What every B2B webmaster needs to know about the Penguin 4.0 update

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Google’s Gary Illyes dropped the Penguin bomb on Twitter in a swift exchange with SEO Andrew Isidoro. The tweet indicates that we should expect Penguin 4.0 to come before 2015 ends. Thing is, Illyes didn’t give an exact date when asked.

Anticipation of the Google Penguin updates have webmasters and SEOs scrambling. When Google rolls out algorithm changes, penalized sites quickly lose their rankings, and some may be removed from Google’s index altogether.

Policing unnatural backlinks

Penguin first launched in April 2012 as a measure to keep the Internet helpful and valuable by catching sites that spam Google’s search results. Its goal was to identify and penalize sites that “cheat” Google’s algorithm by creating unnatural backlinks to rank higher in search results.

Unlike the Panda update which concerned itself more with on-site content quality, the Penguin update is focused on links.

It is often said that quality backlinks—links from a website to another—are internet marketing’s currency. Moz’s Marie Haynes wrote, “A link is like a vote for your site. If a well respected site links to your site, then this is a recommendation for your site. If a small, unknown site links to you then this vote is not going to count for as much as a vote from an authoritative site. Still, if you can get a large number of these small votes, they really can make a difference.”

Such a stress on backlinks has caused SEOs to do a lot of hand-wringing to get the right authoritative sites to show them link love. Some still try to game the system, but Google has been constantly working toward making Penguin’s filter as fine as possible.

How to prepare for Penguin 4.0

Gary Illyes alluded to a “continuously running Penguin” at a recent SMX search conference. This means Penguin will be running 24/7 and subsequent “versions” need not be rolled-out as the algorithm is updated in real-time.

Forbes writes this is important news for the digital marketing community since there’s still a prevalence of spammy tactics taking place. “In fact, even though Google claims that black-hat tactics do not work, there’s lots of evidence that the contrary is true. But in Google’s defense, they are making it much more difficult for black-hat marketers to succeed.

With Penguin going real-time the algorithm will now catch spam link profiles more quickly and help keep sites from ranking well in SEO that really have no business ranking in the Google search results.”

As with any Penguin update, it’s still primary to keep a site’s backlink portfolio spotless, rid of spam links.

A full SEO audit is ideal, of course—but a quick check with tools like Moz’s Open Site Explorer will give an idea of the quality of backlinks a site holds. It’s true that spam sites might be backlinking to a site although a site’s SEO and webmaster have been diligent at keeping their backlink portfolio clean. It’s not automatically telling that a site has been doing black hat marketing just because of spam links.

That said, audit links and identify if they fall under any of these categories:

  • Private blog network (PBN) links
  • Links that were intentionally requested for SEO purposes
  • Links that were bought for SEO purposes

To avoid getting caught in the Penguin 4.0 update, an SEO expert or webmaster needs to request all unnatural links directing to their site be removed. It’s well-documented that the most effective way to do this is by emailing webmasters one by one. It is a painstaking task, but it’s worth doing to avoid getting penalized by Google and losing all your site’s built authority.

If this method doesn’t work, disavowing and slapping on no-follow attributes to links are the next best steps.

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Aki Merced

Aki Merced

Aki Merced is a freelance business and technology writer. Her focus is on creating content that connects and converts. Visit her website at www.akimerced.com. Follow her on twitter @akimerced.