How to secure your site against Google’s Penguin 4.0 update

Depending on your sources, Google’s Penguin 4.0 update is either here or coming soon. Whichever it is, you need to prepare.

Although little is known right now, we do know the latest version has been in the works for some time, with all signs pointing towards an early 2016 launch.

Some brands have reported fluctuations in rankings that suggest it’s here already, but without official confirmation from Google, all is not yet clear. Either way, with Penguin 4.0 expected to be one of its more substantial updates, there’s a strong possibility we’ve yet to see its full impact.

So, what can you do to prepare? We’ve taken a closer look at what we know about Penguin 4.0 and offer some advice to help webmasters secure their site.

Penguin: A Brief Recap

Back in 2012, Google released a new algorithm which would further reward hard-working sites and punish those that engaged in bad practices. That algorithm was Penguin, and it specifically targeted sites that had large quantities of poor quality links pointing towards their domain.

For many, the effects of the update were hazardous, leading to demotions in ranking or in some cases, removal from Google’s index altogether. It was only by cleaning up their act and then waiting for the algorithm to refresh that they were finally able to begin to recover lost rankings (up to a year for some).

Remember that a Penguin penalty is not the same as an Unnatural Links penalty. These are instigated manually by Google employees, and may not affect an entire site. Penguin is an algorithmical change and works on a site-wide basis.

What’s Next?

Now that we know another Penguin update is on its way, it’s important that webmasters know what to expect. Unlike all of the previous updates, Google has said this one will be rolled out in real time, meaning affected sites won’t need to wait for a refresh to recover from penalties.

Although there’s been no official word of the rollout starting just yet, many leading SEO voices (like Christoph Cemper at LinkResearchTools) believe the effects of the update are already starting to become visible in Germany, the US and the UK.

What Can You Do?

First of all, understand that Penguin is about penalising sites with low quality links and rewarding sites with more trustworthy, relevant links.

Bad links can be those that are from any of the following:

  • Businesses who specialise in link-selling, sometimes known as ‘link farms’
  • Directories that are old, irrelevant or have a low domain authority
  • Blog networks, blog comments and/or forum threads
  • Paid posts
  • Sites that are otherwise untrustworthy or irrelevant.

Bought links or those that use exact-match anchor text extensively are also a worry and should be avoided.

Although there’s no true way to know exactly what Google regards as a poor link, webmasters can use what they know about Google’s practices to infer whether or not their backlink profile might be in trouble.

Here are some things you can do to help secure your site against Penguin 4.0:

  1. Regular link management and proactive audits of one’s backlink profile (ideally weekly). An experienced SEO agency or consultant can do this for you.
  2. Remember that a link can now help or hurt. Whereas before a bad link wouldn’t necessarily make a difference to your search engine rankings, it can now have a dramatic (and instant) effect. It’s important to keep this in mind when building new links.
  3. Be thorough in your judgement. A popular analogy being thrown around right now is that it’s better to “use a machete, not a scalpel” when judging a link’s worth. If you’re on the fence, it’s best to throw it out.
  4. Penguin is now more about ratios in your backlink profile; i.e. the ratio of great links to less-than-great links. It’s crucial therefore to audit all backlinks and not just the small few that are visible from Google Search Console.

Overall, as long as you are committed to securing only reliable, relevant and trustworthy links that deliver a positive user experience, you needn’t worry about the next Penguin update being a threat to your site.