A major Google algorithm update was supposed to launch in late-2015, but we’re still waiting.
Over the second weekend of January, SEO experts noticed some drastic changes in traffic volumes across many websites. Some thought it might be the much-anticipated Google Penguin 4.0 algorithm update, but we now know it wasn’t. Google officials initially indicated this particular algorithm update would roll out before the end of 2015, so it looks like the search engine is still giving webmasters and marketers a grace period before prompting them to adjust their SEO strategy.
Looking over his weekend numbers, Cyrus Shepard of Moz.com tweeted that there was significant movement in Google’s algorithm:
— Cyrus Shepard (@CyrusShepard) January 9, 2016
SEO expert Christoph C. Cemper of LinkResearchTools.com was initially convinced that it was Penguin 4.0, adding that the weekend update was almost as wide-ranging as the “massive” Penguin 2.1 update of late-2013.
What Google Penguin 4.0 Algorithm Should Look Like
Anytime Google updates its algorithm, it impacts the organic search engine rankings of millions of websites. Here are the speculated attributes of the impending Google Penguin 4.0:
- It’s anticipated to be larger than Penguin 3.0, meaning it will effect more websites, and traffic to those sites could rise or fall dramatically at the onset.
- It’s supposed to roll out in real time, according to Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes of Google. The other prominent algorithm update, Panda, is known for rolling out very slowly upon each update.
- It will likely focus heavily on low-quality backlinks to a website.
- Like every Penguin update before it, Penguin 4.0 should bring “drastic changes,” according to Cemper.
- It will effect websites originating from several different nations, such as the U.S., U.K. and Germany.
@DonnieStrompf nope, this will be the real-time version.
— Gary Illyes (@methode) January 7, 2016
Cemper noted that Google’s search engine results pages had been fairly active in switching up the order of websites since the start of the new year, but that the phenomenon reached a high point over the weekend. He added that the update may have continued well beyond the weekend, or that what was happening was just a pre-test for something larger.
How to Avoid Penalties When Penguin 4.0 Hits
Receiving a penalty from Google will either bury your website in the search engine results or take it off the map entirely. Getting the penalty removed is possible, but painstaking, so it’s easier to just abide by best SEO practices in the first place.
With Google Penguin 4.0 on the horizon, it’s time to review all links related to your website: external, internal and, especially, backlinks. Failure to do so could not only keep your website suppressed in the search engine rankings, but could result in a penalty from Google, in some cases.
Here’s what you need to look out for:
Exact-Match Anchor Text
If you’re trying to rank for a certain keyword, it looks spammy to Google if other websites link to your site using that exact keyword phrase. If you’ve happened to secure a link from an authoritative site, make sure it doesn’t link to yours using your targeted keyword. Anchor text (also known as link text) that leads to your website needs to look organic and diverse.
Who cares what phrase others use to link to your site, as long as 1) the link is active, 2) the anchor text doesn’t denigrate your company, and 3) it’s coming from a high-quality website?
If there’s one way you shouldn’t mind being referred to in anchor text, it’s your brand name. If other websites are linking to yours using one of your keywords, reach out to them, thank them for the link (if you haven’t already) and then ask if they can mix up their anchor text.
Low-Quality or Spammy Backlinks
Backlinks usually give you a vote of confidence and help with search rankings, but getting linked to from a low-quality or spammy website can often have an adverse effect.
Now’s the time to do a backlink audit and make sure all sites linking to yours are helping you, not hurting. This entails contacting some website owners and asking them to manually remove their link to your site.
Many times, it will be hard to reach anyone associated with such spammy or low-quality sites. If this is the case, you may have to contact Google to disavow the links – in other words, saying you want nothing to do with them and can’t get them removed. Here’s how to start the process of disavowing links.
Poor Internal Linking
Getting ready for Penguin 4.0 means you should review your internal links as well. The internal linking practices of many websites leave much to be desired.
Links from one page of your website to another shouldn’t be too frequent, and they shouldn’t use exact-match keywords. For example, if you have one internal link per paragraph of a blog post or service page, you’re overdoing it.
Only link to another page on your site when it makes total sense to do so, such as when the copy heavily alludes to or leads right into a different section of the website. Remember, search engines’ web crawlers follow all hyperlinks you feature on a page, so if you have too many links, Google will be confused about the content on the page and thus where to rank it.
Unusual Increases in Backlinks
While everybody aims to increase the number of backlinks to their own website, seeing the sheer number of referring pages suddenly and inexplicably spike can be a cause for concern.
In preparing for Penguin 4.0, you should monitor the 1) total referring domains and the 2) total referring pages to your site over the last several months. A dramatic rise over a short time period in either category will look iffy in Google’s eyes, especially when it comes to total pages.
Perhaps some website has added a link to yours on every page of their domain, known as a site-wide link. This looks like a spammy tactic to Google, so you should go about the link removal or disavowal process if it happens to your website.
Tools to Help You with Your Own Backlinks
If you don’t want to spend weeks looking over all of your backlinks and internal links to make sure you’re OK in Penguin’s book, you have a variety of online tools at your fingertips to speed up the process:
- Screaming Frog: This tool crawls your whole site and analyzes the SEO data as Google would, helping you analyze your internal link data. Free and paid versions are available.
- Ahrefs: This is perhaps the quickest way to look at your backlink profile and see if your site has experienced any of those previously mentioned spikes. You can use the tool for a 14-day trial before deciding if you want to upgrade to the paid version.
- Majestic: This company features more than a dozen SEO tools, but its Site Explorer is the one that applies here. This tool is easy to use and will help you analyze the trust flow and citation flow of your backlinks to see if they are considered high-quality. The buy-in here is about $50 a month for the starter package, but you can do a test run first.
- Check My Links: A Google Chrome extension that quickly scans any page on your site for broken links. This one is free and easy to use.
- LinkResearchTools: We mentioned LinkResearchTools earlier, but its featured tool will let you see any spikes in your backlinks, as well as help you identify spammy links to your site. You can also see how your competitors are doing. You’re probably only going to want to use this one if you’re a medium- or large-sized business, as even the starter plan exceeds $100 per month, with the premium plan topping $1,700.
Get Backlink Help with Eminent SEO
If you need help with reviewing your backlinks – such as what to look for or simply the time it takes to do it – turn the task over to Eminent SEO. Besides our years of experience, we already have auditing tools at our disposal, so you won’t have to purchase any additionally monthly subscriptions when you enlist us.
Perhaps you’ve received a penalty from Google and don’t even know it. We can audit your backlinks and make sure your site is abiding by best SEO practices. We’ll help you get any spammy backlinks removed or disavowed, if present, and we’ll work on your behalf to make any penalties go away. Click here for more on our Website Audit Services.
Get your website in shape for Penguin 4.0 by calling Eminent SEO at 800.871.4130!
Google announced later in January that its Panda series of updates has been added to the core search algorithm. This wasn’t what officially caused all of the commotion over the second weekend of the month. Google would only confirm that it did a general core algorithm update. It definitely was not Penguin 4.0, although that update is still slated to happen in the near future.
Panda, if you don’t know, targets and either penalizes or de-ranks low-quality content. This means thin content, heavy duplicate content, spam and ad-heavy pages will get identified and moved down or out of the search engine rankings. Panda’s inclusion in the core algorithm means it will now be a part of Google’s core ranking signals when evaluating a website.
Note: This post was originally written under the assumption that the Google Penguin 4.0 update had been launched. Parts of the copy have been changed to reflect what we now know about Google’s algorithm tweaks in January.