Google Penguin

Penguin 4 arrival imminent?

Speculation is rife that Penguin 4 will rollout any day now…

Why should you care? Well every indication, including posts from Google themselves is that Penguin 4 will ratchet up backlink testing to another level.
Is my website’s Google ranking at risk?
If you don’t have any backlink issues in your website then you’re likely safe, but frankly most people wouldn’t know. If you have been ‘buying’ links for SEO reinforcement you’re at risk. If people have innocently linked to your site in a manner that Penguin considers to be ‘unnatural’ you may also be at risk.
What is Penguin?
Penguin is Google’s backlink checking system – It sniffs out ‘unnatural’ backlinks and if you have too many, Google will penalise your site as a result. Backlinks are the ‘old-world SEO’ way of convincing Google to rank your site higher in search results. Historical abuse of backlinks led to Google originally introducing their Penguin backlink checking sub-system.
When is Penguin 4 due?
Google have been talking up Penguin 4 since Dec 2015, but its ETA has slipped considerably. Speculation is now mounting about P4’s imminent arrival.
What is different about Penguin 4?
Despite 3 earlier versions, unnatural backlinking has still managed to fly under Penguin’s radar. Google has made a number of improvements in Penguin 4 to analyse backlink legitimacy. Also it will also operate ‘real-time’ rather than running occasionally/intermittently.
What should you be doing?
Assess your site’s current backlink profile for backlink naturalness
Seek to remove or disavow any unnatural backlinks

Don’t naively fall into a Google Penalty

A Client asked: Is it a good idea to try to get links from other sites and directories to help make my site more powerful? 

This question pops up regularly from folks who want to build their website’s exposure in Google searches. Before the Penguin 5 release in October 2103 the answer was definitely YES, now the answer is it DEPENDS ON LINK QUALITY.

The whole area of backlinks i.e. links from other sites is now extremely fragile/potentially dangerous and I strongly recommend involving SEO professionals or risk destroying your website’s organic performance.

What is a Backlink ?

A Backlink a connection from another website (or web resource) back to your site.  If someone on the other site ‘clicks’ the link, they arrive at your site.

Backlinks and Google

Penguin 5 (later renamed Penguin 3.0 ) was a major turning point in Google’s critical examination of backlinks to your site. If  the Penguin software decided you were trying to scam Google with bad or ‘unnatural’ backlinks, the site was punished by reducing its ranking by 20-30 positions – across all keywords – i.e. pushing your site into obscurity.

Why Does Google punish websites with unnatural links ?

While the cynic inside me says ‘…because they can’, I have to admit it was overdue. Up to 2013 it was common knowledge in SEO circles that the more links, the better search exposure a website would get. SEO programs were essentially about getting as many backlinks as possible. An entire industry emerged that specialised in producing links for anyone who would pay. These flourished in countries where labour costs made this a viable service offering.

Then the brains trust at Google said ‘No More’ – this is scamming the system. They created a subsystem (called Penguin) to inspect back links to try to neutralise the positive influence of ‘unnaturally created’ backlinks in Google searches. Almost instantly, millions of websites were impacted. Globally, many businesses found their websites didn’t attract sales leads any longer because they disappeared from search results.

Who knows how many businesses who specialised in link building collapsed – and I imagine that 100’s of thousands of people (many in 3rd world countries) lost their employment. Let’s not get into a discussion about the ethics of Google’s decision(s) or their largely unfettered  influence on the global economy.

Notably spending on Google ads increased as business owners scrambled for online exposure, when SEO was less certain.

What is Link Quality?

The Penguin software assesses if the links to your site are principally ‘real’ or if they are ‘unnatural’ in which case applies an automatic or  ‘algorithmic penalty’ on the site. As you might expect making this judgement is a complex process, which occasionally makes mistakes so from time to time Google updates its Penguin system to presumably refine it.

Note that Google also uses human backlink assessors in some situations who can impose a manual penalty on sites. Presumably they are alerted by software (probably Penguin) if a site has a suspicious backlink profile that can’t be automatically assigned a penalty.

This FAQ on What is a Low quality Backlink documents factors Google uses to determine Link Quality

How do I know which are the good backlinks?

It’s not easy, but I find that these two toolsets provide the most reliable assessment of backlink profiles:

  • Cognitive SEO
    My favourite link profile toolset as it provides:

    • The ability to import links that are reported in Google Webmasters Tools
    • ‘Auto-Classifies’ links into Un-natural, Suspect and OK
  • AHRefs
    uick and convenient

Each of these SEO Toolsets provides some ability to provide link profile assessments without having to buy the product, so you can certainly have a bash at self-assessing your site, but if you need a detailed link profile report contact me and I’ll prepare and interpret it for you.

How many bad links can I have before a penalty?

Great question but unfortunately the answer is only speculative, and like many things Google, it’s a moving target. There are a small number of unnatural links in most site’s link profile – often these are inadvertently or innocently ‘unnatural’.
As a broad rule of thumb I suggest keep the ratio of unnatural links well under 10% of all links. NB This could change without notice!

How do I get rid of bad backlinks?

Essentially you need to get them removed, and as they exist on another website you need to get the person who controls that site to do it.  This article covers the process of removing unnatural backlinks.

Your fall-back position is to ask Google to disavow your site of these links.

I’ve removed the back backlinks. What now ?

Sit tight and wait for the next Penguin crawl. When is the next Penguin update you ask? Great question. I wish I knew the answer. You can visit resources like Algoroo that track Google updates, and wait with bated breath.

…and now the character building comment: It’s unlikely your website will bounce back to its pre-penalty ranking. Yep. That is a fact. The path to full recovery from a penalty is indeed long and tortuous

I hope I’ve persuaded you that it’s really important to not get penalised in the first place.

How exposed is your site to a Penguin penalty ?

Just this week I examined a website’s link profile to discover that some idiot has just added 300+ clearly unnatural links over the last 2 months. It’s a penalty time bomb, and the site will surely collapse into search obscurity after the next Penguin spin cycle.

I’m horrified to see an allegedly ‘professional SEO provider’ is still performing unnatural back linking. I’m also concerned for the client who has been paying good money for this naive and dangerous ‘SEO Service’. They’ve got some short-term results but at any moment their site is going to fall into a Penguin penalty.

Make no mistake. It’s still going on right now.

Take Aways:

  1. Get your website’s backlink profile checked
  2. Get bad backlinks removed
  3. Breathe
  4. Go to 1.


Don’t get punished by Google.

Google targets a guest blog network

In the latest stage of Google’s evolution into the ‘Internet Police’, Matt Cutts from Google’s Web Spam Team announced that they have targeted a large ‘Guest Blog Network’ for not playing to their rules.

So its official now, Guest Blogging is yet another high risk activity that you should avoid if you want your website to rank successfully in Google.  Ann Smarty, owner of the affected site has this to say about it. Undoubtedly this will have an impact on the commercial viability of this business, and I feel for her because her case seems genuine.

Beyond this though, what does that mean for business folks, who at least in part depend on their websites for sales leads ?
Here’s selection of things that Google now considers ‘naughty’ and may indiscriminately cripple your website’s ability to generate online sales leads if it finds them in your site:

Paid Ad Links
A ‘technically naive’ online advert, including unsolicited ones that you don’t even know about.
Be very careful with ads and anything that can be misconstrued as an ad eg advertorials etc
The acknowledgement of your support on the local kids club site might be killing your sales leads…

Poor quality back links
From backlinkers who either don’t care or don’t know or both.
Again these can be links that you didn’t initiate or condone.
Backlink quality is critical since Penguin 5, Oct 2013.

Obsessively and unnaturally repeated keywords throughout the site known as ‘keyword stuffing’.

Internal errors
Google wants your site to give visitor’s a good experience.
Broken pages, links and images aren’t consistent with this.

Hidden links & text
You can’t hide stuff from Google to gain a benefit. Don’t even try.
In fact any ‘deceptive’ characteristics in your site wont bode well.

Website performance
Poorly coded sites, a slow web server, overweight images and more will impact user experience and so your ranking.
If your website is unreliable – it goes down, or fails regularly this will hurt you too.

Too much advertising
Too many ads displayed on your site, particularly at the top of the page (ie ‘above the fold’) will cost you more than you gain.

Copied and/or ‘Thin Content’
Text borrowed from other sites will just land you in hot water with Google, as will pages that don’t provide any real value for visitors.
Write your own, or invest in a good copywriter.
Your investment will pay for itself in online leads.

Hacked website
Yes – if your site is hacked and Google finds it they will put a scary notice in your site’s search result, and a scarier page if you try to visit that site.
Expect to drop in rankings or even disappear.
Oh, prospects aren’t going to risk visiting your site either anyway…

Poor mobile pages
Google will judge your site’s ability to provide a good experience to mobile users too.
This are a growing portion of searchers, and predicted to out-strip desktop searchers very soon.
Clearly Google wants to particularly look after mobile searchers – it’s a growth segment for them.

Guest Blogging
Don’t respond to emails asking to put guest blogs in your site.
Treat them like they came from Nigeria.

Penguin 5 is hurting more sites than you might think

Based on the number of phone calls I’ve had recently from disgruntled website owners looking to find an alternative SEO provider following their recent rank crash, its clear to me that Penguin 5 has affected many more websites than the 1% that Google is coyly suggesting…

..and of course there is rampant speculation, rumor and scuttlebutt on what is causing ranking penalties. There’s a lot of opinions out there (seems like everybody has become a link spam expert) but until we get through the Penguin 5 recovery cycle no-one can say with any degree of confidence how they recovered and how long it took.

The closest I’ve seen is Tony McCreath’s article on how he recovered from an earlier Penguin penalty then sailed, even benefited, after the Penguin 5 (2.1 in the old money)  update – well done Tony!




Are Web Dev’s being innocently penalised by Penguin 5?

Google Penguin

Fabulous image stolen from

One of the bitter sweet things about working in SEO is responding to Google’s Updates.

  • Bitter because clients and associates’ businesses occasionally get hurt by them.
  • Sweet because I enjoy the intellectual stimulation of distilling vagaries, rumors and research into workable strategies. 

Google’s latest anti-spam release Penguin 5 which landed here Saturday 6 Oct is an interesting example of this. Reputable SEO blog discussions about it focus on its attack on web spam ( ie SEO ‘naughtiness’ specifically poor quality backlinks and ‘thin content’).

BTW this should really signal to businesses to not be tempted by the barrage of overseas businesses spam offering cheap SEO solutions!

So Penguin 5 (P5 ) is positioned by Google to filter out naughty websites from search results, however I’ve encountered a growing number of P5 victims who haven’t deliberately undertaken to cheat; they just innocently didn’t comply with Google’s rules, and are being treated very heavily handed for it. It like the scenario where you say: “I’m sorry Officer I didn’t realise ” but you get booked anyway.

Sadly many people wont even know if they’ve been pinged by P5 because they aren’t monitoring their website’s performance… (exasperated sigh)

Anyway back to our innocent P5 victims – Website Developers (I prefer ‘web devs’) have an accepted practice of acknowledgement links in their client’s websites back to their site. Web Dev friends tell me this is an important source of new business for them. Prospective clients impressed with a site can easily find out more about the authors. A nice outcome all round.

But this does leave the web dev’s website with multitudes of backlinks (from their clients) all with hugely duplicated backlink text eg “Website by…”
I speculate (but haven’t yet proven – standby Ill update this post when I have further proof)  that this it triggering P5’s spammy backlink alert and consequently causing rank penalties for the web dev’s site.

When I’ve got a moment more Ill share some more experiences with ‘innocent’ P5  victims.. You’ll be horrified!

As an SEO professional my role for some time now has been evolving to include policing duties; checking websites for contraventions of Google’s rules and putting solutions in place… Contrary to reports that ‘SEO is dead’, the role is evolving and apparently become much more critical for business…