

  • Stop Building Links & Start Earning Them

Whilst by taking the correct steps there’s a very good chance that there’s still time to save your brand from Penguin 4.0 should a website’s link profile contain any links with either a questionable source or an exact-match anchor text, in the long-term the real question to address is why such links found their way in at all.

Even in 2016, some four years after the initial rollout of Penguin, too many marketers are still taking risks, going for quick and easy wins rater than adopting a long-term approach which sees sustainable results delivered. As such, a website can find itself with unnatural links pointing to it for a multitude of reasons.

To us, there’s no other alternative than stopping building links in an unnatural way and starting to earn them. Whilst the approach for earning links differs from marketer to marketer, if you always adopt the stance that links must be earned, you’ll find yourself coming up with a whole host of ways to do so…some a little more realistic than others. Tried and tested ways to earn links include various forms of content marketing, an approach which really does allow you to get creative, test your marketing skills and put together something which others genuinely do want to link to, share and cover!

At the end of the day, there’s never been a more important time to take the steps to prevent any form of negative action once Google Penguin 4.0 launches over the coming weeks. Put in the hours now and even if you find there’s nothing to worry about, you’ll be able to rest assured that the forthcoming update will be of no worry to you and your business.