Who doesn’t love a good Google update?
If you’ve so much as dabbled in SEO you probably already know that these updates can be cause for some serious nail-biting.
It usually goes something like this: Google announces they’ve made an update to their algorithm and they provide some perfunctory details. What follows is a few weeks of chaos and turbulence in search rankings.
Then, as the dust starts to settle, us SEO professionals end up reaching for one of two things: the champagne or the whiskey.
Fortunately, Penguin 4.0 was an update that both improves the Google experience for searchers and search marketing professionals alike. It’s also the last “public” update that Google will make to the Penguin algorithm.
But to understand that and more, let’s first cover a little history shall we?
What is Penguin Anyway?
For folks just stepping into the SEO space, a little background is in order.
Penguin is a specific Google algorithm. Google actually has a number of algorithms. Each is dedicated to achieving a particular goal in their overall plan to better the web for searchers.
When Google first unveiled and released the Penguin algorithm update, it quickly made waves. Penguin was specifically aimed at catching sites that bought or obtained spammy links.
See, everyone knows that search engine optimization companies build links. But some companies decide to focus on quantity instead of quality.
Spoiler alert: this doesn’t play so well with Google (or search engine users themselves).
Penguin penalizes sites that build low-quality or spammy links by devaluing the sites to which those crummy links pointed.
If you landed yourself a Google penalty due to Penguin, you were in for a rough ride. Getting those penalties reversed took a lot of hard work, and a lot of time.
Image courtesy: Screaming Frog Ltd
In fact, site-owners needed to wait for the next “Penguin Update” to rollout, to have their penalty removed. Basically, whatever work you did to reverse a penalty would be handled by Google in the interim.
But until a Penguin Update rolled out, you wouldn’t see that penalty reversed or see your site start showing up in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) again.
What Did It Mean For SEO?
Well, a couple of things. But mostly, it taught SEO firms to be careful about what kind of link-building activities they engaged in.
Us savvy search marketers already knew to focus on quality, but this really brought the hammer down on corner-cutters.
First and foremost, these updates were generally rolled out slowly and deliberately. There’s a lot of volatility to consider when it comes to valuing/devaluing links.
It’s not a pleasant subject, but negative SEO attacks became an increasingly common point of discussion after Penguin was first released.
It stands to reason. If crummy links can cause a site to drop out of the SERPs, what’s to stop a competing SEO from just building a bunch of spammy links to your site?
Image courtesy: Cognitive SEO
Google would like you to believe that these attacks don’t happen, but I’d expect you to challenge that assumption. It’s clearly in their best interest to claim these occurrences are exceedingly rare. To be fair, they are rare, but worth mentioning regardless.
Do a little digging and you’ll find a fair number of cases where sites and businesses have been on the receiving end of negative SEO campaigns. You’ll also find Google has gradually amended their statements from “it’s impossible for this to happen” to “it’s highly unlikely this will happen.”
Matt Cutts himself has been quoted on a few occasion corroborating that negative SEO can occur.
“For the people who are in maybe super competitive poker, casino, whatever kind of niches and they’re worried about, ‘OK, what if someone is trying to do some ill will towards my site?’ we’ve just released a new tool called disavow links.” – Matt Cutts
Regardless of the negative SEO angle, Penguin updates have unequivocally been for the best. No one likes spam. No one likes irrelevant sites landing in the top ranks due to search engine manipulation.
Further, the subsequent introduction of the Google disavow tool has done a great job of empowering site owners to minimize the risk and damage of negative SEO attacks (or their own clumsy link-building).
What Changed with Penguin 4.0?
Penguin 4.0 brought in a number of changes, and boy are they welcome. The critical reception so far has been very positive.
The most important of these changes is best described by Google themselves.
“With this change, Penguin’s data is refreshed in real time, so changes will be visible much faster, typically taking effect shortly after we recrawl and reindex a page.” – Google
That’s right, Penguin data is now analyzed in real time. So if you do make a mistake and build some low-quality links, you’ll quickly see the consequence of this action.
Further, and more importantly, if you disavow those links and proceed responsibly, your site will be able to recover quickly. No more waiting two years for a Penguin refresh to see your site make its way back into the SERPs!
Secondly, instead of bad links hurting an entire site’s search visibility, they’ll now generally affect only the pages to which they’re pointing.
“Penguin is now more granular. Penguin now devalues spam by adjusting ranking based on spam signals, rather than affecting ranking of the whole site.” – Google
Again, no real downside here. This makes it easier for search engine optimization companies to operate smartly and within Google’s established best-practice boundaries.
The impact was pretty much in line with what we’ve seen from other Penguin updates that came before it. Similarly, the resulting search volatility was fairly predictable as well.
Displayed in this snapshot: The ranking volatility index courtesy Algoroo.
So What Does This Change?
Well, this really depends on how you treated SEO beforehand.
For those of us that have always been focused on being responsible, practicing high-quality link building, and aiming for long-term growth this doesn’t necessarily change a whole lot.
But it’s definitely welcome to have the peace of mind that it will be easier to recover from a negative SEO attack or undo a link-building mistake.
For anyone still clinging onto their need to cut corners, this should serve as a reminder that the days of link-spamming have long been numbered.
Now that the effects of poor link-building will take hold more quickly, it will be easier to understand and visualize the cause and effect. This means it will be increasingly difficult for shady SEO practitioners to achieve results or maintain their clients’ trust.
So what can you do going forwards?
Don’t use PBN’s and don’t build spammy links
That Fiverr gig offering 50 links for $5? Yeah… don’t buy that. Also, if you’ve survived up to this point using a private blog network, do yourself a favor and cut your losses. It’s time to move on!
Create relevant content
It’s harder to build quality and relevant content, but it’s worth the added time and effort. This is still one of the most effective and reliable ways to build valuable links to your domain.
Build quality links, naturally
Publicity, marketing, social media, and article contributions. This is how you can truly make waves in your niche. You can use the Skyscraper technique to improve upon something that’s already been built. Alternatively, think creatively and out of the box to find innovative ways to get a leg up.
Some tried-and-true techniques:
- Guest posts: While this term has started to sound a bit played out and lame, it’s still one of the single most effective ways to build relevant and useful links. Just don’t go about it “for the links” only. Make sure you’re bringing something creative and helpful to the table.
- Competitive research: Using tools like SpyFu and Ahrefs, you can discover where your competitors have built links and start going after both the same and similar sources.
- Social bookmarks: Curating useful social feeds and linking to your own content within them is a great way to build up strong anchor-text diversity.
- Republish content: There is no shortage of publications willing to republish great content. If you follow this path, just make sure you include rel canonical tags to avoid any future duplicate content issues.
- Answer questions on relevant forums: The pattern here, which you may have noticed, is to make yourself useful. Answering questions regarding your specialty on relevant forums is a great way to contribute, earn loyalty, and earn a few links where appropriate.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Onwards and upwards folks.
Google will continue its long march to make the search results pages the best they can be for end-users.
SEO companies will continue to innovate new and exciting ways to impact the search results.
All of that being said, the competition in search engine optimization today is largely focused on rankings a few select and relevant sites. It’s far more uncommon (than it used to be) to see useless or irrelevant sites making their way to the front page for search terms with any volume.
To the astute observer, this would indicate that Google has been succeeding in its war against unscrupulous SEOs. Unless there’s some big breakthrough, I wouldn’t expect to see the tides turn anytime soon.
What we can all do now, is continue to strive towards achieving sustainable results while keeping the end-user experience in mind at every step of the way.
About The Author:
Sam Warren is the marketing manager at RankPay (@rankpay), a top-rated performance-based SEO service. Sorry ladies, he’s married and the proud father of a 10lb chihuahua mutt. When Sam’s not writing or growing businesses, he likes to talk about himself in the third person.
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