OK everyone, the wait is over Penguin 2.0 has been unleashed and now walks among us. There has been a lot of speculation as to what will happen next, keeping much of the SEO industry’s eyes glued to analytics looking for any nuance they can accredit to the mighty Penguin. Matt Cutts insists it’s all about a quality internet so if our focus has been towards creating a quality internet then we shouldn’t perceive the Penguin as an evil villain, but a superhero with a capital Q on its chest. Now that the critter is roaming freely, what should we expect and what should we change before we see any significant ranking dips? Matt Cutts released a statement about Penguin 2.0 in early May emphasising one area exploited by SEOs past and present: link building.
Link Building: A Brief History
“PageRank was a basic tool for describing the importance of webpages on the web. But what PR did more than anything was introduce a link buying market that Rand Fishkin of 2005 estimated to be worth $500-$700 million or more.”
We all know the score, in 1998 PageRank was introduced and judged sites based on inbound links. Links assumed authority and trust as far as Google was concerned and so new SEO tactics were deployed to manipulate the PageRank algorithm: anchor texts, reciprocal link building, paid links, articles and directories. A case of anything goes; links got you to the top, regardless of their quality or source. “A link is a link”, as that popular old SEO saying goes. It was common practice.
All of these links building tactics have now been quashed else are used very cautiously – if Google was to catch you out it could mean big penalties. It’s time to clean up the mess of those bygone years.
What Matt Cutts Said
Yesterday afternoon Matt Cutts finally announced the launch of Penguin 2.0
“We started rolling out the next generation of the Penguin webspam algorithm this afternoon (May 22, 2013), and the rollout is now complete. About 2.3% of English-US queries are affected to the degree that a regular user might notice.”
Matt Cutts is a joyful fellow – as loveable as his pesky Penguin – yet he has had us all there, on the edge of our seats for the past couple of months. Teasing us with Twitter updates, promising its arrival with a reluctance to tell us when, or what. At the beginning of May, Matt (while wearing a subversive Firefox shirt) gave us some insight as to what was coming via a Youtube video.
“In terms of what you should be working on, we’re trying to make sure that is pretty constant and uniform, [making sure you produce] a great site that users love and want to tell their friends about… and visit over and over again”
He claims that his reluctance to enter into the specifics is all down to timing and essentially this: things can change. “[D]edicated to finding black hat web spam”, Matt condemned paid links (advertorials) placing emphasis on the "organic". The biggest clue we might have towards those more rank-shattering changes is this: “[we’re] going upstream to deny the value to link spammers… we have some nice ideas on trying to make sure that becomes less effective” but added Google were in the early days of a more sophisticated link analysis – “we’ll see whether that bears fruit or not”. I wonder whether this statement alongside the point zero of the 2.0 implies we’re in for a Penguin 2.1, 2.2 over the coming months. One thing is certain, Penguin 2.0 is looking deeply into links, with this in mind, where do we go from here?
Link Removal: The Future
We are seeing a complete reversal on those old SEO strategies, instead of building links to rank we may now need to link remove. No, don’t remove every link you’ve ever made, good links are still essential; instead you must determine which are spammy links and which are quality links. (A few months ago the BBC were asked to remove a "potentially damaging" link, there was a failure to recognise the authority of the BBC as a well respected, quality domain). In order to determine the quality of your links you must determine where the links are coming from. You can use any of the following tools to analyse backlink data:
· Open Site Explorer
· Majestic SEO
· Cognitive SEO
What to look out for:
· The most important thing to recognise is that anything over-optimised screams SPAM to Google. Too much of anything is a bad thing.
· Spammy sites – it may be difficult to detect a poor quality site, make a judgement call, obviously directories are particularly useless where inbound links are concerned.
· Link positioning is another important factor, particularly in ones found in the comments section of a blog.
· Those pesky anchor texts! It all comes back to over-optimisation. Over-optimisation is the biggest red flag for Penguin penalties.
These points are all pretty commonsensical. But with a souped-up Penguin on the loose we should be particularly wary of relevancy. The greater context of an inbound link may now become a greater factor in determining a spam link. And what can be done to future proof your site? Stop buying backlinks (Penguin 2.0 is onto you), stop making links 'seem' real. Remove any paid and unnatural sites.
Removing Those Links…
Unfortunately there is no tool, no way of automating and no easy way to do this. It is a lengthy process of contacting each webmaster individually and politely asking for said link to be removed. This process is indeed labourious, requiring a lot of patience but is unfortunately necessary in order to dodge that souped-up Penguin. These nasty links raise other issues too, namely, if you do manage to get in contact with these webmasters, they may hold your link to ransom and this could be as excessive as £500. Whatever you do, DON’T PAY IT. You’ll only encourage them. Plus there may be other ways around it including 404 pages and redirects. Worse comes to worse there’s always the disavow tool but this is only ever to be used once all other options have been exhausted.
Whatever you do, don’t panic. As Matt Cutts himself professes it is those who hang out in black hat forums that are in for an exciting summer. The rest of us may just need to tidy up a little, look into the links we have built in the past and make sure they are all quality, relevant and well balanced. Should you need any help in determining what is and what isn’t a suspect link, or if you simply don’t have time to go back, assess and contact all the webmasters past, we’re more than happy to lend a hand. Give us a shout and we’ll let you know how we can be of service.