Update, Sept. 23: Google released Penguin 4.0, and will be rolling it out over a couple of weeks. It has now been merged into the core algorithm and it will update in real-time. This is the last Penguin release we will see.
No, not the Batman supervillain, but Google’s cheater seeking algorithm. Usually run approximately once every year, it’s been almost TWO YEARS since we last saw an update from our favorite Alphabet company. Why should you care about this algorithm update over the others that run multiple times per year (or even operate in real-time) checking your sites content, user experience, and all the good stuff that’s very important for modern SEO? Because this one is specifically looking to penalize you. And if your site gets penalized by the Penguin it can potentially be removed from the search results and not returned until the next time it’s run! It makes a good case for sticking with only white-hat SEO techniques, eh?
Most business websites shouldn’t have anything to worry about unless you’ve taken an active role in creating spam links to your site, or stuffing keywords in a much as you can (including hidden text). However, if you’ve hired an SEO agency in the past two years, especially one who promised you backlinks or you’re not quite sure what they actually did, you may unknowingly be a Penguin target.
What is Google Penguin?
It is Google’s anti-spam algorithm. About once a year they run an updated version that targets previous, and new SEO spamming techniques. These techniques include (but aren’t necessarily limited to):
These are links that point to your site from others. It's one of Google's original ranking factors, and still a high one today. The difference between then and now is that Google wants to see quality links over quantity. This means you're better off having a few (even just 2-3) industry relevant sites linking to you who rank higher, rather than as many sites linking to you as you can get. Because at one point a large number of links could boost your site rank spammers took advantage of it. Sites filled with all kinds of SEO spam were created just for linking to others. These spam sites were the reason behind the creation of, and the main target of Penguin. They are also the sites targeted for search engine removal. If you have a large number of irrelevant backlinks you could still receive a ranking penalty, as Penguin started to target "over-optimization" in past updates.
Exact match anchor text use
Again, previously a big SEO technique that spammers overused, and is now a no-no. Exact match anchor text is hyperlinking to another page with the clickable text being a near exact match (non-branded) to the page title it’s linking to. Unfortunately, this is an approach that makes sense for content writers to use as it gives a description to what you are linking to. And even worse, sites can still sometimes see a boost in ranking using this (sorta) black-hat technique. But where spammers prosper, everyone else suffers, and it’s possible that the hammer may drop a little harder in this round.
This is one of hardest items to fix for external links as someone else created it, but your internal links should be reviewed as well. Do you have paragraphs of text that contain 3 or more links in it? Is the link text descriptive, or an exact match to the page title it’s linking to? Are you using the canonical links? You’re not necessarily going to receive a penalty for these, but it does affect how Google perceives and crawl’s your site.
It wasn’t that long ago the keywords in your content were the ticket to SEO success. Keywords are still important, but steps needed to be taken against spammers stuffing keywords in to try and gain some advantage. Make sure your text is relevant to the page, and flows in a readable manner. Do you have paragraphs that exist simply to have content for search engine to find? Even worse, is this content in the header, footer, or even completely hidden? If so, it needs to go. When writing content and you find yourself repeating keyword(s) over and over, change up the language. Context surrounding keywords is more important these days, and it will help you avoid any potential penalties.
Doorway, redirected or cloaked pages
Much like the unnecessary paragraphs above, these pages exist simply to contain search engine attracting content, and direct the user to different pages where the real content is. Doorway pages won’t be indexed, and you run the risk of the linked to/redirected to page not being indexed as well.* If you have a high number of these types of pages, beware the Penguin!
*Ecommerce sites: Department pages with sub-department listings only (no products on the page) may be seen as doorway pages by Google. You won't receive a penalty for this, but some ranking could be held back. They take the architecture and navigation flow of your site into consideration when determining this, so it's impossible to say for sure.Contact us if you'd like us to take a closer look into this for you.
Duplicate content is much like the above, and at times are the one and the same. If you have pages (or blog posts) that are 80% or more similar, then consider combining them and removing one. If you have a legitimate reason for needed those pages (and there are many), then use a canonical URL so search engines only index one of them.
What to expect in this update?
The reality is, we won’t know exactly what Penguin 4.0 will target, and how hard it will punish sites until after it runs. The last major Penguin update was only a light refresh over previous versions, so this time around we (and the industry) except a major update.
Don’t immediately panic if you think you have pages that you think may match some of the above descriptions. Traditionally with the Penguin update Google is looking for real spammers - sites that exist to rank high and provide high PageRank backlinks to others. These are the sites that get the ultimate penalty - removal from the search listings. Google is not looking to remove legitimate sites and businesses, but they could still give you a bit of penalty if they suspect you’re “over-optimizing”.
Rumour is this update will go real-time, meaning the algorithm will run all the time. This would be a great relief for anyone who get penalized, as you won’t need to wait a year or two to have that penalty removed, but at this point Google has not confirmed this.
What can I do to prepare?
All the above mentioned items should be reviewed on your website. It can be time consuming but necessary, and there are SEO tools to help with automation of it. Some have free trials or limited free versions, but they won’t do you much good if they don’t scan your whole site. Not to mention the time it still takes to run and analyze the tools results.
ideaLEVER uses industry leading tools in it’s SEO analysis’s, and for a limited time leading up to the algorithm release we are offering a $200 Penguin site review. We will do a full check for spam backlinks, suspect backlink numbers, anchor text review, and site content for keyword stuffing, duplicate content, doorway pages, and anything else that Google hints may be Penguin 4.0 issue.
A release date has not been set, and one may not be announced until after it starts running, but all hints point at it coming within the next few weeks.
Want be absolutely sure you're ready for Google Penguin 4.0? We can set you up with a full review for only $200!