Penguin, Everything you need to know and then some

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I’ve been having as number of new clients reach out to me over the past few weeks following Google’s October 2014 Penguin update. It’s time to dispel some of the nonsense and give some actionable advice on how to get out of a Penguin penalty.   Please note this isn’t going to work for everyone.  It depends how much damage you have done to your site.

What is Penguin:

Google’s penguin algorithm’s is designed to demote pages that violate Google “Webmaster Guidelines” and use paid link schemes to artificially increase the ranking of a website.

Before 2012 it used to be possible to rank a website by creating links using anchor text that was an exact match for a money keyword.  Think “Build My Rank” and other PBN’s. If you had a competitive term, you could simply build multiple links using the same anchor text.

Whilst this worked great for a number of years, it creates an un-natural backlink footprint and made it easy for Google to identify websites that had exploited the mechanism to gain an advantage within the search index.  Penguin works simply by applying a penalty (slap) to any site with a backlink profile that falls into this category.

Penguin is manually applied when Google deems fit.  Refreshes are supposed to be every 3-6 months.  In the last instance there was no Penguin re-fresh for 12 month.

If a website falls foul of Penguin, the site is penalised and will lose at best -50 positions for an over-optimised keyword.  At worst the site will not rank at all for a given keyword at all.

Getting Out of a Penguin Penalty: Getting out of a penguin penalty is simple.   Whilst Penguin is the most feared update, people tend to give Google too much credit.  A the end of the day, Google is still just a black box.  If you understand how it works, you can create the conditions to break a website out of a penalty by feeding the search engine variables that will give the impression of a natural back link profile.

  • Penguin penalties are algorithmic. Unlike a manual penalty, you cannot appeal to Google to release a site from a Penguin penalty.  You need to wait for a Penguin refresh.
  • Penalties are applied for over-optimised backlink profiles. Breaking out of a penalty requires patience (see point 1) and a hard work to naturalise the anchor text ratio for the affected website.

Naturalising the backlink profile of a site: 

What the components of a natural backlink profile:

  • Benign anchor text e.g. click here, check out this website, view more.
  • Branded links…e.g. the name of your website or a naked URL.
  • Infrequently duplicated long tail, LSI conversational anchor text.
  • Links directed to deep pages (not just the root page).
  • Links from a diverse range of class B +C IP addresses.

What does a natural backlink profile look like:

  • Almost all links directed at the site are branded links 70%+
  • 10% of the link profile is usually benign anchors.
  • The remaining 20% are usually conversational anchor, 5% directed at the home page and 15% directed at deep pages.

Penguin friendly anchor text ratios are hotly contested amongst SEO’s.  I am personally risk adverse and never use exact match anchor text within a client’s backlink profile.

How to break out of a penguin penalty:

  • Link building. I prime a website with an enterprise Knowem campaign, high quality business directories, analytics profiles and a high end syndicated press release.  I complete each profile 100% using images and hand spun text also interlinking each profile where possible to encourage Google to index them.  This has the added benefit of creating a branded link graph, brand signals and builds trust.  The entire process will create 1000+ branded links
  • Make sure the site has a branded Google plus page and load an entry on freebase.
  • I also suggest bringing the main social profiles only e.g. Twitter, Google Plus and as many others as logistically possible.
  • Whilst doing this I also catalogue existing links and reach out to the owners of sites already linking to an affected website, asking them to change the anchor text. Some webmasters will ask for a fee to do this.  I use Buzzsteam and URL profiler to aid in this task.
  • This process will push the backlink profile to a natural ratio of branded links vs contextual anchors so long as you didn’t do too much damage in the first place.
  • If I am not successful with my outreach attempt, I collate any remaining undesirable links and submit them to Google’s disavow tool (Google will not count these links towards a sites ranking score if disavowed ).
  • Wait for the next Penguin refresh.
  • Pray to whatever god you worship!