How to Prepare for Penguin.

If you’re an unscrupulous link builder or a business that has had some dealings with said link builders, it’s time to ‘batten down the hatches’ because as Gary Illyes confirmed via Twitter we should be seeing (or as we all thought very recently have seen) an update on Penguin.

Just to clarify this weekends fluctuations weren’t the result of penguin as confirmed by Zineb Ait and Gary Illyes but a result of changes to the core algorithm. Regardless of whether it is or isn’t we want to provide a nice easy to use to understand guide as to how to ‘Prep’ (deal) for the Penguin!’.

Key facts about Penguin

  • First announced: April 24, 2012
  • Covers: Links (Spammy Links)
  • Last update: December 10th 2014

Expected changes in the new Penguin updates

  • Real time updates
  • Recovery from the previous Penguin update (Oct 17th, 2014 / Dec 14th, 2014)

Firstly, let’s go through the key differences between this update and the last update:

The last main update was October 2014 with around 1% of English queries hit!

Following that Google made a step in the direction of the latest update with the Penguin Everflux update, although the time frame for this wasn’t confirmed Moz saw an ongoing flux in Penguin from that point on.

So hopefully, you can guess by now that the first main change expected is a real-time version of penguin, this will mean you’ll see positive or negative changes in your rankings following any link building activity picked up by a crawl. Recovery from the previous update is also expected, which will be great for those of us affected by previous updates.

How to Prepare For Penguin.

Let’s get down to business. It’s always good practice to keep a healthy link profile, however it’s often not something that’s particularly at the forefront of a marketer’s mind. Here’s your guide in how to ‘Prep’ for the Penguin’.

Step 1 – Analyse your backlink profile

There are some useful tools that can help you with this sort of work, internally we tend to stick to both Majestic and Cognitive, you can do this through Webmaster tools also. So when analysing your profile the key areas to consider are;

Anchor Text

A variety of anchor text is often the most healthy option, so try to ensure your external links anchor text varies between:

  • Branded, either company name or even just your domain
  • Long tail keywords and non-descriptive keywords.

Although there isn’t an exact percentage to adhere to, you want there to be an even split; if there is too much keyword focused anchor text coming from poor sites you’ll be risking action from Google’s Penguin.

Another rule of thumb is for anchor text to be branded at the top level (on the homepage for example) then get more specific as you move through the site, with semi-branded on category pages and exact match on more specific pages. This is especially true for e-commerce sites.

Link Velocity

This is something often forgotten by many and we’ve heard some link builders use the phrase ‘If you can get a link, get it!’ or words to that effect. However, we’re not suggesting that shouldn’t be the case (with careful consideration of the domain, etc. obviously) we’re merely saying that it’s important that these links come to the site as naturally as possible. If Penguin sees a high link velocity, then you’re setting yourself up for a steep fall.

Quality of your Links

Quality & Relevance are massive when it comes to preparing for Penguin, often when accessing the quality of your links you need to be very objective and you could argue that now would be the time to be ruthless when analysing these links. Firstly, look at the quality of the link itself;

  • Are you just a link in a list of 100’s of links
  • Are the links paid for?
  • Is the directory relevant to your service or industry?
  • Does the link relate to you or your products?
  • Is it a reliable directory or site?
  • Are you getting traffic from the link?

There are 100’s of different factors to take into consideration; however you can, with a level of experience work out whether it’s a quality link and often using the similar process that dictates whether you feel an internal page is good enough for your site. There are a number of tools such as Cognitive that you can use to analyse these links quickly and in volume, however, we wouldn’t suggest taking the tools word for it on links. Also here is a great White Board Friday from Moz on the 20 attributes that influence the value of a link.

Step 2 – Manual Outreach, Construction and submission of your Disavow

Manual Outreach

Once you’ve analysed your backlinks and you’re happy that the links you’re leaving in place are of the highest possible quality and relevance, the next step is outreach. Manual outreach for a disavow can be a very time-consuming process; sometimes you’ll be lucky and the Webmaster will get right back to you and let you know the link has been removed but more often than not you won’t receive an answer, if this is the case then your best bet is to disavow.

There are also cases where you’ll be asked to pay but we wouldn’t recommend parting with your cash; Google’s John Mueller recently confirmed Google are looking into this and suggested to disavow the domain of these sites.

The Disavow Process

Lets says you’ve completed your outreach to all the sites, directories and removed as many links as you could but there are still a few that you feel need removing, and you’ve had no response, or you want to cover yourself from things such as Ghost Linking (Link Ghosts, Link Echoes). In this case, you’ll need to construct a Disavow file that we’ll be uploading to Search Console to give Google a list of domains that we want disassociating with our domain.

Put together your list of remaining domains in a .txt file in the format provided by google in their documentation. Once you’ve constructed this disavow file simply log into your Search console account and head to the disavow tool, submit the file and you’re done.

We must stress – A disavow isn’t a substitute for manually removing the links.

Step 3 – Don’t forget that Penguin is about internal links too.

As the previous title suggests you shouldn’t focus solely on External links; Penguin is also about internal linking. We’ve seen internal linking getting a mixed review for a while, it can be done badly, spammy links from all over your site to your optimised pages, but, for the most part, it’s an integral part of a healthy user-friendly site.

The key factors to consider are;

Anchor text

Make sure you have clean and tidy anchor text that descriptions accurate and concisely

Regarding, the volume of internal linking – don’t over link. As we’ve said, internal linking can be done badly, for example, a block of internal contextual links isn’t very user-friendly (without relevant styling anyway) so always consider whether the internal link is going to be first and foremost useful to the user.

Vertically and Horizontally link

Internal links are important to the crawl Google makes on your site and a well constructed internal linking system is very useful for Google when they are trying to understanding the structure of the site, along with where what information is. With this in mind always try and construct an internal linking system that effectively webs your site together, a good example of this sort of thing is Wikipedia (that’s not to say do as they do).

Step 4 – Tools that can help you analyse your links

We’ve mentioned a few tools in this article that we often use to analyse backlink profiles, for the sake of easy access below is a list of the tools we suggest using when work on your backlink profile. Please feel free to discuss any other tools you guys use in the comments below,

  • Majestic – great for analysing both current back link profiles and historic ones.
  • Cognitive SEO – Another brilliant tool for collecting your back links and with their build in analyser tool you can make quick work of a lot of links.
  • Webmaster tools (Search Console) – good for grabbing all the links Google can see and with this and the links from the other tools you’ll have a very accurate reading of every link you have. This is also the home of the disavow tool.

Further tools that may be useful for this process are;

  • Algoroo – great to cross reference your traffic against updates, and to check whether you’ve been hit in the past and didn’t know it!
  • Mozcast – Another great way of analysing your traffic against potential Google updates.

Resources on the new Penguin Update:

Want to learn more about Penguin, here are a few of the resources we used to help us construct this article.