Google Penguin Update on the Way: Time to Analyze Your Backlinks
When Google's Penguin algorithm first went live nearly four years ago, sites that were engaging in black hat link schemes saw massive reductions in search rank and traffic that ended up being very difficult to recover from. At it's best, Penguin helped even the playing field by penalizing sites that were gaming the system through dubious link building. Unfortunately, it also killed some sites whose webmasters were unaware they were doing anything wrong or unethical.
Now, a new and potentially final Penguin update could be on its way. Analyzing your backlink profile can help ensure your rankings don't plummet.
Penguin Will Update This Quarter
Gary Illyes, a Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, stated on Twitter that the launch will occur this quarter:
@mrjamiedodd I'll go with weeks. We're aiming for launching penguin this quarter, but we don't have a more precise timeframe.
— Gary Illyes (@methode) January 19, 2016
Of course, he mentions that there's no specific timeframe, which isn't surprising given that Penguin has not been updated or even refreshed in well over a year. Nevertheless, any indication of an update to Penguin means it's time to analyze all the links to your site and deal with the ones that may be hurting you.
Not to mention, Penguin updates could become a thing of the past if Google succeeds in making the algorithm run in real time as they've been indicating, making it more a part of their core algorithm than a separate entity. A real-time Penguin would be a double-edged sword: by updating Penguin on specific dates, Google has made it easy to determine whether or not your site was affected, and it allows webmasters to prepare for the rollout. It would also eliminate the aggravatingly long time periods between cleaning up your links and seeing the benefit when the algorithm is refreshed.
On the other hand, it would also mean you'll have to monitor your backlinks much more vigilantly while suffering the consequences of Penguin in real-time. It may also make it less easy to determine the cause of big traffic reductions.
Analyze Your Backlinks Now
SEO has changed significantly in recently years. Most digital marketers have learned how to build backlinks the right way, and it's now far less likely that SEOs will knowingly or unknowingly engage in black hat strategies to increase their site's rank - but it does still happen. Buying links, excessive exchanging of links between two sites, using automated programs to link to your site, and conducting large-scale guest posting or article marketing campaigns are all tactics that Google Penguin will penalize you for. Even if you've never engaged in these types of actions, it's possible that any of it could have happened in the past under other webmasters or SEO agencies. As is often the case with the Internet, your site also might just have a bunch of spammy links pointing to it without any clear explanation.
Luckily, there are many tools to help you analyze your backlink profile and even help you decide which ones might be troublesome. Some of the most popular tools include:
These tools will provide information such as the number of links pointing to your site, the number of unique domains those links come from, and anchor text usage. Some have quality ratings and some don't, so a thorough backlink analysis may require you to visit the pages on which your links are located to assess their quality on your own. Although time consuming, a visual check may be your best indicator of whether or not a page might be hurting your rank by linking to you. Thin content, an overwhelming number of ads, low Google PageRank, infrequent updates, tons of links, and poor, sloppy design are signs of a potentially "bad neighborhood." Even if the sites linking to you look good, having having too many links to your site with the exact same, highly optimized anchor text may also look spammy to Google.
Getting Rid of Bad Links
When it comes to removing the links that Google Penguin doesn't like, you essentially have two options: manually taking them down, or submitting a disavow file. Manual takedown can be quite time consuming, as it involves contacting the linking sites directly and requesting they remove the link. While this approach tends to have a low success rate, it allows you to be absolutely sure about whether or not a harmful link has been removed.
By contrast, the much easier option is to submit a disavow file to Google. This involves listing all your bad backlinks in a text file and submitting it directly to Google. Google provides detailed instructions for doing this, after which the search engine should ignore the links in the file when determining your rank. However, there is still some confusion related to exactly how and when the disavow file comes into play. Either way, though, taking some action to cleanup your backlink profile before Penguin updates or becomes a real-time part of Google's core algorithm can only benefit your rank and traffic.