Dreaded Penguin strikes again
Google’s latest ranking algorithm update – Penguin 3 – is stalking the web and kicking out the cheats. Is he going to kick your site off the top listings and into obscurity?
The Penguin 3 update to Google’s algorithm was released in October and it is crawling its way around all the websites in their massive index. It is the latest refinement designed to spot and penalise sites that use ‘black hat’ SEO tricks to gain high rankings in their search results.
Google’s original method of assessing a website’s relevance and worthiness was to examine how many other websites linked to the site and the wording used in the link’s ‘anchor text’. A link is a vote of confidence and a measure of popularity. It was an early – and initially clever – means of assessing users’ reviews and comments.
SEO wonks devised various devious means to cheat the system with scams like link farms and spurious directory sites that provided hundreds or thousands of inbound links to their customers’ sites. Google has become increasingly adept at spotting these phoney backlinks and, with its mission to encourage best practice and fair play, it punishes sites that have failed to clean their acts up.
Companies worst affected have been those who have paid SEO agencies to ‘optimise’ their sites in the past and who still have spurious backlinks. You can check who is linking to your site using one of these free backlink checkers: Backlink Watch or ahrefs but please don’t fall for the ads selling backlinks!
If you do find that the Penguin has dumped your site way down the listings (virtually no one looks past page 2) you will need to ‘disavow’ bad links through Google’s Webmaster Tools using their disavow proceedure. Logo’s site was penalised some time ago due to having a link on the bottom of every page of an e-commerce site we built with thousands of pages. We had to go through a lengthy process of having our site manually reviewed by Google but, thankfully, we regained our page one position within a few weeks.
If you are not familiar with Webmaster Tools it is an excellent resource for all kinds of checks on your website particularly from the point of view of Google’s search robot – and we all want to stay in good odour with him. The tools will enable you to build and check your XML site map, discover false links and out of date pages (301 redirects and 404 errors), measure its speed of loading and generally ensure your site is technically performing as Google would like.
So the number of backlinks is still important and so too is their context in the form of the anchor text that surrounds them. The quality of the links is a major factor search engines take into consideration. Links from respected sites – those with high Page Rank scores – like government sites (.gov) and education sites (.ac) are worth far, far more than links from your local pub’s website. The word ‘Page’ in Page Rank refers to Larry Page, one of the two founders of Google who wrote their original search algorithm. You can find out the Page Rank for any site using a site like PR Checker.
Backlinks are no longer the be-all and end-all of search engine friendliness of course. These days search engines expect sites to be responsive (mobile-friendly) and socially well connected. A good social network of people who are interested in your line of business is a great way to build links back to your site. Providing, that is, you have useful and engaging content. As the web has matured and search criteria have become ever more sophisticated and granular these days content is king. If you have something special, interesting, useful, original or funny people will want to visit and, hopefully, direct their friends and colleagues to do the same.
2014 is surely the Year of the Penguin because there is another penguin doing the rounds of the web this Autumn. The John Lewis Christmas commercial has had over 16 million viewings on You Tube to date. A beautifully crafted piece of work but I can’t help feeling that the M&S Follow the Fairies is more likely to shift goods (apart from the toy penguins John Lewis have sold out of). And shifting goods is the whole purpose of these video marvels isn’t it?
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**UPDATE – September 2016
Penguin Release 4.0
Previously Google would refresh websites as a whole during certain time periods. This is now done live, so Google bots crawl live. Therefore website updates will happen quicker and ranking effects will appear quicker.
More detailed crawling
The update concentrates further down to keyword groups, sub domains, folders and drills down all the way to page level as appose to just URL. The issue here is that it could make fixing parts that have previously been penalised.
As this is an update to support SEO, therefore the more you do the more you will trigger Penguin to crawl you website.