So recently Gary Illyes from Google announced that hopefully by the end of 2015, Penguin updates will be carried out in real-time. Waiting for the next Penguin update has been the bane of many a website owners’ life, and getting hit with a penalty can cost thousands in lost revenue.
For those unaware, Google has two major algorithms that can penalize websites, and they’ve named them after two cute animals. Penguin and Panda. Far from being cute, these animals have put a countless number of websites out of business, and if you’re going to be a blogger you should acquaint yourself with them very carefully.
The Penguin algorithm is all about links pointing to your website from other websites. If the links are over optimised, from bad neighbourhoods, or just don’t ‘look’ right, then you could find yourself with a Penguin penalty. A penalty that will kill your positions on Google. To get out of a penalty you need to fix whatever’s triggered it, then wait up to 6 months or more for the next update to see if your website is now ‘Penguin free’. If not, then you have to try again and wait another 6 months, and so on and so on.
But, if Gary Illyes is true to his word, there could be hope on the horizon to recover much quicker. With real-time updates there’ll be no more waiting around for a refresh and we can see the results of fixes almost as soon as we apply them.
This is great news for website owners, but what can we do to avoid getting hit by a Penguin in the first place?
Here are some things you should do if you want to avoid a Penguin penalty.
1) Watch Your Blog Comments
We all love to be sociable, and it’s true if you want engagement on your blog you should frequently engage on other people’s blogs. This is commendable and perfectly reasonable, but if you’re a little too zealous with your commenting you could find a (not so cute) Penguin breathing down your neck.
When you submit a comment, you’re requested to add a name, email and web address. The blogging system will then turn your name into ‘anchor text’ and use it as a link back to your website.
If you add the same thing every time you post, you could find your anchor text ratio hitting dangerously high levels.
A study by MicroSiteMasters.com showed that every website hit by Penguin had over 60% of its anchor text the same. In this instance the anchor text was a ‘money’ keyword (e.g. web designer, SEO expert etc.), but you still need to err on the side of caution and ensure all your anchor texts are at least below 35%.
The highest percentage of anchor text would ideally be your brand name, or if you’re blog commenting you should use your actual name. But if you’re commenting a lot then it’s good to mix it up and use variations, so they aren’t all exactly the same.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule and you’ll find websites getting away with much higher anchor text ratios, but these type of websites usually have one thing in common: Trust.
2) Build Your Trust
If your website is trusted by Google you can get away with a multitude of sins. Rand Fishkin from Moz once famously invited spammers to hurt his Google rankings, but they failed because Moz is such a trusted website. But how do you build on trust?
Trust is an ethereal kind of thing that comes over time, but you can be proactive. Tools like Majestic SEO have their own Trust Flow indicators which are built using complicated algorithms that analyse backlinks. Generally they’re quite effective when it comes to sorting out the low from the high quality websites, and you can use these when assessing who to make ‘friends’ with.
For example if you’re going to comment on someone’s blog, give them a quick check on Majestic SEO first. If they have a low Trust Flow then you might not want them linking to your website. The more low quality links you have the less trusted you’ll be, so be selective on where you get your links. On the flip side, you can seek out websites that are high in Trust Flow and comment/engage with those. The higher your Trust Flow, the higher chance you have of becoming a trusted website, and the better chance you have of avoiding the dreaded Penguin penalty.
3) Avoid ‘Active’ Link Building
John Mueller is a Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, so when he speaks we should generally listen. John came out recently and said we should avoid active link building completely. Now this is a bit extreme, but actually good advice, especially for people new to SEO. It’s a known fact that your website needs links to improve its rankings on Google. So it’s all too easy to run around begging, stealing, borrowing links from anywhere and everywhere you can find. But this opens the door to low quality links and can leave you vulnerable to a Penguin update.
You should look at your content first and concentrate on building a website that’s the best, most resourceful and informative of its kind. People come first, not links, and as mentioned, trust is more important than links. So if you spend more time delivering excellent content and engaging real relationships via social media, and less time ‘actively building links’ then you should have a much better chance of success and avoiding any penalties.
4) Never, Ever Buy Links
This follows on from the last two points and should be a given, but it has to be said. Don’t buy links. If you do a little digging into the world of SEO you’ll soon find a multitude of link peddlers selling links in all shapes and sizes. They’ll come at you with testimonials and charts and tell you that these links are proven to increase rankings. For a newcomer it’s easy to get swayed by this kind of talk, but I can guarantee that the vast majority of websites hit by Penguin had paid for links at some point or other. The people that sell links aren’t bothered who they sell them to. They just want the money, and what might seem like a shortcut at the time will only shorten the life of your website when you get hit by a Penguin update.
5) Be Polite and Don’t Annoy SEOs
This may sound pedantic, but it could be the best advice you’ve ever been given. If like me you enjoy getting involved in forum discussions or groups on Facebook, it’s quite reasonable you’ll look for some SEO experts for advice. This is all well and good, until you find yourself in a flame war, arguing over some point about how links can’t hurt your website, or how link building is dead etc.
It only takes one disgruntled keyboard warrior, sat at home in his/her dressing gown to make a point by throwing a barrage of bad links at your website.
If you make enemies in the wrong places it could kill your website before it’s even started. Tread very carefully when speaking to groups of SEOs, as they all have access to links that can damage your website. If you see an argument brewing then run for the hills. Negative SEO is very real and in certain niches highly prevalent, so it’s best to fly under the radar until you have enough trust to withstand an attack.
Basically a Penguin penalty is caused by one of two things:
- Anchor text ratio
- Low quality links
If we stick to the points above we should have a good chance of avoiding a penalty and not losing our rankings on Google. If like Gary Illyes says, Penguin updates are to be carried out in real-time, and we do get hit by a penalty, at least we have a chance of addressing the problem quickly and hopefully recovering sooner.
Online success is a long term venture and there’s no quick fixes or shortcuts. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint and if Google has anything to say about it, you’ll never outrun a Penguin.