Google Penguin Update

UPDATE: According to Google the last manual update of Google Penguin started on Friday 23rd September 2016.  So far, I have not seen any effect in any Irish websites or SERPs that I am tracking, it may take a few weeks for the full roll out of the integrated algorithm.

Google algorithm updates

After many years of waiting for Panda and Penguin updates they will now run as part of the core algorithm.  It will be interesting to see if there are recoveries now this has run and is part of the core.

One last point of interest, there has not been any other simultaneous update.  Often Google rolls various updates together.  The last major change I noticed is the disappearing Local Results.  On the 1st September local search results saw a major update. This update makes it easier for companies located just outside major cities to be included in the city local results.  Included in this update was the removal of the local search box for some queries.  This changes all the time so we might see them back again.

UPDATE: Over the weekend, starting on Friday 17th Oct 2014, there was a Google Penguin update.  This has been rolled into two other updates, what looks like a slight movement of Panda and a update on the spam Payday which has taken 100,000’s of these sites from the search results.  The first impression of this new Penguin is it’s much softer than previous versions and so far there has been no mass messages in webmaster tools.  It will take the next couple of weeks to really see the full impact.

Its been more than a year since the last Google Penguin update – Google really knows how to merciless punish webmasters. During 2013 there was lots of talk emanating from Google on how this was designed to stop website owners from manipulating their algorithm, but how they could clean up and get back to normal trading.


Through 2014, until very recently, Google has been quite silent. During the last month while we were coming up to the anniversary of the last update Google has started leaking and obscuring the information they decide to release.

A Penguin update is due – that much we know. They has said “it will be deployed during the next few weeks” – then “we might not after we run some tests”. My forecast is that it will run sometime between the 20th and the 25th of the month. However, I don’t think it will be that simple.  If you need help with any Google penalties I can help.

Google Loves Multiple Changes

If they only ran a penguin update it would be too easy to interpret. Therefore I believe we will see a new P animal, (perhaps a parrot – and a parrot copies, that could throw in something else), which will affect links once again – perhaps grading links higher on co-citation or where it is within the code. This would allow them to start disallowing all those guest posts that they hate so much.

One thing is certain it won’t be easy to work out. One unlucky client decided to change their websites, structure, code and content during a week where Panda, Penguin and a phantom update happened – it was easy to decipher.

Can You Recover From Bank Links

Before Oct 2013 my answer was a certain yes. I had worked on websites that had notices in Google Webmaster Tools. We disavowed, removed links, added new better content and promoted the content to gain new higher quality links – and all but one recovered.

We even had one recovery from simply setting a temporary, (302), redirect. This no longer works, when I last tried it all the links and the notice in Webmaster Tools were transferred to the new site.

When the above sites recovered none of them jumped straight back to their previous rankings. The rankings came back over a four month period and new backlinks were added during that time.

However none of the sites I have worked on since Oct 2013 have shown any great recovery – none of them have started ranking for their main keywords again. They are getting some long tail traffic and it appears they can rank for new keywords that were not related to the original highly targeted anchors. All are limping along on life support.

How to Recover and Remove Bad Links

The recovery process is time intensive and fairly well understood now.   Download all links from Webmaster Tools, if you have more than 1,000 domains you need to get creative. Use Majestic SEO, run a full report and include historic links. If you have AHRF and Moz add them also.

I run all the links through Advanced Links Manager or Scrapebox. At this point I am looking for two pieces of information: is the link still live, and what is the anchor text?

If the link is no longer live you can cross it off your list, (some would also take credit when submitting to Google the reconsideration request).

If the anchor is an exact match on one of your main search terms then it has to be removed. On all the website I have worked more than 50% of the links have been removed.

Then for me the time consuming parts of the process start. I manually check the rest of the links. The links is either good or bad, in this process there is no room for grey areas – this is detox and it can be hard to watch all those links you either paid for or worked for disappear – but if you want this process to work it will have to be thorough, partial or superficial work will not suffice.

Disavow them all. Yes, once I have the list of links that need to be removed I disavow all of them to get the process started. This on its own does not work, but it shows intent and Google want you to illustrate all your work.

I add all the links I want to remove to either Scrapebox again or to BuzzStream. Scrapebox can find email addresses from Whois and Buzzstream will crawl the website to find an email address. I like to use both as BuzzStream will also find any social media accounts run by the website which is another way to reach out if I can’t find an email address.

The more “bad links” that are removed increases the chances of getting back to normal.

Now email them all. Again I use Buzzstream as mail merge can start to get very messy once I have to chase a website again after 4 days. I use very gentle emails to start with, pleading almost. The second asks again a bit stronger telling them I would rather not disavow their site. The last email is a notice that I have to disavow the site and I would still love to talk to them.

The responses vary, about 50% take the link down. Many of the older spam directories ask for payment, some clients’ pay others will not. It is interesting to see these old directories that were spam to start with and charged the usual $5 or $10 for the link have found a new source of income by charging the same or more to remove the link.

Preparing The Re-submission Request

If you add all the above information to a text file to include with the submission it is normally too large. It is best to use Google Docs and share with Google.

When submitting the file I will add screenshots from Buzzstream for all the websites that did not respond and I could not contact otherwise. The shows that I have mailed them at least three times – I have gone the extra mile that Google wants to see.

Then submit adding a mea culpa note. Accept responsibility for your actions, by all means, blame your SEO company and tell Google you fired them, but the buck stops with you the website owner. Promise not to do it again and always follow Google’s guidelines and terms of service. There is no point in ranting against them.

One Final Step

I discovered this some time back – after removing hundreds of links for a client the links were showing up in Webmaster Tools for months and I wanted them out of there. A lot of these links came from spam websites that Google was likely not indexing often. Therefore I use a ping engine for all the removed links to encourage Google to index again and discover the link no longer exists. Dark?

At this point, all of the hard work should be completed and pay off within a couple of weeks in the form of another note from Google telling you the penalty has been revoked.

Now it is time to start again. Once the next Penguin update happens you will see the beginning of your recovery. Bear in mind that you will need lots of new links from other websites to rank anywhere near your previous ranking – the links that have been taking down were links that were helping your rankings.

The Irony of Google’s Part in This Mess

Most of the websites and directories that are low quality will have been financed by Google’s own advertising program Adsense. Google could at any point have tightened up on its policies to remove a lot of spam from the net by cutting off the flow of money – but this would involve more work and less profit. I am sure this is not lost on them.

The Cost of Links & Link Building

Links cost.

It is that simple, there is no such thing as a free link. Link building is going to cost you time or money. So what is best for you – time or money?

Why You Need Links from Other Websites

trinityA huge part of Google’s algorithm is based on the idea of citations used at universities.

When writing essays at university I had to provide sources and links to authority work that backed up my argument.  Google’s two founders took this model and used it for the web.  Therefore if other websites linked to your website, your website was then seen as an authority.  So more links = more authority = higher rankings and more traffic.

A Little History on Link Building

The quality of links has been on the rise for a number of years.  It was easy to understand Google’s algorithm when it came to link building in the past.  Lots of links from low-quality sources like general directories were enough to rank a website on the first page of the search results.  Google then devalued almost all of these types of links.  Interestingly these directories were financed by Google through Adsense mainly.

During the last three years, Google has taken much stronger action when it thinks a website owner is building links.  Firstly all those free

Firstly all those free low-quality directory links have been causing a problem for websites now.  Companies demanded ranking at the lowest cost, and why not?

Google has since penalised sites that have lots of low-quality links and / or lots of links with anchor text designed to improve rankings.

Sites that ranked highly have been taken out of Google and disappeared due to low-quality links.  There are methods to have these links removed and submit a re-inclusion request to Google.  Removing links from a website and going through the reconsideration request process can be costly and Google has stated that you might be better just starting a new website.  The whole process can easily take twelve months and not many businesses can stand being out of search for that amount of time.

So Where Now for Link Building?

Google Local resultsThere are a few ultra-safe places to start acquiring links.  Social media websites like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and most importantly Google+.

I would like to see all pages on a website have links from these areas and multiple links from Google+

This means that all content must be very good and worthwhile; to encourage and make sharing easy share buttons must be visible on every page. I suggest sharing the same content more than once, morning, afternoon, and over several days. Sometimes an old post or page can be relevant to the current conversation – so share it.

The other area that is safe, right now, are citation directories, part of local SEO.  These are all NAP directories – company name, address, telephone number.

In Ireland I have a list of about 60 of these, an example is Yelp, in the UK there are about 200, but the quality drops off quite quickly.

Citation directories are a must if you trade from a physical location as citation directories help your website rank in the Google local search results.  However, they also help to make sure your website is localised in the correct country and they aid ranking in the organic search results.  The boost to organic ranking is not equal to gaining the same amount of links from equal websites as most of the links are no-follow; but they are worth the time or out source cost.

The above alone are generally not enough to rank highly.  If you are in a market that is not competitive online the first safe way to rank higher is to make sure your on-site optimisation is correct.  The second safe way to rank higher is to write longer articles.  I see articles of 1,000 to 2,500 words ranking very well with no or few links.  Again keep the content great.

What is Your Risk Profile?

Are you willing to take a risk to be ranked highly in Google?  I only see this strategy happening in two areas: one where the person involved doesn’t know what they are doing and second in the churn and burn category – almost all business website are not in this category.

When building links from other websites it is important to understand two metrics: authority and anchor text.  The higher the authority of the website the lower the risk and the more creative one can be with anchor text – however generally the higher the authority the less chance you have to be creative – think Irish Times, Universities, etc.  The lower the authority of the website means the anchor text becomes much risker when it is not the company or domain name.  Most link building I see now centres on the company name, this works but is slower than previously at achieve higher rankings and consequently more costly.

One last thought on link building: links to a website should be acquired gradually over time.  It has always been a red flag to Google if a website gains too many links too quickly – unless it is featured in the news. (and remember to optimise your internal link structure and anchors)

As you can see from above gaining good links or any links takes time or money and they are needed to rank well in Google.