google penguin 3.0 algorithm updateDuring October and November 2014, the web was buzzing with talk about Google’s Penguin 3.0 update: was it big? Was it small? Who did it help? Who did it hurt?

What is Penguin?

The Penguin algorithm, originally launched in April 2012, was designed to demote sites that were “over-optimized” (read: look like unnatural, spammy sites).

Some major factors that could cause a site to be demoted included:

  • keywords being put unnaturally into a page’s text
  • lots of links from low-quality sites (often a result of buying links or being part of a blog network)
  • too many links with highly-optimized anchor text (e.g. lots of links linking to a site with the words “best lawyer in birmingham”)

Penguin has since undergone several refreshes and an update. A Google algorithm update is when they change the algorithm and relaunch it, to try and make it better and catch more issues. A Google algorithm refresh is when they run the same algorithm again to catch sites that somehow slipped under the radar, and to give another chance to sites that improved since the last time it was run.

The web community thought that Penguin 3.0 would be an update. After all, it’s been a year since the last one. But it turned out to be just a refresh, affecting 1% of English language search queries.

Who did it hit?

Unnatural, over-optimized link profiles were again the prime targets, and those were the main sites hit. Although search marketers were surprised to see a good number of spammy sites that still have not been caught.

Penguin 3.0 didn’t just strew misery in its wake. Sites that have worked to clean up their act since being hit by one of the last Penguin updates (not a small feat), were thrilled to see traffic pick up significantly.

How do I know if it hit me?

If you haven’t noticed any changes in your search traffic (which you can check with Google Analytics or a similar tool), you can rest assured that this Penguin passed you over.

If you see a significant drop in traffic on or after Friday, October 17, there’s cause for concern. What if that’s you? Spring-cleaning your site from spammy text and spammy backlinks, while labor-intensive, is the only way to recover from Penguin.

The above quoted article on the site that saw a Penguin recovery also gives an in-depth look at the Penguin recovery process. In a nutshell:

  • fix any junky pages you have on your site with keywords stuffed unnaturally into the text (make sure that a human being wouldn’t raise their eyebrows at the writing)
  • identify junky sites linking to your site (especially when they use unnatural anchor text and/or they link to LOTS of pages on your site)
  • write to the webmasters of those sites asking them to take the links down
  • identify good quality sites that link to you using unnatural anchor text
  • if there are too many of those, write to the webmasters asking them to change the text to your brand name, website address, or something more natural
  • if they don’t take the links down/change them, you can tell Google to discount them using Google’s Disavow Links tool

Penguin-proofing your website

You weren’t hit, but you’d like to make sure you don’t get hit in the future? Wise.

If you think your site has links from spammy sites, it’s smarter to take care of it now than after you’re hit by Google. Don’t be afraid to admit it – using blog networks and paid links, although technically against Google’s Terms of Service, were very “in” a few years ago (pre-Penguin) as a quick, cheap way to up your rankings. If you were involved yourself, or if you hired an SEO company that built you a lot of links and you’re not sure exactly how they did it, look into your link profile.

Get as complete a backlink list as you can, from Google Webmaster Tools (use the instructions in the first part of the article), Open Site Explorer, or other SEO tools that run backlink checks.

If there are junky looking sites that link with unnatural anchor text, or link to lots of pages on your site, highly recommended to get rid of them.

This can be an intensive process. If you don’t have the time, it may be worth getting an SEO specialist to check your links and fix any problems.

Going forward, avoid participating in blog networks or link schemes. Don’t use guestblogging as a way to get links. Guest blog for exposure to your target audience. If a site fits that criteria, by all means submit. If you’re only doing it for the link, don’t bother.

If you got caught by Penguin 3.0, we wish you a speedy recovery. Otherwise, we hope you stay clear of those vicious Penguins and that they stay clear of you!