Google launched the first ever Penguin Update in April 2012. It caused absolute havoc in the natural search arena, trashing the visibility of thousands of businesses around the world.

The profound algorithmic change was designed to identify websites taking unfair advantage of the power of backlinks, in particular those buying links or acquiring links from networks specifically designed to boost natural search rankings.

While there’s nothing illegal about buying backlinks to your site, Google doesn’t like it since it ‘unfairly’ manipulates the natural search results, making link-buying websites look more popular and attractive than they actually are and messing with Google’s desire for a pure search meritocracy.

Every time a new Penguin update is released – and they happen regularly – a fresh tranche of offending websites are slapped down in the search results. And there’s one due out this year.

It might not sound like good news but it’s actually excellent news for the businesses whose search positions were trashed last time, in 2014, because Penguin updates don’t usually refresh automatically. If your website was Penguined last time it won’t have bouned back yet, even if you made amends. If that’s you, now’s your chance – finally – to recover. Are you ready for the bird?

2016 Google Penguin update details

Many SEO experts were expecting this latest Penguin update some time in 2015, but Google recently announced it won’t be released until some time this year.

The 2016 Penguin update should be ‘real-time’ for the first time. This means sites will be affected instantly, with no delay, if Google comes across links it doesn’t like. On the up-side, when you remove any spammy links your site should recover pretty fast, more or less in real-time too.

Because this version of Penguin will continuously update, it’s much better for everyone concerned than the previous incarnation. In the past Penguin was only updated as and when Google decided to get its act together. This time around there was a delay of more than a year, no fun at all if your visibility suffered last time.

How’s your backlink profile looking?

Most digital marketers working in the Googlescape have cleaned up their act. Nobody wants their website’s natural search positions to be destroyed, and ‘dodgy’ link building is a lot less prevalent than it was thanks to several iterations of Penguin over the years. As a result the natural search results are probably based more or merit than they were pre-Penguin, which is a good thing for Google users.

If you haven’t looked at your backlink profile for a while, do it now. You might not have bought any ‘spammy’ links yourself, but negative SEO may work against you if someone unscrupulous has decided to point a load of links from ‘bad’ digital neighborhoods like porn and payday loans at your site. It happens, and ignorance is no excuse. Google Penguin will still penalise you for links you didn’t acquire yourself.

How to clean up your backlinks

  • If you spot backlinks you’re not sure about, or that look wrong, you can use Google’s Disavow tool to deny all responsibility for them and get them taken out of the algorithmic equation
  • If your backlinks all – or mostly – feature exact match anchor text, where the link text is the same as they keyword you’re targeting, the Penguin will slap you down. Vary your anchor text with non-descriptive text, not just exact-match keywords, and use a variety of brand, URL and long-tail keywords too
  • It helps to optimise internal links, which have a strong influence on the way search engine bots and spiders crawl your web pages. It’s your job to show search engines which pages are most important and which are related thematically. Just take care not to over-optimise your internal links so they start to look overly-manipulative. It’s a user thing, so ask yourself this: will someone looking at Page X also be genuinely interested in Page Y?

Have you ever been Penguined?

If you’ve ever been Penguined, we’d love to hear about how you extracted yourself from the pit and re-established your website as a visible presence in the natural search results.